Seattle stole the national spotlight when protesters against police brutality took control of a four-block section of Capitol Hill, drawing criticism from the White House, and named it the “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone.”
As of June 12, the area around the Seattle Police Department’s (SPD) East Precinct, referred to as CHOP, became a community hub for education, protest and art. A place that had been obscured by tear gas just days before hosted a screening of filmmaker Ava DuVernay’s “13th,” a documentary about racial inequality, and artists painted “Black Lives Matter” onto the pavement of East Pine Street in giant letters.
Protesters made a list of demands calling for the complete defunding of SPD, including police pensions and other arms of the criminal justice system; the cessation of armed violence by police officers; the end of Immigration and Customs Enforcement actions in the city; freeing youth from detention; rent control; de-gentrification and much more.
The full list can be found here: tinyurl.com/y9swj27v.
The news attracted the attention of President Donald Trump, who had a demand of his own.
“Take back your city NOW,” Trump tweeted on June 11. “If you don’t do it, I will. This is not a game.”
Mayor Jenny Durkan responded, saying that it would be unconstitutional for the federal government to deploy military to the city.
“I want people to know there is no imminent threat of an invasion in Seattle,” she said at a press conference.
While the mayor attempted to squash concerns about an invading federal army, SPD Chief Carmen Best was telling reporters that the department had no intention of ceding the East Precinct permanently.
In an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Best said that she was “very angry about the situation that we have,” and that SPD had not abandoned the precinct.
“We did have to remove some personnel for a short period of time, and then it became unsafe,” Best said, adding that she felt it was important to have a police presence in the area.
Best stopped short of declaring protesters “domestic terrorists,” as Trump did, but did say that what was happening in CHOP was not an expression of people’s First Amendment rights.
The protests that ignited around the country after the death of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis have had an impact. Several members of the Seattle City Council are exploring large cuts to the SPD budget and a complete accounting of how the existing budget is spent. Three said Durkan should consider resigning. Seattle Public Schools announced it would cut ties with SPD for one year, removing officers from its campuses.
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC.
Read more in the June 17-23, 2020 issue.