Seattle police, under orders from Mayor Jenny Durkan, cleared demonstrators out of the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest Zone (CHOP) on Wednesday, after a series of shootings marred the ongoing protest movement.
City officers on bikes and in riot gear — with help from FBI agents and police from nearby Bellevue — began dispersing the crowd about 5 a.m., authorities said.
Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best reiterated her support for the Black Lives Matter movement, which drove the protests, but said of the weekslong occupation of public streets: "Enough is enough."
"I support peaceful demonstrations. Black lives matter and I too want to help propel this movement forward toward meaningful exchange in our community and meaningful change in our community," Best told reporters. "But enough is enough. Our job is to protect and to serve the community."
Two young males, 19 and 16, have been killed and six wounded in four separate shootings within the zone since protests began.
"What has happened here on these streets over the last two weeks, few weeks that is, is lawless and is brutal and bottomline it is simply unacceptable," Best said.
A handful of protesters objected to the early morning police action, some even toppling portable toilets in hopes of forming a barrier against officers.
But by daylight, virtually the entire area was cleared. Officers were even going into bathrooms of Cal Anderson Park, looking for any stragglers.
After the protesters were forced out, an army of city workers moved in to clean up streets.
Crews piled debris and belongings left by protesters on flatbed trucks and front-loaders broke up concrete barriers.
Police said protesters were generally compliant, saying in a statement: "Thank you to the individuals affiliated with the CHOP who have assisted officers in encouraging people to safely leave the area."
While some officers used pepper spray to push out protesters, the operation was fast and efficient, videographer Omari Salisbury said.
"Basically they reclaimed the precinct in less than 30 minutes, at five feet at a time, with the bicycle officers out in front," Salisbury told NBC affiliate KING.
By early evening, 44 people had been arrested on allegations that included failure to disperse, assault, obstruction, pedestrian interference and malicious mischief, police said in a statement.
Mayor Durkan defined the area as Broadway on the west, 13th Avenue East on the on the east, East Denny Way on the north and East Pike Street on the south. Durkan ordered the area to be clear for at least 48 hours.
As Seattle police secured the area, paramedics rushed to the east side of Cal Anderson Park shortly after 6:30 a.m. to help a woman going into labor.
Prominent Black community activist Andre Taylor said he was saddened by violence inside the protest zone, which prompted city and police action.
"It didn’t end how it started and that’s the tragedy of the situation," Taylor told KING.
Taylor said as soon as the first deadly shooting happened on June 20, protesters should have treated that as seriously any case of police brutality.
"If they would have pivoted to those deaths as strongly as a George Floyd death, I think that Seattle would have continued to support this group."
CHOP was formed in early June by demonstrators protesting police brutality and the killing of George Floyd.
Protesters established the zone after the Seattle Police Department vacated the East Precinct. The site, which was also known as CHAZ, changed the boarded-up police building's sign to read "Seattle People Department."
But in light of ongoing violence, Durkan said her order was needed to "restore public safety" to the area.
Officers entered their police precinct Tuesday morning for the first time since June 8.
"I don’t want to do to is to discourage young folks form having a voice, but try to learn from this experience and how to navigate a little better," Taylor said of the protesters. "I thought they were extraordinarily brilliant."
It wasn't immediately clear when traffic and normal business would return to the neighborhood.