(CN) — Riot police in Seattle arrested dozens and shut down the autonomous protest zone known as Capitol Hill Organized Protest, after Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan issued an emergency order early Wednesday.
Protesters occupied the protest zone dubbed the CHOP in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood for over three weeks, after police abandoned the East Precinct during a June 8 march in the movement for black lives that arose after a white police officer in Minneapolis killed George Floyd, a black man, by kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
After seizing the area, protesters closed streets, erected barricades and set up tents, speaking platforms, community gardens, and a “no cop co-op” with free groceries. But three weeks of a festival-like atmosphere were also marked by violence, including deadly shootings that claimed the lives of two black men.
Durkan, who initially called for police to abandon the precinct after weeks of nightly protests, made the call Wednesday to end the CHOP.
On June 12, she told CNN’s Chris Cuomo in an interview that she didn’t know how long she would allow the demonstration to continue.
“We could have a summer of love!” Durkan told Cuomo.
The Sunrise Movement said in a statement Wednesday that clearing the CHOP was another reason to defund police.
“Police, in full riot gear, are coming in to destroy the community the protesters built and create violence,” the group said on Twitter. “The police are not here to protect us, they’re here to silence us.”
President Donald Trump weighed in early, appearing to threaten military action in a June 10 tweet: “If you don’t do it, I will,” he wrote. It was a threat Gov. Jay Inslee and Mayor Durkin immediately brushed off in statements of their own.
On Monday, Trump piled on again, tweeting that protesters in Seattle’s CHOP “have ZERO respect for Government, or the Mayor of Seattle or Governor of Washington State! Not Good!”
Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best said in a statement Wednesday morning that she supports peaceful demonstrations.
“But enough is enough,” Best said.
Best said there had been four shootings, two of which were fatal, plus robberies and assaults in the area. A shooting claimed the life of one man June 20, while a second shooting on Monday killed a 16-year-old boy and left a 14-year-old in critical condition.
“Two African-American men dead at a place where they claim to be working for Black Lives Matter but they’re gone,” Best said Monday. “They’re dead now. And we’ve had multiple other incidents — assaults, rapes, robbery, shootings — so this is something that’s going to need to change.”
The FBI joined cops from the Seattle and Bellevue departments to clear the area and arrest anyone who refused to leave.
Seattle police called for people to leave the protest zone around 5 a.m. Wednesday. They began arresting people soon after, and by 9:25 a.m. announced 31 people had been detained.
The mayor’s order mobilized Seattle Park and Recreation to clear streets of protesters’ belongings. Seattle Human Services said it would provide referrals to shelter people living in the area with nowhere else to go and store items for later retrieval — despite photos on social media showing city workers shoving piles of protesters’ belongings along the streets with a backhoe.
Durkan called for graffiti removal, but also for the preservation of the murals and community gardens that protesters created.
U.S. Attorney General William Barr said in a statement Wednesday that the people of Seattle should be “grateful” to Chief Best for her “steadfast defense of the rule of law.”
At a press conference Monday afternoon, Durkan said clearing the protest encampment was necessary due to public safety threats and “repeated gun violence.”
She thanked police officers who participated in the removal operation and also thanked peaceful demonstrators, “who challenged our country to be better and inspired a movement,” Durkan said.
She said the tens of thousands of peaceful protesters should be remembered instead of the violence in the CHOP area.
“No city, including Seattle, will dismantle racism overnight,” she said.
Officers are currently back inside the precinct after a three-week absence due to the clashes and are assessing the damage, Chief Best said.
Seattle police are actively working to create a plan for what community safety will look like in the future, Best said.
But protesters vowed to return. Rick Hearns, part of the informal CHOP security team, praised the protesters as they retreated Wednesday morning, the Seattle Times reported.
“We’ve made history here! You’re doing great!” Hearns shouted. “Everybody out. We’ll get another place. Don’t taunt the officers. Show them that the black race is peaceful. The whole world can see us!”