SEATTLE - Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said Monday that Seattle police will be returning to its abandoned East Precinct building "peacefully and in the near future," following a weekend in which three men were shot in the protest area that has emerged around the building.
Protesters have largely blocked law enforcement out of the area around East Pine Street and Cal Anderson Park for the last two weeks, amid protests of police brutality and systemic racism.
Horace Lorenzo Anderson, a 19-year-old who went by his middle name, died from gunshot wounds early Saturday and a 33-year-old man was taken to Harborview Medical Center with life-threatening injuries. Late Sunday, a 17-year-old boy was taken to Harborview with a gunshot wound in his arm, police said, and was treated and released. A 20-year-old man also was shot and injured in South Seattle early Monday morning, according to police, unrelated to the protest area.
The area, known as the Capitol Hill Organized Protest or CHOP, was created after Seattle police abandoned their East Precinct building, following nearly two weeks of hostile standoffs between police and protesters, which frequently ended with police firing tear gas and other nonlethal weapons to try to disperse crowds.
Meanwhile, pressure has been building on political leaders from some residents and workers on Capitol Hill who expressed frustration at the weekend's violence and lack of action by city officials. Some said they believe the original intent of the protests - to end institutional racism at the hands of government, and specifically the police - had been "hijacked" by what one woman called the "activism industry."
"The message of Black Lives Matters is being exploited," said the woman, a 25-year resident of Capitol Hill who, fearing retaliation, would only give her name as Lisa. (As she spoke, a man was setting up a table selling "Black Lives Matter" T-shirts).
"It's not a street fair," she said. "It's disheartening. There's a lack of integrity."
A free meal program that has been served for 35 years from Central Lutheran Church, across the street from Cal Anderson, has moved because of CHOP, according to Jeff Wolcott, executive director of Community Lunch on Capitol Hill. He stressed that he's not speaking on behalf of the church.
Wolcott has seen participation in the meals drop since the protest zone was created. Wolcott said about a third of his guests stopped coming to the meals when campers began setting up tents in Cal Anderson Park.
Wolcott realized they had to leave the church last Tuesday, when a homeless guest suffered a seizure. When he called 911 and gave his location, he said emergency responders refused service unless he could move the seizing man two blocks, to 13th Avenue.
"I could not maintain health and safety of my guests and my volunteers," Wolcott said. "I can't meet our mission there, because of safety."
The Eltana bagel shop has been open throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the police protests and now CHOP. Co-founder Stephen Brown said that business "ebbs and flows," but no one has bothered him.
The front of his store was tagged with profanity for the first time Friday night. And on Saturday morning, Brown said, "Some well-intentioned young people came in to apologize for the bad behavior."
He's not angry, he's not scared, he's not worried.
"It's complicated," Brown said of the scene outside his window. "I support systemic change between government and society in general. I'm empathetic."
The city's efforts last week to install new barriers and modify the area's boundaries in an effort to improve emergency access proved insufficient during Saturday's shootings.
Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold, chair of the Public Safety and Human Services Committee, faulted Seattle police for saying that officers arriving on the scene of the Saturday shooting were met by a "violent" crowd that prevented them from getting to the victims.
She noted that officers, in real time, described the crowd as "extremely hostile" but never said violent, according to the dispatch log released by police.
"Those words have completely different meetings." Herbold said. "I have been urging the police department to not editorialize."
She said police were not on the site of the shooting until 18 minutes after the 911 call, even though fire department medics were a block away within minutes, waiting for police to secure the scene before they approached.
Seattle police staged their response at 12th Avenue and Cherry, at least seven blocks from the shooting.
"Grieving family members and friends deserve to know whether or not this young man's death could have been prevented if Seattle Fire Department medics could have responded to calls for help," Herbold said.
But Herbold has also stressed that the current situation, with first responders asking people who need medical help to come to the edges of CHOP, is not sustainable.
Councilmember Kshama Sawant said decisions regarding CHOP are "the movement's," not Durkan's, but that she supported focusing protest activities in the area between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.
Sawant walked back her unfounded Saturday claim that the shooting "may have been a right-wing attack." She now says that appears to be incorrect.
This article was written by David Gutman, a reporter for The Seattle Times.