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Protesters Won't Leave CHOP in Seattle as Tensions Rise

The Wall Street Journal. logo The Wall Street Journal. 6/27/2020 Jim Carlton
a man doing a stunt on a city street © stephen brashear/Shutterstock

Several hundred demonstrators are staying in an autonomous area claimed by protesters for racial justice in Seattle, even as its size is shrinking and pressure to shut it down completely is increasing from local businesses and residents, as well as city officials.

The Capitol Hill Occupied Protest zone, or CHOP, began on June 8 after thousands of protesters moved into a six-block area in the artsy neighborhood. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan ordered police to abandon the local East Precinct police station to help end violent confrontations there following the killing of the African-American George Floyd by a white Minneapolis policeman on May 25.

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The CHOP was initially akin to a community festival focused on antiracism and police reform, with few problems or complaints from local residents. But last weekend there were three shootings in the area, one of which left a man dead, according to Ms. Durkan.

Police attempting to respond to the fatal incident in the predawn hours Saturday were blocked by a crowd telling them to leave, according to body camera footage released by the department. The 19-year-old victim, shot by an unknown assailant inside the occupied zone, was taken by private citizens to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.

“It’s time for people to go home,” Ms. Durkan said in a press conference Monday. “We can still accommodate people who want to protest peacefully, come there and gather. But the impacts on the businesses and residents and community are now too much.”

On Friday morning, city crews arrived to remove some road barriers in the occupation zone and begin cleaning up a city park there, but were met with “significant resistance by protesters, who grew increasingly agitated and aggressive,” a spokesman for the mayor said. The crews later retreated.

Many people who lived in the CHOP have left, but an estimated few hundred protesters remain encamped in an area that has been shrunk down to three blocks following a city request. On Wednesday night, some were barbecuing on the street behind signs that said they wouldn’t leave until three demands are met: a defunding of the Seattle police, more investment in community programs for black residents and the release of all prisoners jailed in the recent Black Lives Matter protests.

Ms. Durkan’s revised budget proposal introduced Tuesday calls for a $20 million, or 5%, reduction in the Seattle police budget, far below the $200 million protesters want.

Many businesses were just reopening from the coronavirus pandemic when the occupation began, depriving them of customers yet again. “All these shops by the grace of God were able to survive, and then CHOP arrived,” said Brad Augustine, managing member of Madrona Real Estate Services LLC, which manages several properties in the occupied zone. “We need our mayor and police chief to be united and get this thing resolved.”

A class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of local businesses and residents on Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Seattle, seeking unspecified damages from the city for allowing the occupation to happen.

Among the problems cited in the 56-page complaint: armed protesters barring vehicular access to homes and businesses, the blocking of police from responding to calls, including the fatal shooting, and pervasive graffiti.

Some CHOP participants said the area already had a crime problem and that other concerns should take precedence. “If they are upset about graffiti and violence, I can only imagine how upset they are about the police killing of black people,” said Marshall Hugh, whose band has supported the protesters with performances in the CHOP.

Neither Mayor Durkan nor police commanders responded to requests for comment.

Protesters aren’t all on the same page, adding to the complexity of ending the occupation. One community organizer, who asked not to be identified, said she had hoped the protesters would sit down with the mayor and negotiate a compromise. She expressed sympathy for the businesses. “I am not an advocate of anyone taking over anyone else’s property,” she said.

But other organizers say they aren’t interested in any meetings. “Let it be clear: We will not be bought off,” Naudia “Nas” Miller, representative of a group called the Black Collective Voice, said in a statement. “We are here to dismantle systemic racism.”

Write to Jim Carlton at


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