SEATTLE — Armed protesters now say they're protecting the East Precinct police building after Seattle police officers boarded up the office and left the protest area on Monday.
People speaking on Tuesday afternoon said they felt like they could now protest without fear.
"People are afraid of the police. Not just the guns and throwing bombs and stuff like that. People are afraid police -— they're above the law. They don't have any accountability. Once they have the badge on there, they can do anything and no one stops it," said Raz Simone, a Seattle musician and protester.
The Seattle Police Department East Precinct now has the word "police" spray-painted over and replaced with the word "people."
Officers boarded up the precinct, removed all valuables, and cleared out of the area as a de-escalation technique.
"They want the streets open for peaceful marches, and we're going to facilitate that opportunity for them," said Police Chief Carmen Best on Monday.
Now spray-painted tags everywhere read "cop free zone" and "defund SPD."
Protesters said the tension between demonstrators and police is now diffused, with officers no longer staging at a barrier.
"They were wanting to block us because of fear — it's the same narrative we go through every day," said Maurice Cola, a Seattle protester.
"Now they've stepped back. And we are holding up space here because we recognize this is also our building, as we paid for this," Cola said.
Protesters said rumors had circulated that far-right groups like the Proud Boys planned to attend the protest and stir up trouble. And some said they were ready to defend the East Precinct.
Video from Raz Simone on Facebook shows some of those armed protesters overnight.
"We're all trying to protect the building," Simone said.
"We also have people who are lawfully capable of having their weaponry," Cola said, adding, "We're not going to allow them to use their rights to fear us into committing crime. That's not going to work and we're definitely not going to destroy a building that comes out of our pocket. That's an expensive building."
Now protesters say they're turning the attention back to the message — focusing on changes to end systemic racism.
"I'd hope my kids would be able to get out of the car without getting shot. That's it," said Rodney Maine, who lives in Everett but was in Seattle for the protest. "I'd hope they could go into the store without being stereotyped with security around them," he said.
The calls to defund the Seattle Police Department also continue. Most of the demands say the department's $400 million budget should be cut in half.
"I think defunding them is a requirement because they have too much money, which equates to too much power and overreach of power," Cola said.
Another demand is to hold police officers accountable — starting with those who've shot and killed unarmed people of color.
"I think actions like that is how you gain back the trust of a people. Because right now the trust is so — it's not there at all, " Simone said.
Seattle City Council members have said they plan to review the Seattle Police Department budget line by line on Wednesday.