‘Leaving the precinct was not my decision’ Chief Best says in message to fellow officers

VIDEO: Police chief, officers return to East Precinct to evaluate building

SEATTLE — “Leaving the precinct was not my decision.”

That was Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best’s message to her fellow officers in a video posted to the department’s YouTube page Thursday morning.

Best was referring to the ongoing situation outside the department’s East Precinct in Capitol Hill where protesters have declared a 6-block area the “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone,” or “CHAZ,” in the days since officers were moved out.

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The area has become a hotbed of demonstrations over the last two weeks as protesters continued to call for systemic change following the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody.

Until Monday afternoon, officers placed barricades in the streets and engaged in a staredown with protesters in an effort to protect the precinct.

However, those staredowns escalated multiple times.

Police said demonstrators moved barricades, and threw rocks, bottles and “improvised explosives” at officers on multiple occasions.

In total, Best said 25 officers were injured over a 10-day period.

“You fought for days to protect (The East Precinct). I asked you to stand on that line. Day in and day out, to be pelted with projectiles, to be screamed at, threatened and in some cases hurt. Then to have a change of course nearly two weeks in, it seems like an insult to you and our community,” Best said in Thursday’s video.

Best said the city ultimately had other plans for the building and said leaders relented to severe public pressure.

“An exercise in trust and de-escalation”

Best announced Monday afternoon that the decision to reopen streets around the East Precinct was “an exercise in trust and de-escalation.”

“We have heard from the protesters, many on social media and many elected officials that the intention is to march, and the buildings on the block will be safe,” Best said.

Before reopening the streets, police said they took precautions by boarding up glass and removing personal items and sensitive equipment from the precinct.

"We will not allow violent actors to destroy a city facility," Best said Monday.

Best said crews with the Seattle Fire Department applied a fire retardant to the exterior of the building. City utility workers also installed fencing and barriers around the building.

However, minutes after the officers were ordered away from their posts, protesters moved in and promptly moved out the barriers.

“Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone”

In the days since officers moved out of the area surrounding the East Precinct, protesters have declared it the “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone” or “CHAZ.”

A large banner hangs over a wall reads, “THIS SPACE IS NOW PROPERTY OF THE SEATTLE PEOPLE.”

At 11th and East Pine, there’s a "Cop free CO-OP” that’s stocked with free food and supplies. Murals cover almost every wall, many of them honoring the black lives killed by police.

Many businesses in the area that are starting to reopen amid the pandemic are supporting the movement.

“I think it means a lot of things. Everything in the autonomous zone is free right now,” Kate VanPetten, who works at Caffe Vita in the neighborhood, told KIRO 7’s Deedee Sun on Wednesday. “It’s an anti-racist zone.”

Gatherings in the “Autonomous Zone” have largely remained peaceful thus far. Protesters have created art, cooked food and have even held outdoor movie/documentary viewings. Many stress they’re there to spread their message of systemic change peacefully.

However, some residents in the neighborhood have said access to their buildings are blocked.

“It’s a bit stressful. It’s like checking in with somebody to get into your own home,” said Mckenzie Diamond, who lives in the “Autonomous Zone.” “Just making it so people can get into their buildings. Keep the zone however they want, and move the fencing so people can go home,” she said.

There are also barricades preventing the Seattle Fire Department from accessing and responding to emergencies.

Best comments on “CHAZ”

Best expressed concerns over the safety inside “CHAZ” on Thursday, saying:

“As you might’ve heard, the Seattle Fire Department was nearby to protect the precinct and the entire residential block from a real risk of a large-scale fire. This week, there have been demonstrations and what I understand were threats against a news reporter on Capitol Hill.

“There was vandalism to our city streets and our building. But today, the precinct remains standing. No officers were hurt. No force was used. We have heard that there are armed people ‘patrolling’ the streets near 12th and Pine. Of course this is very concerning especially because we don’t know who these people are.

“We’ve also received reports that these armed people may be demanding payment from business owners in exchange for some of that protection. We’ve also heard that they may be demanding to see identification from people who live in the area. This is not legal, and we’ve asked anyone who may be experiencing this to come forward and file a police report so that we can investigate these crimes.”

President Trump weighs in on “CHAZ”

“CHAZ” drew the ire of President Donald Trump Wednesday night when he called on Gov. Jay Inslee and Seattle Mayor Durkan to “Take back your city NOW.”

Trump said they were both being “taunted and played.”

“Radical Left Governor @JayInslee and the Mayor of Seattle are being taunted and played at a level that our great Country has never seen before. Take back your city NOW. If you don’t do it, I will. This is not a game. These ugly Anarchists must be stooped IMMEDIATELY. MOVE FAST!” Trump said.

The president also tweeted:

Both Inlsee and Durkan later responded to Trump:

Full transcript of Best’s “Message of Support” on Thursday:

“SPD Family, I say that because that is what you are. You are my family and family is honest with each other and family has tough times, but in the end we always remain family.

“We are all going through one of the toughest times in the history of the Seattle Police Department. I know how incredibly difficult these past two weeks have been for you and for your families.

“To say thank you will probably never be enough, but thank you. This department cares about you. I care about you and although it might not seem true at this moment, your community cares about you.

“I want to update you all on the situation at the East Precinct. The decision to board up the precinct, our precinct, our home, the first precinct I worked in was something I have been holding off. You should know, leaving the precinct was not my decision. You fought for days to protect it. I asked you to stand on that line. Day in and day out, to be pelted with projectiles, to be screamed at, threatened and in some cases hurt. Then to have a change of course nearly two weeks in, it seems like an insult to you and our community.

“Ultimately the city had other plans for the building and relented to severe public pressure. I’m angry about how this all came about.

“I understand that my comments in this message may be leaked to the public, but I’m not concerned about that. I stand by what I’m saying. We had solid information to believe that anti-government groups would destroy the precinct once we left whether through vandalism or arson.

“As you might’ve heard, the Seattle Fire Department was nearby to protect the precinct and the entire residential block from a real risk of a large-scale fire. This week, there have been demonstrations and what I understand were threats against a news reporter on Capitol Hill.

“There was vandalism to our city streets and our building. But today, the precinct remains standing. No officers were hurt. No force was used. We have heard that there are armed people ‘patrolling’ the streets near 12th and Pine. Of course this is very concerning especially because we don’t know who these people are.

“We’ve also received reports that these armed people may be demanding payment from business owners in exchange for some of that protection. We’ve also heard that they may be demanding to see identification from people who live in the area. This is not legal, and we’ve asked anyone who may be experiencing this to come forward and file a police report so that we can investigate these crimes.

“In closing, I mostly just wanted to share how I feel. I am very thankful and very grateful for each and every one of you every single day. You are doing such incredible work, but I know you feel underappreciated. However, I do believe that most people in Seattle support the police department and its officers even though they may not be the ones posting on social media. They and I will continue to have your backs to support you and appreciate all that you are doing in the name of public safety. Thank you and stay safe.”