TIt occupied a protest area near downtown Seattle known as the Capitol Hill Organized Protest, or “Chop,” which effectively came to an end early on Wednesday morning when officers largely cleared the area of people and camps, despite some protests that persisted Thursday night.
Activists now say the relationships built and the lessons learned over the past three weeks in the self-proclaimed police-free zone have already had a lasting impact that will live beyond Chop’s physical presence.
“We won, we won, we made history,” said Rick Hearns, who had become head of security at Chop. “Look what we did here. The world saw it. “
But the protest area also became the site of a series of nighttime shootings, which left a 16-year-old boy and a 19-year-old man dead and several other seriously injured.
In a series of tweets Wednesday afternoon, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan highlighted violence in the area, saying “recent threats to public safety have been well documented” and “this violence demanded action.”
She said: “Our conversations over the weekend made it clear that many people would not be leaving, and that we would not be able to address these critical public safety concerns until they did.”
The autonomous zone emerged organically after a series of dangerous clashes between protesters and law enforcement officers during marches against police brutality caused by the murder of George Floyd and an African American, by a white police officer, in Minneapolis in May.
Officers in Seattle left their east compound building when the protests closed, after which protesters camped around them, with the intention of protecting the building from possible destruction that could be attributed to them.
In the days that followed, hundreds more joined, and suddenly several blocks of the city streets were packed with people of different ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds, focused on asking for the disbursement from the city police department, echoing the cries of protest that come from coast to coast. This can mean diverting budgeted money for police departments to educational and social services, or even dismantling an entire department and restructuring the law enforcement system.
And they wanted to end police brutality against blacks, said Tarika Powell, a Seattle Black Collective Voice organizer.
“It was a space where people came to learn. We show documentaries, we organize assemblies of people every day where people had the opportunity to speak and share their feelings and ideas … we organize educational events every day, “she told The Guardian.
“We had a space called a conversation café where people could come to learn about racism and talk about it in a way that they cannot do in their daily lives.”
It stimulated not only important conversations and learning, but also lasting ties, which have since resulted in the organization of anti-racist protests and the creation of social justice groups.
The Seattle Black Collective Voice, for example, was formed after a group of organizers and protesters gathered at the Chop, Powell explained.
Today, there are about 40 people involved with the collective, and they hold weekly educational events, and organize neighborhood cleanups and mental health outreach for people in the African American community.
“We would not have been able to get together and participate in the work we are doing if it had not been for Chop,” he said.
Pay the Fee Tiny Library launched at a tent in the Chop, and organizers have now created the library, which includes LGBTQ black, indigenous and black literature, around the city and held events. And now a garden started at Cal Anderson Park is expected to become a permanent addition to the neighborhood.
Protesters have repeatedly stressed that the shooting and violence were not directly related to Chop, and may have happened anyway. But it resulted in a dramatic decrease in occupants, worried local businesses and residents, and amplified officials asking occupants to disperse.
By the time police cleared Chop on Wednesday, following Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan’s emergency executive order, the area had largely been reduced to a small number of activists and many homeless people, Powell said.
The truth is that “homeless people were violently entered and swept up, throwing away their stores and belongings,” he said.
Those homeless people had come to Chop to be safe from the sweeps. That’s the vast majority of people who have been in that space since the shooting started. “
Officers reported on Twitter that they arrested 31 people during the sweep.
Some activists have argued that the police compound was necessary as a bargaining chip to meet their three main demands, which involve spending the police, using that money to invest in community health and services, and dropping criminal charges against the protesters. Others say that another occupation in the city could be a future possibility.
Jessie Livingston, 36, a protester who has been camped in Chop almost every day since its founding, said she does not know exactly what shape the movement can take, but said: “We are going to organize sit-ins, we are going to send mail unwanted city officials, we’re going to show up at city council meetings, we’re going to do everything we know how to do. “
She added: “We are not going anywhere.”