SEATTLE (CN) — The festive atmosphere continued in the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone Friday, named by demonstrators who claimed the area surrounding a temporarily abandoned police precinct Friday, despite the rainy Seattle weather.
Police decided to withdraw from the neighborhood station Monday and remove barricades around the building “to allow demonstrators to march past the East Precinct,” according to a department announcement.
After marching, the crowd decided to stay, moving the barriers used by police into the street and creating a pedestrian-only space for several blocks. Demonstrators spray-painted “Seattle People’s Department East Precinct,” and banners hung on the building that read, “This space is now property of the Seattle people.”
Naudia Miller told a crowd gathered at the Peoples Assembly Stage she has seen “amazing changes” in the neighborhood since protesters occupied the streets, but not to forget black lives was the reason people were there.
Miller, who is from Seattle, said she is raising two boys and just started a nonprofit to mobilize black leadership.
“Our allies are looking for education. They really want to understand why were are out here, why anti-black racism is so powerful and how deep it goes,” she said.
Another speaker, who identified herself as Miss Jessie, from Tacoma said she started a record label called Felony Entertainment because she couldn’t get a job after being released from prison. That experience motivated her to advocate for Washington’s law restoring voting rights to felons.
“That was particularly for my own situation that happened with me being ostracized and feeling that I was not a part of the community. I could pay my taxes but I did not have a voice when it came to voting,” she said.
How long the space remains in possession of the protesters is up for debate, after Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best and Mayor Jenny Durkan tried to downplay their disagreement over abandoning the precinct.
In an address to officers Thursday, Best said it was “not my decision” to move police out of the station.
“You fought for days to protect it. I asked you to stand on that line. Day in and day out, to be pelted with projectiles, to be screamed at, threatened and in some cases hurt. Then to have a change of course nearly two weeks in, it seems like an insult to you and our community,” she said. “Ultimately the city had other plans for the building and relented to public pressure. I’m angry about how this all came about.”
Durkan felt removing the barricades around the police building and removing the officers was the safest thing for police and protesters.
“After events on Sunday night, it was clear that the ongoing nightly protests at the East Precinct needed to be significantly defused and deescalated,” her office said in a statement. “The East Precinct was a flashpoint, and the cycle of conflict between demonstrators and officers were harmful to residents, demonstrators, businesses, officers, and our city.”
CNN host Chris Cuomo asked Durkan in an interview on Friday how long the streets will be occupied by protesters.
“I don’t know. We could have a summer of love!” Durkan responded.
The autonomous zone has also captured the attention of President Donald Trump, who appeared to threaten military action in a tweet on Wednesday:
“Radical Left Governor @JayInslee and the Mayor of Seattle are being taunted and played at a level that our great Country has never seen before. Take back your city NOW. If you don’t do it, I will. This is not a game. These ugly Anarchists must be stooped [sic] IMMEDIATELY. MOVE FAST!” he wrote.
The tweet, complete with misspelling, prompted Governor Jay Inslee to respond:
“A man who is totally incapable of governing should stay out of Washington state’s business. ‘Stoop’ tweeting.
Durkan also chided the President.
“Make us all safe. Go back to your bunker,” she tweeted.
While government officials were arguing about the fate of the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, its residents were busy holding a speakers’ rally.
Some of the speakers commented how stark the change was from just a week ago, when nightly clashes with police and protesters were happening in the neighborhood.
Despite a 30-day ban on using tear gas, police once again doused demonstrators around the precinct Monday night.
Best justified the use, saying some members of the crowd were throwing objects and pointing lasers in the officers’ eyes and an armed man was spotted in the street.
“Based on what we were experiencing, we thought there was a life safety issue” Best said at a news conference.
Officers abandoned the building the next day.
Seattle protesters also brought a federal complaint against the city Tuesday, saying police used excessive force in firing tear gas and rubber bullets at them in recent demonstrations. Late Friday, a federal judge ordered the city to temporarily stop the use of tear gas, flash-bang devices and pepper spray.
Demonstrators have planted a community garden in Cal Anderson Park, adjacent to the precinct, and set up tents and speaking platforms.
A “No Cop COOP” offering free groceries including fresh produce, water, granola bars, toilet paper and “soliciting pizza donations” is growing daily.
On Friday, crowds gathered along the closed streets, preparing for a silent march holding umbrellas for the rain that were previously used to block officers’ pepper spray.