Seattle police moved into the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ) early on Wednesday morning and cleared out the demonstrators. The area has been under "occupation" by protesters since June 8, but recently there has been violence within the area, including two deaths. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan ordered police to disperse the gathering.
Police moved into the Capitol Hill neighborhood at about 5 a.m. PT on Wednesday, according to a report by NBC News. Protesters objected to their entry, even trying to shore up their barriers, but police pushed through. They arrested at least 23 people in the first three hours of their re-entry and ordered everyone to clear the area for at least 48 hours. While protesters have affectionately called the settlement CHAZ, officials did not use that name, referring to it as Capitol Hill Occupied Protest Zone (CHOP).
"I support peaceful demonstrations. Black lives matter and I too want to help propel this movement forward toward meaningful exchange in our community and meaningful change in our community," said Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best on Wednesday morning. "But enough is enough. Our job is to protect and to serve the community."
The "autonomous zone" was set up early last month after the Seattle Police Department abandoned their East Precinct. Rather than destroying it, protesters used this site as the basis for a social experiment, blocking the roads with concrete barriers. Things remained peaceful for about two weeks, but on June 20 there was a shooting inside CHAZ.
At least three more shootings followed within the protest area, killing a 19-year-old man, a 16-year-old boy and injuring another 14-year-old boy. Protest organizer Andre Taylor told NBC News that these crimes simply put too much strain on the city's faith in the experiment.
"It didn’t end how it started and that’s the tragedy of the situation," Taylor said. "The first time that there was violence, there should have been an awakening. If they would have pivoted to those deaths as strongly as a George Floyd death, I think that Seattle would have continued to support this group."
CHAZ began amid the nationwide protests against police violence and systemic racism following the killing of George Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Cities around the country continue to see widespread marches night after night, often culminating in clashes with police. The four officers involved in Floyd's death have been fired and arrested on criminal charges.