Seattle mayor meets with protesters over dismantling zone

GENE JOHNSON
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Racial Injustice Seattle

A protester holds a sign that reads "We don't negotiate with terrorists," Friday, June 26, 2020 inside the the CHOP (Capitol Hill Occupied Protest) zone in Seattle after workers and trucks from the Seattle Department of Transportation arrived with the intention of removing barricades that had been set up in the area which has been occupied by protesters since Seattle Police pulled back from their East Precinct building following violent clashes with demonstrators earlier in the month. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

SEATTLE (AP) — Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan met with demonstrators Friday after some lay in the street or sat on barricades to thwart the city's effort to dismantle an “occupied” protest zone that has drawn scorn from President Donald Trump and a lawsuit from nearby businesses.

Crews arrived with heavy equipment early Friday morning at the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest, an occupied protest zone in Seattle, ready to dismantle barriers set up after protesters seized the area June 8 following clashes with police. But by mid-morning, they appeared to have backed off rather than risk conflict.

Omari Salisbury, a local journalist who attended the afternoon meeting between protesters and the mayor, told reporters afterward that the mayor had agreed to wait until Sunday morning to remove most of the barricades.

A spokesperson said late Friday the mayor met with Black ministers and some of the organizers and suggested “steps that she believes can be taken in the coming days, including the removal of the barriers to create more access.” Seattle police had no plans to return this weekend to a nearby precinct that was abandoned following clashes with demonstrators, Durkan's spokesperson said.

The collective of protesters, activists, educators and volunteers in the CHOP was formed after clashes with police who tear-gassed people protesting the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Durkan has expressed support for the protest, calling it “a peaceful expression of our community’s collective grief and their desire to build a better world.”

But following several shootings in the area, Durkan earlier this week said the city would wind down the protest zone, at first by encouraging demonstrators to leave. In addition, she had said police would return to the nearby precinct.

Nearby businesses and property owners filed a federal lawsuit against the city on Wednesday for its tolerance of the zone, saying officials had been complicit in depriving them of their rights to their property.

The businesses said they did not intend to undermine the anti-police-brutality or Black Lives Matter messaging of the protest. But they said they had limited access to their businesses, and sometimes have been threatened for photographing protesters in public areas or for cleaning graffiti off their storefronts.

The work crews intended to remove the barricades, not the remaining protesters, on Friday. Sam Zimbabwe, city transportation director, told Salisbury, who has been live-streaming the protest.

Workers were preserving artwork that had been painted on the wooden barricades, Zimbabwe said, adding that the department would work to return it to the people who created it.

“We're not trying to have conflict,” he said.

A number of protesters remained camped in tents outside the East Precinct; Durkan said barricades protecting them from traffic would remain even after the other barriers are removed Sunday, according to Salisbury. The city has not given a timeline for officers' return to the building except to say it would be in the near future.

Protesters want the removal of legal protections known as “qualified immunity” for police who violate rights of members of the public — an issue that would need to be addressed in state law, not by the city. The demonstrators have also called for cutting the Seattle police budget 50% and spending the savings on community health and other programs. The mayor has proposed a much more modest cut of $20 million to help balance the city's budget through the end of this year.