The Capitol Hill Occupied Protest started out with visions of creating a police-free communal utopia in Seattle, but in the end, CHOP was a flop.
Seattle police reclaimed the 3-week-old autonomous zone from Black Lives Matter protesters in an early Wednesday raid and arrested 32 occupiers. The police were carrying out an executive order from Mayor Jenny Durkan after a rash of crime and violence in which four people were shot and two Black teenagers were killed.
Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best emphasized that she supported peaceful protest and that “Black lives matter,” but she added that “enough is enough.”
“Our job is to support peaceful demonstrations, but what has happened here on these streets over the last few weeks is lawless and it’s brutal, and bottom line, it is simply unacceptable,” Chief Best, who is Black, told reporters at the scene.
Attorney General William P. Barr commended the chief “for her courage and leadership in restoring the rule of law in Seattle.”
“As Chief Best made clear throughout the process, there is a fundamental distinction between discussion of substantive issues — including address distrust of law enforcement by many in the African-American community — and violent defiance of the law,” Mr. Barr said in a statement.
By 7 a.m., police had cleared the area, allowing crews to remove trash and debris, including about 70 concrete barricades, tents, blankets, sleeping bags and protest signs, as well as refuse from portable toilets called Honey Buckets that activists tipped over during the evacuation.
Hundreds of protesters took over the neighborhood after a fiery June 8 protest. They barricaded a six-block area that included the East Precinct building and Cal Anderson Park and refused to leave until the city met their demands, including defunding the police and shifting revenue to social programs.
Officers cheered as Chief Best entered the East Precinct for the first time since the evacuation. “We got it back,” one shouted as shown on video posted by Brandi Kruse of Seattle Fox affiliate Q13.
Ms. Durkan and other city officials reportedly met with protesters over the past week to negotiate an exit, but the mayor’s patience appeared to snap when a 16-year-old was killed and a 14-year-old injured in a Monday morning shooting in the heavily barricaded zone, which was off limits to police.
In the early morning hours of June 20, Horace Lorenzo Anderson, 19, was fatally shot and a 33-year-old man was injured. Two others suffered gunshot wounds in the next two days in the zone, which was self-policed by protesters acting as security.
From June 8-30, police had reports of 65 offenses including aggravated assault, larceny, rape and two homicides. During the same period last year, city police had 37 such reports.
Police found kitchen knives, baseball bats and a metal pipe during Wednesday’s cleanup.
“Officers enforcing today’s order are wearing a higher-level of protective gear,” a police statement 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.”
The Seattle Parks and Recreation Department closed Cal Anderson Park to “assess damage and clean up areas that have seen significant waste collection.” For now, the department said, “no changes will be made to the community garden or art installed by demonstrators.”
Andre Taylor, a Seattle community activist who had met with protesters, described CHOP as a “missed opportunity” that unraveled when the zone’s leaders failed to treat the two killings as seriously as they did the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died May 25 in Minneapolis police custody.
“I think that if they would have pivoted to those deaths as strongly as to George Floyd’s death, I think Seattle would have continued to support this group,” Mr. Taylor, who heads Not This Time, told KING5.
“But for there to be continual shootings and deaths consistently, we just couldn’t allow this space to continue. It didn’t end how it started, and that’s the tragedy of the situation.”
Chief Best said there would be “continuing dialogue and negotiations as we reenvision as we do public safety, so I look forward to having those discussions with other city members, and we’ll see how that turns out.”
Ms. Durkan faced increasing pressure from national leaders to clear out the protesters. President Trump accused the Democratic mayor and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee of kowtowing to “ugly Anarchists” and “Domestic Terrorists,” and demanded that they “take back your city NOW.”
More than a dozen neighbors and businesses caught in the zone filed a class-action lawsuit against the city for allowing and even supporting the unlawful occupation. Ms. Durkan initially downplayed the takeover, calling it a “block party” and comparing it to the “summer of love,” which she later walked back.
Major news outlets praised the “festive” atmosphere. The New York Times described CHOP in a June 11 article as “an experiment in life without the police — part street festival, part commune.”
As the weeks wore on, however, the zone contracted from six to three blocks and violence increased. Among those who remained were from out of state and were oblivious to Seattle’s history of community progress, Mr. Taylor said.
“What I did not know as of late is that a lot of the people that were at CHOP were not from our city,” Mr. Taylor said. “They were coming in from Chicago, from Georgia, from New York, from Portland, and I did not know that. So of course they would not understand the work that has been done here in our city and state.”
Some radical accounts on social media warned that rioters would return to the area under cover of night. Chief Best said that “in terms of the East Precinct, the mayor’s order makes it clear that the area is off limits.”
“We’ll clean up the area, we’ll clean up our precinct, and we’ll start up operations as soon as we reasonably can,” she said.