Under Durkan’s Executive Order, Seattle Police Sweep in to Retake East Precinct and Clear Capitol Hill Protest Zone

by JSeattle

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

24 days after clearing the building and evacuating the area following weeks of anti-police protests, the Seattle Police Department swept into the area around the East Precinct early Wednesday and cleared the protest zone that has formed in this core neighborhood of Capitol Hill under an executive order from Mayor Jenny Durkan.

The 30-minute operation created a wide perimeter around the 12th and Pine building with streets cleared of campers and protesters and police reported taking some into custody but meeting little resistance. The Seattle Police Department says it arrested 31 people “for failure to disperse, obstruction, resisting arrest, and assault.”

There were no significant injuries reported. Around 6:30 AM, SPD said that a woman was reported going into labor on the east side of Cal Anderson Park.

Police said officers “enforcing today’s order” were wearing “a higher-level of protective gear.”

“Police are utilizing this equipment because individuals associated w/the CHOP are known to be armed and dangerous/may be associated with shootings, homicides, robberies, assaults & other violent crimes,” the update read.

SPD was also investigating reports of vehicles circling the area with officers reporting individuals “with firearms/armor” inside. The vehicles also did not have visible license plates, SPD reported.

Durkan’s executive order was posted on Twitter at 5 a.m. but issued earlier in the night. It calls for the area around Cal Anderson Park and the East Precinct to be cleared for 48 hours.

“The purpose of this Executive Order is to direct Departments to coordinate the City’s response to observed and reported life safety, public health, and property issues in and around the East Precinct and Cal Anderson Park,” the order reads.

Tuesday, the city began to remove heavy cement barriers from streets around the protest area but agreed to leave protections in place for the main camp area outside the East Precinct. A second area of camping inside Cal Anderson was also reported to be cleared.

“We want people to move out of the area. Continue your peaceful demonstration in a place where you are not affecting public safety,” Chief Carmen Best said Monday morning after an overnight shooting that left a 16-year-old dead and a 14-year-old critically injured.

In an interview with the Capitol Hill Seattle Blog Wednesday morning, Chief Best told residents and nearby businesses to be prepared for “days” of recovery to reclaim the area and make the zone around the East Precinct and Cal Anderson Park safe again.

“It’s a fluid situation,” the chief said as she took a break from her tour of the scene.

“We’re taking it one day at a time. The level of crime, violence, and brutal lawless nature was unacceptable.

As for lessons for her leadership of the police force about the decision to empty the East Precinct in the first place, Best said there would be a deeper examination ahead.

“There is a lot of speculation about what happened with that, once street was open it presented a problem.”

But she took issue with Seattle City Council Member Lisa Herbold’s characterization of the FBI intelligence cited as a justification for the original lockdown of the precinct from an op-ed published this week by The Stranger:

The decision to barricade the East Precinct was attributed to what was described as a “credible threat” from the FBI to the East Precinct. My conversations with Chief Best have revealed that the FBI threat was not specific to the East Precinct; rather, it appears to have been a generalized assessment of threat to “police and government structures” in Portland, San Francisco, and Seattle.

“Lisa Herbold is entitled to her observation and opinion. I disagree. We saw what happened at the precinct. She was there, what, one night?”

Later this morning, Chief Best was commended in a statement from United States Attorney General William P. Barr:

I commend Police Chief Carmen Best for her courage and leadership in restoring the rule of law in Seattle. For the past several weeks, the Capitol Hill area of Seattle was occupied by protesters who denied access to police and other law enforcement personnel. Unsurprisingly, the area became a haven for violent crime, including shootings that claimed the lives of two young people, assaults, and robberies. As Chief Best made clear throughout the process, there is a fundamental distinction between discussion of substantive issues — including addressing distrust of law enforcement by many in the African-American community — and violent defiance of the law. Chief Best has rightly committed to continue the substantive discussion while ending the violence, which threatens innocent people and undermines the very rule-of-law principles that the protesters profess to defend. Thanks to the Seattle Police Department, Capitol Hill parks, streets, and businesses are again accessible to the people of Seattle, who may travel throughout their city without fear of violence. The people of Seattle should be grateful to Chief Best and her Department for their professional and steadfast defense of the rule of law. The message of today’s action is simple but significant: the Constitution protects the right to speak and assemble freely, but it provides no right to commit violence or defy the law, and such conduct has no place in a free society governed by law.

Meanwhile, residents at the 12th and Pine Packard Building report receiving this notification about the clearance underway:

Crews could be seen rapidly disassembling plywood barriers as heavy equipment moved in to clear the large cement barriers as Chief Best and SPD brass observed under the watchful eye of SWAT officers stationed on rooftops above.

The latest deadly shooting continues a string of gun violence at the camp in a series that had been quiet since a shooting early last week that sent one person to the hospital. That shooting was part of a string that left one dead and at least three wounded. Early that Saturday, one man was killed and another person was critically wounded in a shooting at 10th and Pine. 19-year-old Renton High student Lorenzo Anderson died in an incident that became a flashpoint of controversy with police restricting their presence in the area following the emptying of the East Precinct headquarters and Seattle Fire’s limited abilities to respond without police presence. That Sunday night brought another shooting on the edge of Cal Anderson that sent a 17-year-old to the hospital.

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.

With gun violence and deadly shootings creating major safety questions around the camp, the Capitol Hill protest zone continued to play a role in pushing for changes even as community groups and activists focused 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.

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.

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 had said they planned to remain until the city agrees to cut the police department budget in half and meet other local Black Lives Matter goals.

Featured image by Susan Fried