Seattle will de-escalate and dismantle 'CHOP' autonomous zone: Mayor

"It’s time for people to go home," Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said.

June 23, 2020, 11:29 AM

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 help deescalate the so-called Capitol Hill Organized Protest zone, known as CHOP, and encourage people to leave voluntarily as well as move individuals experiencing homelessness 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.

PHOTO: Protesters link arms in front of the Seattle Police Department's East Precinct within the boundaries of the so-called Capitol Hill Organized Protest zone, or CHOP, in Seattle, Washington, on June 22, 2020.
Protesters link arms in front of the Seattle Police Department's East Precinct within the boundaries of the so-called Capitol Hill Organized Protest zone, or CHOP, in Seattle, Washington, on June 22, 2020. Officers abandoned the building after clashes with protesters earlier this month, and people continue to occupy the area while protesting against racial inequality in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd.
Lindsey Wasson/Reuters

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."

Another shooting occurred in Capitol Hill near the CHOP zone early Tuesday morning. A man suffering a gunshot wound was rushed to a local hospital at around 5 a.m. local time. He's expected to survive, according to police.

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."

PHOTO: Pedestrians walk on June 21, 2020, in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle, Washington, where streets are blocked off in what has been named the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest zone, or CHOP.
Pedestrians walk on June 21, 2020, in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle, Washington, where streets are blocked off in what has been named the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest zone, or CHOP. Law enforcement pulled back from several blocks of the city's Capitol Hill neighborhood near the Seattle Police Department's East Precinct building earlier in the month, after clashes with people protesting the death of George Floyd.
Elaine Thompson/AP

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 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 re-envisioned."

"It will be done with direct community guidance," Best said during Monday's press conference.

PHOTO: A protester raises a fist as others discuss strategies outside the Seattle Police Department's East Precinct within the boundaries of the so-called Capitol Hill Organized Protest zone, or CHOP, in Seattle, Washington, on June 22, 2020.
A protester raises a fist as others discuss strategies outside the Seattle Police Department's East Precinct within the boundaries of the so-called Capitol Hill Organized Protest zone, or CHOP, in Seattle, Washington, on June 22, 2020. Officers abandoned the building after violent clashes with protesters, and people continue to occupy the area while rallying against racial inequality in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.
Lindsey Wasson/Reuters

Despite calls from protesters to transform the East Precinct building into a community center, officers "need to get back" in there, the police chief said.

Police were met with a "hostile crowd" within the CHOP zone on Saturday night, preventing 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."

Besides shootings, the police chief said there have 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."

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