Seattle’s third week of protest against police brutality and racial bias started with tens of thousands of marchers and a Capitol Hill protest zone celebrating its growing days of speeches and learning, donation and garden projects, volunteer squads including clean-up crews, medics, and security teams, and a Culture Day that filled the area with visits from Indigenous leaders from across the region.
There is a growing roster of met demands and political wins. Monday will bring a day of debate at the Seattle City Council over increased regulation and restriction of police over tactics including chokeholds and tear gas.
But, for many here and, especially, for those far from the city’s core, the focus remains on worries about threats to public safety and policing that the growing rows of tents that the Capitol Hill camp represent in the blocks around 11th and Pine and Cal Anderson. Part of the concern is the future of the East Precinct building itself. Part is how the Seattle Police Department is making its decisions and who is in charge.
Late Sunday night brought the latest flashpoint for those making the case that the camp must be cleared. Around 10:15 PM, East Precinct dispatch broadcast that the owner of 12th Ave’s Car Tender was reporting his son was “armed to teeth and will start killing people” as he held down a person caught burglarizing the auto garage.
SPD officers responded they would “stage in the area” but were not going in.
The volatile situation that followed is being shared around the world Monday morning — a Daily Caller video intern happened to be at the auto garage property as the situation unfolded. A crowd of 30 to 50 people from the protest camp grew at the 12th Ave at E Olive St auto yard’s fence and knocked it down. Video shows someone at the garage holding a gun on the crowd. Reports say the alleged burglar was eventually searched by people including security volunteers from the camp but fled the scene before everything reported missing was returned.
Most viewers of the video clips won’t be interested in the self-policing — Seattle Police stayed clear during a tense and potentially dangerous standoff.
The 911 caller “sounds very frustrated by the whole situation,” the dispatcher recounts about 20 minutes into the episode. “3 Charlie, I copy,” one officer replies.
I was streaming when the incident happened at CHAZ last night in Seattle. An auto shop near the zone was broken into (Car Tender), property stolen, and a fire started. The owners called the police and fire dept but they were told they would not show up. Full THREAD with clips ↓ pic.twitter.com/zmPS3EBmxm
— Shawn Whiting (@ShawnGui_) June 15, 2020
The episode is one of a growing roster of incidents being pointed to as evidence the camp is lawless and dangerous as SPD Chief Carmen Best says she is working on a plan to return police to their East Precinct headquarters. Best has said response times in the precinct stretching across Capitol Hill and the Central District have tripled from five to 18 minutes and that lower priority calls might take an hour.
Best’s talking points about crime across the precinct as a whole have also been seen by some as attacks on the camp. “There are people’s lives who are affected,” Best said in a story on the crime concerns reported by KOMO. “Emergency calls, which often means somebody’s being assaulted, sometimes it’s a rape, sometimes it’s a robbery, but something bad is happening if it’s a top priority call, and we’re not able to get there…”
But the circumstances at the soon to be demolished 12th Ave auto garage Sunday night haven’t been explicitly acknowledged by Best or SPD brass. Best’s command has issued marching orders to East Precinct officers: Stay out of the protest zone.
The city’s emergency information center has declined to comment on SPD dispatching.
The situation around the East Precinct mixing a self-restricted SPD with a self-policed camp of occupiers and activists doesn’t have to end badly as the city’s long route to meeting protester and community group demands, making legislative changes, and changing the way the city spends on police plays out.
Friday in the middle of the night, a man walked up to the East Precinct, spread a flammable liquid along the building’s base, and set it on fire causing a wall of flame to erupt at 12th and Pine. The camp’s residents and volunteers rushed , organized, and put of the flames — and saved the building at the center of the camp and the debate. SPD is now searching for the suspect — and asking for the community’s help. UPDATE: SPD has announced an arrest in the arson case:
SPD Arson/Bomb Unit detectives and South Precinct Anti-Crime Team officers arrested a 34-year-old Pierce County man on June 18th for setting a fire outside the East Precinct. Police booked the man into the King County Jail for reckless burning and arson.
Camp organizers and volunteers are also shaping efforts to communicate and get feedback from neighbors in nearby apartment buildings and at local businesses. In an email shared with CHS, a group of businesses is making its needs heard through the mayor’s Small Business Advisory Council with questions and requests but not demands for the camp’s removal. Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins has been a regular presence inside the camp where SFD has advised on adjusting traffic barriers placed to protect the protest the zone to that it is easier for emergency vehicles to get through if needed. Some issues are logistical — how can the city and the camp make sure mail and deliveries can get through? — others — like how the city and camp can make LGBTQ people in the neighbohrhood feel safe — will require a lot of work.
UPDATE 11:57 AM: An incident at E Pike’s Gay City shows how some neighborhood businesses and organizations are working with the protest organizers to help address issues like property crime. Over the weekend, the glass front doors of the LGBTQ nonprofit were shattered. “Thanks to some incredible neighbors and passers by, we were able to respond quickly to the broken glass and get things boarded up,” a Gay City update on the incident reads. “Thank you especially to the folks who mobilized from CHOP, and to the sentinel who helped clean up and kept watch over our center while we responded.”
Gay City executive director Fred Swanson explained the situation — and the decision not to involve police:
Let’s talk for a minute about community. This was the scene this Sunday morning at work- turns out an interaction between a person who has been known to sleep in our doorway was escalated to the point where his backpack busted out our glass door. I don’t know why. I don’t know what happened. We weren’t here. I suspect untreated mental health needs and unaddressed addiction played a role. I suspect not having a place to be housed played a role. Within minutes I got a call from a passer-by who said “I didn’t feel comfortable calling the police but I wanted to alert you.” Our landlord got a call from the cafe across the street. Someone else alerted the folks at CHOP/CHAZ that the entryway to our center was busted open. You know, the “anarchists” you’ve been reading about? They’re a few blocks away and sent support, including from a sentinel to watch our space while our landlord called for a company to put up plywood. We cleaned up the glass together and the sentinel from CHOP stayed until the plywood arrived.
This is community, folks. This is how we look out for one another. It’s also why we need to invest in human services. Because locking the guy up who did this- if he’s identified and caught- won’t solve the human needs that precipitated his breaking the glass or the interaction that escalated him. And while the door can be quickly repaired, the supports he and so many others of us need will take a shifting of resources and humanity on a major scale.”
“This is how we look out for one another,” Swanson writes.