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Police retract claims that Seattle's 'Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone' protesters tried to extort local businesses

Business Insider logo Business Insider 6/12/2020 mjankowicz@businessinsider.com (Mia Jankowicz)
A sign hangs on the exterior of the Seattle Police Department's East Precinct on June 9, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. David Ryder/Getty Images © David Ryder/Getty Images A sign hangs on the exterior of the Seattle Police Department's East Precinct on June 9, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. David Ryder/Getty Images
  • Seattle police retracted claims that protesters at the "Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone" have been extorting local businesses, The Seattle Times reported
  • A police spokesperson said Wednesday that they had heard "anecdotally" about the practice, which was then widely reported in the media.
  • But Seattle's police chief Carmen Best said Thursday they had had no formal reports of extortion happening.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Seattle police on Thursday retracted an earlier claim that protesters camped at what has been dubbed "Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone" were extorting nearby businesses, according to The Seattle Times.

Police chief Carmen Best walked back prior statements made by her own department, which have since circulated widely and attracted condemnation from conservative critics of the protesters.

At a Wednesday news conference, Assistant Seattle Police Chief Deanna Nollette had told reporters: "We've heard, anecdotally, reports of citizens and businesses being asked to pay a fee to operate within this area. This is the crime of extortion," Fox News reported.

The report became a headline item in several other right-leaning news and commentary pieces, including on the New York Post, PJ Media, and One America News Network

But later on Thursday, Best emphasized those claims effectively only have the status of rumor, and that nobody had formally reported anything to the police.

In reference to the looting, Best said: "That has not happened affirmatively," according to the Seattle Times. "We haven't had any formal reports of this occurring."

Not long after the claim began to circulate, President Donald Trump tweeted saying that the city's leadership was being "taunted and played" and instructed them to "take back your city NOW." 

He also tweeted: "Domestic Terrorists have taken over Seattle, run by Radical Left Democrats of course. LAW & ORDER!"


Video: Seattle mayor says neither she nor police chief will resign despite calls from protesters (FOX News)

He did not specifically mention the claim of extortion.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, a Democrat, rebuked the president at a news conference on Thursday, The Seattle Times reported. In a long Twitter thread defending the camp, she said the president "doesn't understand what's happening" there.

She added: "Capitol Hill has for decades been a place for free speech, community, and self expression."

The thread detailed further thoughts on how to dismantle systemic racism in Seattle, saying "We will not allow this president be a distraction."

The self-described "Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone" was set up on Monday, on the site of earlier protests against the police killing of George Floyd and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

After an attempt Sunday night to clear the protests with tear gas, police left the area.

As Business Insider's Isaac Scher has reported, the camp has become a focal point for organizing, artistic activity, food distribution and other community efforts. 

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