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Seattle mayor announces city will reclaim police-free autonomous zone taken over by demonstrators

Jun 23, 2020, 9:37 AM
SEATTLE, WA - JUNE 15: People set up a tent outside of the Seattle Police Departments East Precinct...
SEATTLE, WA - JUNE 15: People set up a tent outside of the Seattle Police Departments East Precinct in the police-free zone known as the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP) on June 15, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. The area consists of the blocks surrounding the Seattle Police Departments East Precinct, which was vacated after violent clashes with Black Lives Matter protesters in the wake of George Floyd's death. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)
(Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

(CNN) — Seattle’s mayor told protesters Monday “it’s time for people to go home” and leave the Capitol Hill neighborhood they have established as an autonomous zone.

Demonstrators will not be removed by force, Mayor Jenny Durkan said, but the city will be working with Black-led community organizations to speak with leaders of the “Capitol Hill Organized Protest” to persuade them to leave the area.

All police were pulled out of the Seattle Police Department precinct in the neighborhood as tensions boiled over during protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody. But this weekend brought three nighttime shootings in the area, Durkan said, and officials especially want protesters out during the overnight hours.

“We can still accommodate people who want to protest peacefully,” Durkan said, “But the impacts on the businesses and residents in the community are now too much.”

Police will return to the boarded-up precinct

The East Precinct was boarded up and abandoned after an “autonomous zone” was established outside the building. At the time, Police Chief Carmen Best said leaving the precinct was not her idea and expressed anger at how the decision was made.

Durkan told CNN’s Chris Cuomo on June 11 that the autonomous zone could be seen as a “Summer of Love.”

Though a deadline is not clear, Durkan said Monday that officers will be returning to the precinct to respond to more than 100,000 emergency calls.

The three people who were shot in the area over the weekend include a 19-year-old who was killed, Best said. First responders were prevented from quickly reaching the victims because they were met by a “hostile crowd,” she said.

“It is not unnoticed that the victims were Black men,” Mayor Durkan said.

Best said there have also been reports of rape, arson, and property destruction.

“We cannot walk away from the truth of what is happening here,” the police chief said. “This is about life or death.”

‘We are responding to every call’

Chief Best has denied claims the department was not responding to calls in the zone.

“Seattle is not under siege and we are responding to every call and every area of the city,” Best told CNN’s Chris Cuomo last week.

The statement comes after Seattle Police officers received a department-wide email June 12 that instructed them not to respond to calls for service within the CHAZ unless they were responding to a “mass casualty event” such as an active shooter or structural fire.

Seattle Police spokesman Det. Patrick Michaud confirmed the authenticity of the email to CNN and reiterated that officers were still responding to any significant life safety issues.

For any other calls, people were asked to meet police outside of the zone, Michaud said.

One business owner in the area told  CNN affiliate KIRO that despite numerous calls to 911 June 14 following a break-in, no police officers or firefighters showed up. The police department told the affiliate that it did respond to the scene and provided a case number but no narrative.

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Seattle mayor announces city will reclaim police-free autonomous zone taken over by demonstrators