The dream is over. This morning Seattle police cleared away the last remnants of an "autonomous zone" established by anti-police brutality protesters in the city's Capitol Hill neighborhood.
Today's sweep follows weeks of deteriorating relations between protesters in the so-called Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ), or Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP), and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, who had first praised the perma-protest before taking a tougher line in response to violent incidents that happened in and near the zone.
An executive order signed yesterday by Durkan instructed the Seattle Police Department to clear the park and surrounding city blocks that protesters have been occupying for the better part of three weeks. Anyone who refused to clear the area could be subjected to arrest, per Durkan's order.
"I support peaceful demonstrations. Black Lives Matter…but enough is enough," said Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best in a statement. "The CHOP has become lawless and brutal. Four shootings—two fatal—robberies, assaults, violence, and countless property crimes have occurred in this several block area."
Video from KING5 reporter Michael Crowe shows police officers advancing up the street and occasionally fighting with protesters, some of whom had reportedly thrown cones at the officers.
— Michael Crowe (@MichaelReports) July 1, 2020
Best told local media that at least 13 people had been arrested as part of clearing the CHOP this morning. The Capitol Hill Seattle Blog reports at least 31 arrests stemming from the operation.
The CHOP officially got its start on June 8, when police abandoned their Eastern Precinct building following a series of escalating clashes between law enforcement and demonstrators.
In the wake of the police's retreat, protestors reassembled barricades around the abandoned precinct building and later occupied the nearby Cal Anderson Park. The area quickly developed an Occupy Wall Street-like vibe, with activists giving speeches, staging demonstrations, holding film screenings, and even starting a community garden in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and defunding the police.
Durkan visited the CHOP and even defended it as an example of democracy in action following criticism of her handling of the zone by President Donald Trump. City agencies also provided protesters with sturdier barricades, portable toilets, and helped to clear trash from the area.
Seattle is fine. Don't be so afraid of democracy. https://t.co/o26PkJnYhA
— Mayor Jenny Durkan (@MayorJenny) June 12, 2020
However, a series of shootings in and near the CHOP, which have resulted in two deaths, plus the growing annoyance of businesses and property owners—some of whom had filed a class-action lawsuit against the city for tolerating the CHOP—led Durkan to take a tougher line.