Seattle Black Lives Matter protestors pushed police out of the city’s Capitol Hill. They demand Mayor Durkan defund their police department and fundamentally change their justice system. 


 

On Monday afternoon in Seattle, Washington, protestors watched as police boarded up their East Precinct, before leaving. The police then opened Pine street to the protestors, waiting for them to march through. The protestors instead took this opportunity to claim a part of their city as a police-free zone. They set up barricades around the precinct, spray painted the words “Property of the People” on the building, and the word “People’s” over “Police,” making the building read “Seattle People’s Department.” A cardboard poster propped against the wall of the precinct reads “DEFUNDING SPD” and “THIS IS NOW A COMMUNITY CENTER.” 

A community leader named Raz Simone explained the graffiti, calling herself a voice of the protestors, “the people recognize that this building is the people’s. We paid for it with our taxes. We just want to make sure it’s used for the right reasons.” Simone continued, explaining that the protestors were part of or allies of the Black Lives Matter movement and their goal is to defund the Seattle Police Department. The Collective of Black Voices, an allied group, released a statement of demands, including the demand to defund and dismantle the Seattle Police department, and 29 other demands for racial and economic justice under the domains of the “Justice System,” “Health and Human Services,” “Economics,” and “Education.”

The area they now control is almost six blocks. When asked the purpose of their action, many unnamed protestors confirmed Simone’s account, saying to a CNN affiliate their goal is to reallocate funds away from the Seattle Police Department. 

Black Lives Matter international expresses the same purpose for “a national defunding of police.” The murder of George Floyd had a “galvanizing impact,” in Los Angeles, American Civil Liberties Union of California’s Criminal Justice Director said. In many cities far from Minneapolis, Floyd’s death prompted people to examine their own police departments and local government. 

To replace the police presence, Black Lives Matter activists “demand investment in our communities and the resources to ensure Black people not only survive but thrive.” 

The American Civil Liberties Union supports this demand. ACLU California’s Criminal Justice Director, Lizzie Buchen, explains “the police presence in our country is far too large and it is absolutely unnecessary if your goal is safety, and it is contrary to that of justice. If we want safety we need to dramatically reduce the size of the policing system, and we need to shift that to investing in things that make communities safer, we need to make sure people have housing, healthcare, food, quality education, and access to childcare.”

Community reaction

Local residents complained that the protestors guarded the barricades, armed, and required identification before letting them enter the area. Unnamed businesses and residents said they maintained concern for their safety without the usual police presence. 

Other residents told a different story. Mary Ewald, who lives two blocks away, said “everything calmed down immediately as soon as the police left the precinct. And people were just free to gather.”

On twitter, many protestors and reporters push back against the narrative which the police department and CNN affiliate share. NPR reporter Casey Martin tweeted “just spoke to two people at #CHAZ entrances with AR-15s. They coordinate with medics & keep an eye on passing cars, people coming in, etc. They do not charge people fees to walk around. People say they feel safer with police gone & thanked [man with gun guarding barrier, image attached to tweet] during my [interview].”

Some businesses actively supported the action. Kate VanPetten works at a nearby coffee shop which was “setting out free coffee for the protestors and doing everything we can to support them.”

Police response

On Wednesday, the Seattle Police Department had a Press Conference to address the evolving situation within the Autonomous Zone. The Department confirmed anonymous reports of “citizen checkpoints,” requiring residents to show identification before entering their neighborhood, calling these reports “credible.” 

This action is illegal, said the Chief. The Chief also cited reports of “citizens and businesses being asked to pay a fee to operate within this area. This is a crime of extortion. If anyone has been subjected to this, we need them to call 911.” Nollette also hopes to reopen the precinct soon, citing a need to continue work on criminal cases and to improve the police response time.

Throughout the protests, Mayor Durkan of Seattle made minor concessions to the protestors. For example, Durkan banned the use of tear gas to disperse crowds for 30 days, allowing for the Community Police Commission, Office of Police Accountability, and Office of the Inspector General to review the use of chemical weapons — most notably tear gas and pepper spray — and make a recommendation on their future use.

Political response

Trump tweeted at Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday night, threatening to send in the National Guard if Inslee did not retake the Autonomous Zone. “Radical Left Governor (Jay Inslee) and the Mayor of Seattle are being taunted and played at a level that our great Country has never seen before,” Trump said. “Take back your city NOW. If you don’t do it, I will. This is not a game. These ugly Anarchists must be stooped IMMEDIATELY,” Trump said. He tweeted again later that night calling the protestors “domestic Terrorists” who are “run by the Radical Left Democrats,” and demanding “LAW & ORDER!”

Radical Left Governor @JayInslee and the Mayor of Seattle are being taunted and played at a level that our great Country has never seen before. Take back your city NOW. If you don’t do it, I will. This is not a game. These ugly Anarchists must be stopped IMMEDIATELY. MOVE FAST!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 11, 2020

Gov. Inslee responded to Trump’s tweets, saying “a man who is totally incapable of governing should stay out of Washington state’s business.” 

Anarchists just took over Seattle and the Liberal Democrat Governor just said he knows “nothing about that”.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 11, 2020

Inslee said Trump should stop tweeting.

“Make us all safe. Go back to your bunker,” Mayor Durkan of Seattle responded, with similar disdain. In her response, Washington Sen. Patty Murray accused Trump of trying “to distract everyone from the pandemic he’s ignoring and the tens of millions of people who are out of work.” Murray said “you’re not fooling anyone.”

An observer of the protests tweeted “are these the terrorists you are talking about @realDonaldTrump ? If so, sign me up.” Attached to the tweet was a video of the Autonomous Zone, showing protestors dancing and a DJ playing music.

Trump ignored the Washington politicians’ attacks, instead tweeting at his Presidential challenger Joe Biden to “tell [your] Radical Left BOSSES that they are heading in the wrong direction” and should “get out of Seattle now.”

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Seattle Mayor says, about the anarchists takeover of her city, “it is a Summer of Love”. These Liberal Dems don’t have a clue. The terrorists burn and pillage our cities, and they think it is just wonderful, even the death. Must end this Seattle takeover now!</p>&mdash; Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) <a href=”https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1271446019281215488?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>June 12, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src=”https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

If they defund the police

One business owner, Vivian Hua of the Northwest Film Forum, said “the community seemed to be really happy that they were in a space without antagonist police presence or exchanges.” 

The protestors share this vision, one of the organizers Sarah Tornai, said she and her allies want to be “autonomous from the way the Seattle Police Department has been policing them.” Tornai said this future would emphasize education initiatives, and programs to address homelessness. 

The idea ‘defund the police’ means different things to different activists, existing on a spectrum from not having law enforcement officers to less militarized officers with fewer responsibilities. Generally, advocates want to lessen the need for police presence by alleviating pressures like poverty and substitute social workers for police officers and rehabilitative help for criminal punishment.

Many of the activists work to create this future within their Autonomous Zone around the East Precinct. On the corner of 12th and Pine streets demonstrators set up free food and supply tents, and resting tents for their fellow activists. A nearby resident described the protestors having “teach-ins, talks,” and “political discussions.” They also allowed Seattle Public Utilities workers within the zone on Tuesday and Wednesday nights to remove trash and set-up portable toilets.

The three co-founders founded the Black Lives Matter movement in June 2013 and since then consistently called for freedom from an oppressive police presence. The Autonomous Zone clarifies that the demands of Seattle protestors are in solidarity with the movement, and just how out-of-step the concessions Mayor Durkan and her political colleagues will make are.

Ava DeSantis

Ava DeSantis is Gen Z Voice at The Pavlovic Today. She has a background in political science and history at George Washington University.