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CHOP: One year later — The East Precinct is abandoned and the protest zone forms

Where were you when the East Precinct was evacuated and the Capitol Hill protest zone formed?

A year ago, the first days of Black Lives Matter protest in Seattle following the police killing of George Floyd were days of anger and power as thousands took to the streets to demonstrate and form a movement. By Thursday, June 4th 2020, just ten days after Floyd’s murder, the battlelines between protesters and police had been drawn at 11th and Pine.

What came next — the days we look at below — sparked the Seattle Police Department’s decisions that led to the abandonment of the East Precinct at 12th and Pine and created the space to form CHOP — the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone turned Capitol Hill Occupied Protest that made worldwide headlines and changed the course of pandemic-era Seattle history.

Here is a look back at those days including many photographs being published now for the first time.

(Image: Noah Lubin with permission to CHS)

(Image: Matt Mitgang with permission to CHS)

May 29th to June 4th:  Days of protest and demonstrations in Seattle following the police killing of George Floyd shift to center on Capitol Hill and the East Precinct where a battleline of sorts is drawn between protesters on one side and Seattle Police, Washington State Patrol, and the National Guard on the other.

Saturday, June 6th: As flashbangs continue to burst around 11th and Pine, support for protesters and concern about increasingly heavy handed responses from law enforcement inspires more to join the demonstrations where even Seattle City Council members join the protest.

Dan Gregory raises his fist as medics escort him after he was shot at 11th and Pine

Sunday, June 7th: Mayor Jenny Durkan makes a speech on deescalation of the ongoing protest clashes between demonstrators and police. SPD, instead, raises the stakes and makes its strongest show of force yet at “standoff” at 11th and Pine. That Sunday night, a man drives into the crowd at 11th and Pine and shoots a demonstrator. Nikolas Fernandez, the brother of an East Precinct cop, will be arrested and charged with one count of first degree assault. Fernandez pleaded not guilty and awaits trial.

Monday, June 8thMoving trucks arrive at the East Precinct in moments that continue to be debated in the history of CHOP and the ongoing political battles of the city. The surprise move came without official announcement — CHS first reported on the strange appearance of moving trucks arriving at 12th and Pine. The official explantation cited worries from FBI warnings of possible arson attacks on the auto row-era building the precinct calls home. It came as a plan from the mayor’s office to remove barriers in the street blocking protesters at E Pine were put into motion. Best said the evacuation was made as a tactical action that stemmed from Durkan’s efforts to reach out to the demonstrators and led to former Chief Carmen Best’s decision to remove the protest barriers and allow protesters to gather outside 12th and Pine. “We took down the barricades because we really wanted to establish trust,” Best told media later that June. To this day, Best continues to attribute the decision to on the ground commanders at 12th and Pine despite evidence that the decision was part of the department Incident Action Plan approved by SPD officials for June 8th.

Tuesday, June 9th: A strange calm and moments of peace settle over the area as the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone forms around the emptied East Precinct and more campers arrive. Art projects and speaking circles form. Music joins the rallies and marches. “This is not Black Coachella,” one sign reminds.

Wednesday, June 10th: Kshama Sawant and protesters march from Capitol Hill and briefly occupy Seattle City Hall as the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone — soon to be known as CHOP — grows. The event at City Hill became part of the charges brought against Sawant in this year’s attempt to recall the veteran councilmember.

Friday, June 12th: Mayor Durkan and Seattle City Hall continue to search for ways to respond to the demonstrations and protest zone, including a promise to speed up the process to transfer Central District properties and an old fire station at 23rd and Yesler to Black community groups.

Saturday, June 13th: A CHOP rally and march targets affluent communities in Madison Park. Thousands march despite the rain.

Monday, June 15th: Neighbors and businesses report that SPD officers are not responding to 911 calls around the CHOP occupied protest zone. Meanwhile, the zone takes on a party-like atmosphere with speeches, rallies, music, and dancing as demands begin to crystalize around defunding SPD.

Tuesday, June 16th: The Seattle City Council attempts to rein in SPD by restricting the use of crowd control tactics and weaponry. Meanwhile, officials say the ongoing protests have not contributed to the COVID-19 crisis as King County applies to loosen state restrictions.

Wednesday, June 17th: Residents and businesses near CHOP struggle with the day to day living and doing business in the midst of the protest zone. The inconveniences of the camp, the noise, and the difficulties with SPD’s reluctance to respond inside the zone will soon be overshadowed. How we remember CHOP is about to forever change. Only days later on Saturday, 19-year-old Lorenzo Anderson will be shot and killed at 10th and Pine.

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