Maybe I haven’t been to enough block parties to really say, but what’s happening in the area of Seattle, Washington, known as the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone is not like any block party I’ve ever attended.
But that’s what Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said was happening in CHAZ, a roughly six-block area in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of her city, which includes a police precinct building, that has now been taken over by protestors and deemed a “no cop co-op,” according to USA Today.
Following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis while in police custody last month, Seattle, like many cities, was plagued by violent protests in the streets.
After several clashes between protestors and law enforcement, police officers from the East Precinct of the Seattle Police Department eventually withdrew from the area and removed their barriers.
Protestors flooded in to barricade that part of the city, including the police station, and have occupied the area since Monday.
Despite the rosy picture painted by many media outlets, the reality inside the CHAZ is apparently much different.
With reports of identification checks around the perimeter and armed protestors inside, it’s not quite the picnic tables, summer casseroles and happy faces that usually characterize a block party.
President Donald Trump has been outspoken about the situation, calling occupiers “anarchists” and “domestic terrorists” as he threatened to take control of the city if Durkan would not.
For her part, Durkan has effectively welcomed the takeover of the city and its police precinct.
She has repeatedly swooped in to defend the encampment, including her most recent dismissal of the serious situation on CNN’s “Cuomo Prime Time” Thursday.
“We’ve got four blocks in Seattle that you just saw pictures of that is more like a block party atmosphere,” the Democratic mayor gushed.
“It’s not an armed takeover. It’s not a military junta. We will make sure that we can restore this. But we have block parties and the like in this part of Seattle all the time — it’s known for that,” she said.
Durkan insisted there was “no threat right now to the public,” and instead focused on Trump’s promise to take action, calling it “illegal and unconstitutional,” without a hint of irony given the current lawlessness of her city and its building under siege.
Cuomo tried to play devil’s advocate, rightly pointing out that the opposition would say, “‘Block parties don’t take over a municipal building, let alone a police station, and destroy it,’ basically thumbing their nose at any sense of civic control.”
The mayor replied by explaining she essentially decided to have the police open the streets and cede their building to the protestors to de-escalate the situation, accepting the takeover that followed as par for the course.
“Remember why we’re here,” Durkan instructed. “You know, we’re here because the nation saw Mr. Floyd murdered, and that lit a match across this country. And we have to acknowledge and know that we have a system that is built on systemic racism, and we have to dismantle that system piece by piece.”
“We have to empower the Black community and communities of color,” she continued, “and we have to invest in their health, and their safety, and their education, and opportunity.”
Despite Cuomo asking her if her opponents could say it was “lefty radicalism run amok,” Durkan said her city’s approach is a “public safety approach” and added the “number-one priority every American city has is to protect the First Amendment right.”
“Our country was born out of protest. The right to gather, the right to protest, the right to challenge government, when it’s wrong, is our most fundamental constitutional right. It’s a reason it’s the First Amendment,” she said, unaware of property and other rights being trampled on by out-of-control protestors.
Durkan continued to take swipes at Trump over COVID-19 and racism, and when Cuomo asked how long this situation would persist, she replied, “I don’t know. We could have the Summer of Love.”
A block party, focus on safety, summer of love — that’s not the reality for Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best.
It seems Best did not see a summer of fun when she returned to the East Precinct in the CHAZ Wednesday, calling the area “damaged” and “a mess” in an interview with KIRO-TV.
“The driving impetus here was our 911 response times have tripled in the area,” Best said.
“They’ve gone from just over 5 minutes to about 18 minutes. Rapes, robberies, and all sorts of violent acts have been occurring in the area that we’re not able to get to,” she said.
“It is not right for us not to be able to deploy our officers here,” Best later said.
“Leaving the precinct was not my decision,” Best explained in another video. “Ultimately, the city had other plans for the building and relented to severe public pressure. I’m angry at how all this came about.”
“That was a decision made in concert with command staff and others on the ground,” the mayor said in a news conference as she deflected any responsibility.
In separate comments Thursday, Best described the scene inside CHAZ to KIRO-TV:
“There was vandalism to our city streets and our building. But today, the precinct remains standing. No officers were hurt. No force was used. We have heard that there are armed people ‘patrolling’ the streets near 12th and Pine. Of course this is very concerning especially because we don’t know who these people are.
“We’ve also received reports that these armed people may be demanding payment from business owners in exchange for some of that protection. We’ve also heard that they may be demanding to see identification from people who live in the area. This is not legal, and we’ve asked anyone who may be experiencing this to come forward and file a police report so that we can investigate these crimes.”
Best remains in a tough spot as she struggles to protect her city even as Durkan is unable or unwilling to see the reality on the streets.
It is only a matter of time before something horrific happens in the CHAZ if the police are not allowed to restore law and order. Soon, protestors might not be toting picnic blankets and potato salad — they could be wielding weapons.
And it won’t be Mayor Durkan who will have to clean up the mess and restore order, but the very officers whom she kicked out.
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