SEATTLE (UPI) — After an increase in gun violence over the weekend, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced the city plans to end the so-called Capitol Hill Occupation Protest zone, which thousands of protesters have held free of police for roughly two weeks amid nationwide unrest following the death of a black man by a white police officer late last month.
In a press conference Monday, Durkan told protesters who have taken over the six-block area that “it’s time for people to go home.”
“It’s time for us to restore Cal Anderson and Capitol Hill so it can be a vibrant part of the community,” she said, adding that the area can still be used for peaceful protests but the impacts the occupation and the subsequent violence has had on the businesses, residents and community “are now too much.”
Durkan did not state when the removal would occur but that the Seattle Police Department will be returning to its East Precinct building “peacefully and in the near future.”
The backstory of the CHOP zone in Seattle
Protesters overtook the area earlier this month amid nationwide protests against police brutality and racial inequality after George Floyd was killed by a white Minneapolis police officer late May. Video of Floyd’s death showing the officer pinning the unarmed and handcuffed black man to the ground for more than eight minutes with a knee to his neck prompted people to take to the streets throughout the country.
Durkan on Monday said hundreds of thousands have gathered daily throughout Seattle to protest the death of George Floyd and systemic racism and tens of thousands have gathered on Capitol Hill to demand change and while peaceful during the day, violence has been escalating in the police-free area at night.
Recent violent incidents in the CHOP zone
In the past two nights, three different people have been shot at the CHOP, one of whom died, she said, adding this escalating violence worries her, the police department, residents and local business owners.
The deceased was a 19-year-old man, and as a mother to a 19-year-old son, Durkan said she can’t imagine the pain his family must be experiencing.
“We must do better — here in Seattle and across the country,” she said during the press conference.
She told the protesters the city will work to address their demands to ensure that community problems are addressed by community solutions, not simply the police — however, the violence must end.
“The city will not allow for gun violence to continue in the evenings around the Capitol Hill and if individuals continue to remain in the park we will be looking at additional steps to ensure community safety,” she said, adding, “we cannot let acts of violence define this movement for change.”
President Donald Trump has chastised both Durkan and the Democratic governor of Washington, Jay Inslee, for their handling of the situation, referring to the protesters as “domestic terrorists” and threatening that if they don’t “take back” their city, he would.
Reporting by Darryl Coote
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