It was the end of the line for Seattle’s CHOP (Capitol Hill Organized Protest) on Wednesday, July 1. After protesters and demonstrators occupied six city blocks for 24 days, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan finally put an end to the “cop-free” zone she had praised for weeks.
After repeatedly dismissing President Trump’s demands to “get her city under control,” Durkan only had a change of heart after protests arrived on her own doorstep. Socialist Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who in early June gave protesters access to the capitol building so that they could loudly demand Durkan’s resignation, then led a crowd of protester's direcly to Durkan’s private residence late last week.
Durkan’s address has been kept confidential since she served as a US Attorney during the Obama administration, and has previously received death threats. Releasing her address, “put families and children at risk” and finally changed Durkan’s mind about CHOP.
CHOP had become a media darling of sorts, with news outlets quick to report the “free food,” “educational movie nights,” and open discussion of how to improve race relations in the city. Despite being surrounded by barricades and patrolled by rifle-wielding citizen guards, CHOP was widely reported to be a peaceful protest.
However, its peaceful reputation was tarnished in recent weeks as violence frequently broke out. Four shootings were reported, with two ending in deaths. In separate incidents, a 16-year old and a 19-year old were killed. Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best said that 65 crimes were reported in the span of only a few weeks in the neighborhood, in comparison to the 37 offenses that were reported in the same region in all of last year. The crimes included a rape, assaults, robberies, violence, and property crimes.
Durkan and the media were noticeably quiet in response to the violence breaking out in CHOP, but the arrival of protesters at her private residence caused Durkan to issue an executive order to dismantle CHOP, as well as request the city council investigate Sawant and consider removing her.
The attempted removal of barricades and protesters began on Friday morning, but protesters lay down in the streets and prevented city workers from completing the job. Durkan issued the executive order around 5 am on Wednesday, and officers arrived with megaphones to alert protesters that they were no longer welcome at CHOP.
“The City’s obligations under the First Amendment do not require the City to provide limitless sanctuary to occupy City property, damage City and private property, obstruct right of way, or foster dangerous conditions,” Durkan wrote in her order.
31 protesters were arrested for failure to disperse, although the majority stayed calm as CHOP was dismantled. Police reported vehicles without visible license plates circling the area, and are investigating. Weapons ranging from pipes to knives to a machete were recovered from those that were arrested.
Seattle Police came prepared and wore high-level protective gear during the Wednesday morning enforcement of the executive order in response to reports that protesters have been armed.
Removing CHOP gives residents of the area the ability to come and go as they please after weeks of having to show ID to gain access. It also releases the East precinct back to the Seattle Police Department, who has reported “unacceptable” 15-18 minute response times to the region previously covered by the precinct.
“This is not an end to our department’s engagement with demonstrators,” said Chief Best. “We must continue our efforts to build trust and redefine our roles as guardians in our city.”
Moving forward, Durkan has pledged to rethink policing in Seattle, as well as invest more heavily in Black and indigenous communities. The 2021 budget is expected to reflect these changes.
“Undoing centuries of systemic racism will not happen overnight as I’ve said before but I do believe Seattle can lead the way,” Durkan said.