Seattle will work to deescalate and dismantle CHOP autonomous zone, mayor says
“It’s time for people to go home,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced Monday that officials will work with community leaders and Black-led organizations to amicably dismantle the protester-occupied streets near Cal Anderson Park in the city’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.
Community resources, rather than law enforcement, will be deployed to deescalate the so-called Capitol Hill Organized Protest zone, known as CHOP, as well as encourage people to leave voluntarily and move individuals experiencing homeless to services as needed, according to Durkan.
“It’s time for people to go home. It is time for us to restore Cal Anderson and Capitol Hill so it can be a vibrant part of the community,” the mayor said at a press conference Monday. “We can still accommodate people who want to protest peacefully, come there and gather. But the impacts on the businesses and residents and community are now too much.”
The Seattle Police Department will also return to the East Precinct building within the boundaries of the CHOP zone, which officers were forced to abandon earlier this month after violent clashes with protesters. Durkan said officers will do so “peacefully and in the near future,” but did not provide a specific date on their return.
The announcement follows a weekend of gun violence in the area, in which three people were shot within a 48-hour period. One of the victims, a 19-year-old, died from his wounds, according to police.
“As a mother of a 19-year-old boy, I cannot imagine the pain of his mother and his family,” Durkan said. “We must do better.”
While the mayor noted that a vast majority of the demonstrations have been peaceful and powerful, she said “the cumulative impacts of the gatherings and protests and the nighttime atmosphere and violence has led to increasingly difficult circumstances for our businesses and residents.”
“The gun violence unfolding at night is not only wrong, it also is undermining and distracting from the message for change that we are hearing in the street and in so many of the peaceful protests,” she said. “We cannot let acts of violence define this movement for change.”
Durkan said she has met with community leaders, local organizations, protesters, businesses and residents in recent weeks, and there will be continued dialogue on how to reimagine policing itself as well as “every other component of our society.”
“Racism is a living, breathing organism,” she said. “It permeates our society in so many ways, and we can only undo racism and begin to undo the trauma and injustice by really centering the voices of the people who are affected.”
Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best agreed that “the entire structure and mission of the Seattle Police Department has to be reimagined and reenvisioned.”
“It will be done with direct community guidance,” Best said during Monday’s press conference.
Despite calls from protesters to transform the East Precinct building into a community center, the police chief said her officers “need to get back” in there.
Officers were met with a “hostile crowd” within the CHOP zone on Saturday night that prevented them from getting to gunshot victims, according to Best.
“Because we couldn’t guarantee the safety for the first responders to enter,” she said, “neither officers nor medics were able to get there and treat the wounded.”
In addition to shootings, the police chief said there has also been reports of rape, assault, burglary, arson and property destruction.
“I have the police reports right here,” Best said, holding up papers. “We cannot walk away from the truth of what is happening there.”