Seattle mayor, police chief speak out on decision to clear CHOP

SEATTLE — After the Capitol Hill Occupied/Organized Protest zone was cleared out by police Wednesday morning, Mayor Jenny Durkan revealed that over the last two weeks, the Seattle Police Department and other city departments had been working on what she called a “range of operational plans.”

She added that concerns were growing over the weekend.

“It was clear many individuals would not leave and that the impacts to the community could not be reduced,” she said. “Public safety could not be improved until they did leave.”

Durkan said late Tuesday night, she issued an executive order. On Wednesday afternoon, Durkan cited the string of shootings in and near the area.

“I’m hoping to meet with the families of the gun victims to whom I can directly express my condolences,” she said.

She also told demonstrators that their work there will be marked and have a legacy.

“There’s no question we must find a way to memorialize that history that has transpired there over the last month,” she said. “I truly believe we can reimagine the space — a shared space including a community room in the East Precinct and things in and around Capitol Hill and the East Precinct.”

The mayor also promised change: investing in black communities and young people, as well as reimagining policing and SPD’s budget.

When asked why the city had not stepped in earlier, Durkan and police Chief Carmen Best stated they could not have retaken it when thousands occupied the area.

“With the streets open, we’re hopeful that Seattle, Capitol Hill can return to normal, that businesses can open,” Durkan said.

Best did say police will have a presence in and around the reclaimed precinct as they clean up and move back in.

“The mayor’s order still in effect,” she said. “For the next 10 days, people are not allowed in the area — that are not residents or business owners, into the area.”

On Wednesday, some protesters were vowed to march down from Capitol Hill and occupy the City Hall building. Some asked Durkan and Best how they would respond.

“Look, every protest situation and act of civil disobedience, we respond to as the circumstances allow and permit, and so it’s hard to predict with every hypothetical,” Durkan said. “We will support the right of free speech, but we will not support the right of people who are creating a situation like we had on Capitol Hill.”

“What we can’t have is what we saw there,” Best said, “An area that, where people were entrenched, where crime and lawlessness were occurring.”

Durkan said she fully supports the police department’s operations Wednesday morning, including its more than 40 arrests. But, she added, “I believe charges should not be filed against individuals arrested only for misdemeanor obstruction, failure to disperse, or trespassing.”

Councilmember Kshama Sawant accused Durkan of targeting CHOP on a day when the council would be too busy with the budget.

“I want to start by condemning the attacks by Mayor Durkan and the Seattle police that serve under her direction against the Capitol Hill Organized Protest,” she said.

Sawant, who has repeatedly called for Durkan to step down, said she was aghast at the mayor’s decision to clear out the area.

“She continues to show that she is incapable of leading this city,” Sawant said. “All these attacks are attacks on the Black Lives Matter movement.”