After a recent uptick in violence and crime – including a fatal shooting – Seattle is finally stepping in to put an end to the police-free zone known as the “Capitol Hill Organized Protest,” or “CHOP.”
Mayor Jenny Durkan announced Monday one of the weakest moments in the city’s history is nearly up.
The mayor said the violence was distracting from changes sought by thousands of peaceful protesters seeking to address racial inequity and police brutality. Activists set up “CHOP” in the city’s Capitol Hill neighborhood about two weeks ago, barricading off the area after police evacuated a ransacked precinct building there.
“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,” Durkan said at a news conference. “The impacts have increased and the safety has decreased.”
City leaders have faced mounting criticism — including from President Trump — over the protest zone amid reports of violence inside the area and how police can respond to such incidents. Police had not been able to go inside the zone.
Demonstrators inside CHOP had been characterized by the mainstream media as being mostly peaceful — handing out free food and playing music — but the truth is that the situation was rapidly devolving into pure chaos, bordering on a warzone.
Residents and business owners have voiced concerns over safety and access for emergency first responders. Volunteer medics inside the zone brought the victims of Saturday’s shooting to the hospital rather than wait for the police and fire departments, who were preparing to respond before entering.
“There should be no place in Seattle that the Seattle Fire Department and the Seattle Police Department can’t go,” Durkan said.
The protesters have issued a list of demands including calls to defund the police and for leaders to address other social-justice causes which according to them even meant the segregation of blacks.
Trump frequently has lashed out at Durkan and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, both Democrats, over CHOP’s existence, saying the zone is being run by “anarchists.”
On Monday, some CHOP members called for changes to the zone over the violence. In an open letter addressed to organizers, a group of 25 activists and volunteers asked leaders to set up a safe use area on the outskirts of the zone, create different signage encouraging intoxicated persons to stay away and implement a curfew to prevent destructive behavior at night.
“We would like to acknowledge that no organizations, protests, or revolutions are perfect,” the group wrote. “We must all be willing to collectively learn and react quickly to mistakes made within our movement. We do not want to see what was started with the intention of lifting the BLM message destroyed before us all.”
Andre Taylor, who founded the anti-police-shooting organization “Not This Time!” said Monday he’s told CHOP leaders the violence would prompt the city to take back control of the area. “If I put myself in the mayor’s position, I have to act when violence is around,” he said.