Police are clearing Seattle’s protest ‘autonomous zone’

A crowd of police officers pushed through the area just after 5 a.m. Wednesday, some wearing helmets and carrying batons.

Racial Injustice Seattle
Workers remove a rendering of a clenched fist from a Seattle police precinct Wednesday, July 1, 2020, in Seattle, where streets had been blocked off in an area demonstrators had occupied for weeks. –AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

SEATTLE — Police officers moved in and cleared an area near downtown Seattle early Wednesday where demonstrators had surrounded a police station and established a “no cop” zone amid national protests over police brutality.

City officials cited a series of violent episodes in their decision to vacate the region, including the deaths of two teenagers amid at least four shootings in a matter of 10 days last month.

“Black Lives Matter, and I too want to help propel this movement toward meaningful change in our community,” Chief Carmen Best of the Seattle Police Department said. “But enough is enough.”

The order to vacate the area came amid growing tensions over how to handle an area that was cordoned off as a symbolic statement by protesters after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The continuing problems had drawn the attention of President Donald Trump, who blasted Democratic officials in Seattle and Washington state for failing to clear the area earlier.

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“If they don’t do the job, I’ll do the job,” the president said last month.

A crowd of police officers pushed through the area just after 5 a.m. Wednesday, some wearing helmets and carrying batons. Officials said the equipment was necessary because people gathered in the area were known to be armed.

Officers lined up on the edge of the area as a helicopter whirred overhead. Protesters milled around the intersection, some shouting at police. A couple of officers engaged in dialogue directly with protesters as others led a man away in handcuffs. One man said he had been hit with pepper spray as officers pushed protesters back to 12th and Pike Street.

Twenty-three people were arrested on charges of failure to disperse, obstruction, resisting arrest and assault, the Police Department said on Twitter, including a 29-year-old man who had a large metal pipe and a kitchen knife.

The city had previously made the unusual decision to abandon a police station in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, board up its windows and let protesters have free rein outside in the wake of demonstrations nationwide over Floyd’s death in police custody.

Protesters laid claim to several city blocks and put up a banner on the front entrance of the emptied police station reading, “This space is now property of the Seattle people.”

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