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Officials tell protesters to leave Seattle's 'autonomous zone'

“It’s time for people to go home," Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said after a pair of weekend shootings. It's not clear if the violence was connected to the protest.
Image: Seattle protest
A sign reads "Welcome to CHOP," inside what has been named the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest zone in Seattle on June 14, 2020.Ted S. Warren / AP file

Officials in Seattle on Monday ordered protesters to leave the self-declared Capitol Hill Organized Protest zone after a pair of weekend shootings left one person dead and two injured.

Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best told reporters that her department has no firm timeline for returning to an abandoned police station within the zone. Authorities vacated the East Precinct this month amid increasingly tense protests over the killing of George Floyd.

Mayor Jenny Durkan said it wouldn’t be effective to have authorities clear out the roughly six-block area in the city’s Capitol Hill section. Officials are working with Black-led organizations and “partners in de-escalation” to get the hundreds of people who have occupied the area to leave, she said.

“It’s time for people to go home,” she said, adding that it was time “to restore order and eliminate the violence on Capitol Hill.”

Image: Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone
The beginnings of a Black Lives Matter mural begins to take shape on East Pine Street in the "Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone" on June 10, 2020 in Seattle, Wash.David Ryder / Getty Images

Prior to the weekend shootings, the atmosphere in the area has been compared to a festival and a giant block party.

It isn’t clear if the shootings were connected to the protest zone, where occupiers installed barricades and hundreds of tents and other structures offering everything from personal protective gear to food appeared after police left the area.

In one shooting near Cal Anderson Park, a 19-year-old man was pronounced dead early Saturday and a second man was treated for life-threatening injuries. A 17-year-old man was shot in the arm near the park Sunday night.

After the first shooting, authorities said that officers were prevented from responding to the victims. Medics from the protest zone took them to a local hospital.

Best said the shootings were among crimes that have been reported within the protest zone. She said there had also been a rape, an assault, a burglary, arson and property destruction.

Andre Taylor, who founded of the anti-police-shooting organization Not This Time! after his brother was killed by Seattle police in 2016, said Monday that he had warned protest organizers that the city would need to retake the area because of the violence.

“That CHOP area is attracting this kind of activity and it’s unsafe,” Taylor said in a Facebook video. “I told them, ’All those people that were supporting you guys, they’re going to start walking away from you, especially all those white people that were following you. ... They don’t want to be associated with any part of that violence.”

Bobbie Stills, a longtime Capitol Hill resident who’s been reporting on the occupation for a local news site, Converge Media, said in an interview that the kind of crime cited by the chief was nothing new for the neighborhood.

“There’s been no influx of crime because” of the protest zone, he said. But how residents, occupiers and businesses have responded to the lack of police presence has varied.

“You have some people reporting that it’s dangerous because there’s no cops, it’s lawless,” he said. “The other side of it is — I can go down here and play basketball at 3 in the morning and drink a beer in public and I don’t have to worry about a cop coming and killing me.”

He estimated that there were roughly 200 to 250 tents in the area Monday.

Peace has prevailed during the day. On Monday, people lounged on the turf at a park, while volunteers handed out food, water and toiletries. Artists painted designs on wooden barricades, and a few candles burned in front of a sign on the police building listing people killed by officers.

At night, however, the atmosphere has become more charged, with demonstrators marching and armed volunteer guards keeping watch.

“With not having a police presence here, people are free to do whatever they want to do,” said Bobby Stills, a Seattle resident who has spent time volunteering at the protest zone. “You never know who’s going to show up. That’s why people here are on such high alert — they don’t know who’s who or what’s what or their intentions.”

The protesters originally cordoned off the area after Seattle riot squads unleashed tear gas, pepper spray and flash-bangs on large crowds of mostly peaceful protesters, drawing condemnation from many city leaders and a federal court order temporarily banning the use of the weapons on demonstrators.

Stills said there were multiple factions within the protest zone and no single list of demands had been provided to officials before Durkin’s news conference.

In a Sunday letter posted to a protest-related Twitter feed, activists and volunteers cited “recent events” and said they must be willing to “learn and react quickly within our movement.”

The letter proposed “safe use” areas for drinking alcohol and reducing the number of overnight medics, residents and volunteers in the area, among other things.

“We want to keep fighting and stand our ground,” the letter said.