SEATTLE — Seattle police cleared protesters from the six-block CHOP zone after Mayor Jenny Durkan issued a 48-hour executive order to vacate the area early Wednesday.
The order declares gathering in and around the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct and Cal Anderson Park as “unlawful assembly” requiring immediate action from Seattle police and other city agencies.
The move comes after weeks of violence in the area, where emergency response times in the area more than tripled, according to police.
Dozens of officers arrived around 5 a.m. and announced that people had 5 minutes to clear the area. Some are wearing riot gear and other protective equipment.
The borders of the CHOP area are secured by police and protesters who refused to leave were arrested. So far, 23 people were arrested, including a 29-year-old man who had a large pipe and a kitchen knife, investigators said.
“Anyone who remains in the area, or returns to the area, is subject to arrest,” police said.
Many officers are standing in lines holding batons to keep people from returning. Sparks flew as someone worked to grind bolts off a CHOP sign that was secured to the road. SWAT vehicles are also at the scene.
A loud boom followed by smoke was seen at Cal Anderson Park, but Seattle police said it was a firework lit by a protester and that no force has been used by officers.
Seattle police said officers are investigating after people in cars with armor and guns were seen circling the area. The cars appear to have no visible license plates.
Barricades were removed at 10th and East Pine Tuesday, but protesters quickly set up a makeshift roadblock using furniture, garbage cans and signs.
Neighbors there said they were upset that only a few barricades were removed.
“Since demonstrations at the East Precinct area began on June 8, two teenagers have been killed and three people have been seriously wounded in late-night shootings. Police have also documented robberies, assaults, and other violent crimes,” the Seattle Police Department said in a tweet.
June 8 was also the date that officers abandoned the precinct.
Police Chief Carmen Best spoke briefly around 7 a.m., saying the next steps will be to clean up the area and the East Precinct, and police will start up operations there as soon as they can.
Best said the Bellevue Police Department and local FBI helped with the operation.
Seattle police released the following video.
“Some of the violence in and armed individuals in the CHOP have been captured by open source video recorded in the area,” police tweeted.
KIRO 7 reporter Deedee Sun said sleeping protesters awoken by officers were heard shouting expletives and police said some were pushing over portable toilets along 12th Avenue.
Roads are blocked in the zone and drivers should avoid the area.
By 7 a.m., most if not all protesters had left the zone, but tension is high as some have gathered at the police line at Broadway and Pine challenging officers. Protesters formed a human chain as some record police with cellphones and chant. One person is shouting into a bullhorn as others talk with officers.
Counter-protesters who said they welcome police and the return of order are also there.
At 12th and Pike, about five protesters were blocking the road and making cars turn around. One person who was warned to move but failed to was arrested.
Seattle Department of Transportation teams are working to take down signs, remove barricades and clear tents and debris. Some cars left parked in the area are being towed.
Over the last few days, Seattle’s Navigation Team worked with people who were camping at Cal Anderson Park to help them find living arrangements. Seattle Parks will help preserve some of the artwork created in the zone.
Tents in the park will be cleared.
Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best released the following statement:
“Today, Mayor Jenny Durkan issued a 48-hour public safety emergency order to vacate the East Precinct/Cal Anderson area. Seattle police will be in the area this morning enforcing the Mayor’s order.
“This order, and our police response, comes after weeks of violence in and around the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest zone, including four shootings, resulting in multiple injuries and the deaths of two teenagers.
“As I have said, and I will say again, I support peaceful demonstrations. Black Lives Matter, and I too want to help propel this movement toward meaningful change in our community.
“But enough is enough.
“The CHOP has become lawless and brutal. Four shootings–two fatal-robberies, assaults, violence and countless property crimes have occurred in this several block area.
“My job, and the job of our officers, is to protect and serve our community. This is not an end to our department’s engagement with demonstrators. We must continue our efforts to build trust and redefine our roles as guardians in our city. I will continue to work with the Community Police Commission, the Office of Police Accountability, the Inspector General, the Mayor, the Seattle City Council and ALL of our community and social justice partners in the coming weeks to encourage peace and to begin meaningful dialog about re-envisioning public safety in our community.”
Watch Best make a statement and answer questions in the video below.