Seattle police have begun clearing out the protest area known as the Capitol Hill Organized Protest, or CHOP, making more than a dozen arrests after Mayor Jenny Durkan declared the gathering an unlawful assembly.
Police issued the order to disperse around 5 a.m. local time Wednesday, telling protesters to leave within eight minutes. At least 13 protesters have been arrested so far for failing to clear the area after multiple warnings, police said.
As officers in riot gear performed the predawn sweep to clear holdouts from the streets, police said a woman apparently went into labor on the east side of Cal Anderson Park inside the CHOP. Seattle Fire said it was responding to the scene.
Police were also investigating several vehicles circling the CHOP zone after officers saw people inside them carrying firearms and wearing body armor. The vehicles had no visible license plates, police said.
Durkan’s executive order comes after a series of late-night shootings in the area killed two teenagers and seriously wounded three other people. Police said other violent crimes have also been documented in the area since demonstrators took over several blocks in the Capitol Hill neighborhood last month.
“Officers enforcing today’s order are wearing a higher-level of protective gear,” police said. “Police are utilizing this equipment because individuals associated w/the CHOP are known to be armed and dangerous/may be associated with shootings, homicides, robberies, assaults & other violent crimes.”
Police Chief Carmen Best said that while she supports peaceful demonstrations, “enough is enough.”
“The CHOP has become lawless and brutal,” Best said in a statement. “Four shootings – two fatal – robberies, assaults, violence and countless property crimes have occurred in this several block area.”
She said that it was the job of police officers to protect and serve the community, adding that the clearing of the protest would not mark an end to the department’s engagement with protesters.
“We must continue our efforts to build trust and redefine our roles as guardians in our city,” Best said.
Demonstrators have occupied several blocks around a park and the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct for about two weeks. Police abandoned the building following standoffs and clashes with protesters who demanded racial justice and an end to police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis in May.
Protesters have said they should not be blamed for the violence in the area.
There have been increasing calls by critics, including President Trump, to remove protesters from the CHOP zone following the fatal shootings.
The action comes a day after Seattle Department of Transportation crews used heavy machinery to remove concrete barriers marking the entrance to the protest area.