City of Seattle Begins Removal of Capitol Hill Protest Zone Barriers

by JSeattle

(This article was originally published on the Capitol Hill Seattle Blog and has been reprinted under an agreement)

Seattle Department of Transportation workers and Seattle Police began the process Tuesday morning of removing the most significant barriers in the streets around the Capitol Hill protest zone but officials promised to leave protections near the East Precinct intact until the area is clear of protesters.

The heavy equipment’s rush followed days of a slower, more deliberate approach to clearing the camp that has been in place for weeks since the emptying of the East Precinct. But even as the cement barriers on E Pine were removed, campers and protesters were looking for new ways to fill the street in efforts they say are necessary to provide protection to the core of tents still surrounding the empty SPD building at 12th and Pine and the remaining but dwindling collection of tens in Cal Anderson. Some of the area’s city-installed portable toilets were also being trucked away.

In an interview with Converge Media, SDOT director Sam Zimbabwe emphasized that the removal work would focus on clearing the streets away from 12th and Pine and not leave the remaining protest camp outside the East Precinct exposed to threats from passing cars.

SPD Chief Carmen Best said Monday there is no current plan for returning police to the East Precinct but that “enough is enough” when it comes to gun violence in the area. A department spokesperson tells the Capitol Hill Seattle Blog that officers are in the zone “supporting other agencies.”

UPDATE 11:00 AM: Seattle Parks says it will be in the area “to assess damage and clean up areas that have seen significant waste collection” in Cal Anderson.

“At this time, no changes will be made to the community garden or art installed by demonstrators,” the update reads.

Today, Seattle Parks and Recreation (SPR) is temporarily closing Cal Anderson Park to the public at 12 pm to allow City crews to assess damage and clean up areas that have seen significant waste collection. At this time, no changes will be made to the community garden or art installed by demonstrators.

The City’s goal remains to create safe spaces for residents to express their first amendment rights, while also preserving the public safety and public health of the area. The aim is for Cal Anderson to be restored and repaired for future demonstrations and other park uses. SPR will begin to repair damage from newly created fires pits, graffiti, fencing, vehicles on the reservoir, impacts to the lawns and the play field, and other infrastructure.

Today staff will focus on removing litter, assessing the park and critical reservoir infrastructure to see what larger cleaning or repair efforts will need to take place in the coming days. Since last Tuesday, City departments including SPU, SPR, the Human Services Department, along with service providers have been on site to provide a wide range of social services to help individuals with needs move out of Capitol Hill area, and if experiencing homelessness, provide access to shelter or temporary housing (services have included: health care, food resources, access to COVID-19 testing, and mental and behavioral supports).

Over the weekend, artists and demonstrators began cataloging and removing plywood to preserve art for future installations. Seattle Parks and Recreation and the Office of Arts & Culture will be working with a range of stakeholders to memorialize aspects of the community protests, such as a garden, art and speaker’s corner at Cal Anderson Park.

Unless there are any incidents, SPD is not expected to be at Cal Anderson Park.

City departments have also been strategizing on how best to support clean-up efforts around the park and in the neighborhood surrounding CHOP where graffiti and garbage have been left behind including possible resources and money to help property owners and businesses. The efforts could also help support community clean-up efforts but nothing has yet been scheduled.

Mayor Jenny Durkan and the city have been in talks with some at the camp to reduce the size of the occupied protest and start the process of moving police back into the emptied East Precinct. Monday morning was believed to be the planned start of the city clearing most of the streets in the area of barriers and blockades set up in recent weeks but that work didn’t go into full motion until Tuesday morning. Those at the camp say they plan to remain until the city agrees to cut the police department budget in half and meet other local Black Lives Matter goals.

With gun violence and deadly shootings creating major safety questions around the camp, the Capitol Hill protest zone continues to play a role in pushing for changes even as community groups and activists focus efforts away from the area of 12th and Pine. Sunday, hundreds marched to Mayor Durkan’s house to demand Black Lives Matter goals and a 50% cut to the Seattle Police Department’s budget.

“We want people to move out of the area. Continue your peaceful demonstration in a place where you are not affecting public safety,” Chief Best said Monday morning at 12th and Pine after an overnight shooting that left a 16-year-old dead and a 14-year-old critically injured. “I can’t telegraph what’s going to happen. But I can tell you that I think enough is enough, I absolutely do,” Best said.

UPDATE: The CHOP camp has lost support of affordable housing developer Community Roots Housing, the former Capitol Hill Housing. The developer of the 12th Ave Arts housing, office, and theater building on the edge of the protest zone is calling for the end of CHOP. “We are adamantly supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement and of all Black lives, we are adamantly supportive of deep police reform and leading with compassion instead of guns,” CEO Chris Persons writes. “But forcing us to choose between anarchy and police brutality is a false dichotomy. Compassion and law-enforcement should not be mutually exclusive. And what’s happening in our neighborhood now is not progressing the movement but impeding it.”

A set of real estate companies, condo associations, and 12th Ave small businesses have filed a federal lawsuit to also increase pressure on the Durkan administration to bring the protest camp to an end.

Tuesday, the effort increased with SDOT workers moving quickly to remove heavy cement barriers. Signs went up announcing a Cal Anderson Park closure starting at noon — the expectation is the clean-up will also continue there where Mayor Durkan has promised an increased effort to offer social services and help finding shelter to the people who have set up camp and joined with the protesters.

Meanwhile, some property owners and businesses in the zone have hired private security to patrol and respond to emergencies.

In addition to the movement’s goals around police brutality and inequality, and concerns around human life and safety, there are also worries about the art and murals created around the zone including the massive BLACK LIVES MATTER artwork painted along E Pine. There are hopes more can be done to preserve the painted letters for the longterm. Meanwhile, a large, sealed metal container labelled “CHOP ORIGINAL ART — PLEASE PROTECT” sat in the middle of the zone addressed to “CHIEF BEST AND OMARI” — Omari Salisbury, the journalist from Converge Media who has become an important voice covering the camp from its formation during the George Floyd protests.

The camp has been in place since June 8th when SPD, in a surprise move, pulled out of the East Precinct following heavy criticism over its use of crowd control tactics including tear gas and flash bombs to stop Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

Featured image by Susan Fried