Two Seattle police officers, one female and one male, entered Seattle’s “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone” or CHAZ, on Thursday. They were lead to the East Precinct by a male protester with a bullhorn. Their entry into the “cop-free zone” caused disagreements amongst the protesters occupying the six-block area.
Protesters and demonstrators lay claim to CHAZ on Monday, following weeks of unrest. CHAZ encompasses 6 city blocks that include Capitol Hill and the East Precinct; officers that had stood guard at the precinct were asked to board it up and vacate late Monday.
The arrival of the two officers on Thursday marked the first police presence inside CHAZ since Monday, and was captured on video by protesters. Arguments broke out about the officers being allowed inside and a crowd formed to watch the interactions. The protester who led them to the precinct declared that he was “not scared of police. And I’m black!”
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Another protester stopped the officers at the door to the precinct and their conversation included the female officer telling the protester that “our 911 response time has tripled from what it was since we before we had officers not working out of this precinct. That’s unacceptable.”
Profanities were yelled in response to the police presence, with demands to not “let” police in to the area. Despite the visit by the two officers on Thursday, police have not been able to regain control of the East Precinct.
CHAZ is still barricaded and armed citizen guards determine who can enter the area.
— Cortney O'Brien (@obrienc2) June 11, 2020
Mayor Jenny Durkan has been supportive of the protesters despite their demands that she resign. She calls them “patriotic” and the protest “a peaceful expression of our community’s collective grief and their desire to build a better world.”
Neither Durkan nor Police Chief Carmen Best have accepted responsibility for the decision to vacate the East Precinct. Best has called stepping down from the post “an insult” to officers and to their community.
President Trump has been vocal in his disapproval of Mayor Durkan and Governor Inslee’s responses to CHAZ, telling Fox News’ Harris Faulkner, “I will tell you, if they don’t straighten that situation out, we’re going to straighten it out.” He declared that his administration “is not going to let Seattle be occupied by anarchists.”
Earlier in the week, CHAZ released 30 demands for reform throughout the city that address the criminal justice system, economics, health and human services, and education. The group lacks official leadership, and instead considers themselves a collection of individual voices. The lack of leadership has made communication with the group difficult.
Assistant Chief of Police Deanna Nollette has spoken publicly about seeking to negotiate with the group, but being unable to identify leadership with whom to speak.
On Thursday afternoon, protesters began discussions on whether or not to allow officers easy access to the precinct. Some argued that prohibiting access would lead to bigger problems for the group, while others felt that officers should “back off” and give them time to decide what was best for the community. A consensus was not reached.