Seattle will move to dismantle 'Chaz' occupied protest zone, mayor says

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Jenny Durkan says police will return to precinct where hundreds have gathered daily

Seattle’s mayor announced plans to wind down the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, or Chaz, an occupied protest zone.
Seattle’s mayor announced plans to wind down the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, or Chaz, an occupied protest zone. Photograph: Paul Christian Gordon/ZUMA Wire/REX/Shutterstock

Seattle officials announced on Monday that they would begin to dismantle the six blocks of occupied streets known as the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, or “Chaz”, following two shootings at the site in 48 hours.

“It’s time for people to go 凯发官网网址多少home. It is time for us to restore Cal Anderson and Capitol Hill so it can be a vibrant part of the community,” said the Seattle mayor, Jenny Durkan, during a press conference. “We can still accommodate people who want to protest peacefully, come there and gather. But the impacts on the businesses and residents and community are now too much.”

Durkan said Seattle police would be returning to the east precinct, the site they abandoned after a series of dangerous clashes between protesters and law enforcement.

She said they’ll do so “peacefully” and “in the near future” but did not offer an exact timeline.

Early on Tuesday morning, police reported another shooting, this one near the protest area. A man in his 30s was shot in the calf and transported by medics to a nearby hospital, but officers said in a police blog that he did not provide information on what happened. There were also reports of gunshots inside Chaz, but officials have not reported any other victims.

The decision comes about two weeks after a section of the Seattle neighborhood of Capitol Hill was occupied by protesters as a self-proclaimed police-free zone. The area is also known as the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (Chop).

Hundreds of protesters have faithfully gathered there each day and night, filling the area with free food and community gardens, and holding speeches and teach-ins.

Inside Chaz, Seattle's police-free zone: 'We're proving the world can change' – video

Although it had been largely peaceful, that changed over the weekend, when two separate shootings took place. A 19-year-old man was killed and two others were injured, one critically.

Officers responding to the shooting on Saturday have said they “were met by a violent crowd that prevented officers’ safe access to the victims”, according to a police blog. In officers’ body-camera footage, police can be heard telling people at the protest zone to move out of the way so they can get to the victim, while protesters repeatedly tell them the victim is already gone.

During the press conference on Monday, the Seattle police chief, Carmen Best, said that while there had been countless people protesting peacefully, there had also been “shootings, a rape, assaults, burglary, arson, and property destruction”.

“This isn’t a debate about first amendment rights, this is about life or death,” she added.

When asked what officials will do if people don’t voluntarily leave the area, Durkan said they planned to use a range of techniques, including working with black-led organizations to communicate with the people in the zone and offering outreach to those there who are 凯发官网网址多少homeless.

“I think we’ve seen across the country and Seattle, it would not be an effective strategy to simply send police in to try to clear the area,” she said.

The decision to send police back into the precinct was a major disappointment for some in the community who wanted the site repurposed.

Kshama Sawant, a Socialist city councilwoman, has pushed for the precinct to be “turned over permanently into community control”. She recently announced on Twitter that she would be introducing legislation to convert the east precinct into a community center for restorative justice.