After days of clashes with protesters outside the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct, authorities backed down on Monday, removing barricades and boarding up the building. Since then, protesters have moved in, proclaiming the area the “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone,” where the police are forbidden, food is free and documentaries are screened at night.
To some protesters, it’s a first step toward their appeals to defund the police and end racial injustice.
A list of demands from the autonomous zone’s occupants included abolishing the city’s police department, banning the use of armed force, removing officers from schools, eradicating juvenile jails and prisons, and distributing reparations to victims of police brutality.
Instead of “protesters,” Trump suggested another term for the demonstrators late Wednesday: “Domestic Terrorists.” Trump criticized Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, both Democrats, on Twitter, threatening federal action if local leaders don’t “take back” the city.
“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,” Trump tweeted. “Take back your city NOW. If you don’t do it, I will. This is not a game. These ugly Anarchists must be stooped [sic] IMMEDIATELY. MOVE FAST!”
Both Durkan and Inslee swiftly hit back at Trump.
“A man who is totally incapable of governing should stay out of Washington state’s business. ‘Stoop’ tweeting,” Inslee wrote on Twitter, mocking Trump for a misspelling in his tweet.
Inslee later said that although the zone was unauthorized and that the country still faces a pandemic, the area was mostly calm and that he hoped for a peaceful resolution.
“What we will not allow are threats of military violence against Washingtonians coming from the White House,” he wrote. “The U.S. military serves to protect Americans, not the fragility of an insecure president.”
Durkan wrote, “Make us all safe. Go back to your bunker,” referring to when Trump was rushed to a safe room in the White House last month during protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.
Trump also took a swipe at former vice president Joe Biden on Thursday morning, taunting that he “refuses to leave his basement ‘sanctuary’ and tell his Radical Left BOSSES that they are heading in the wrong direction. Tell them to get out of Seattle now.”
Biden’s presidential campaign did not respond to a request for comment on the remark.
Trump’s tweets echoed his threats to use military force to quell unrest as thousands took to the streets nationwide after Floyd’s death to decry police brutality. Those threats led to an unprecedented backlash against the president from high-ranking former military officers.
Although Trump’s tweets did not specifically name the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, nicknamed CHAZ, his comments appeared directed at the movement – a major topic Wednesday and Thursday on conservative-friendly media and on Republican politicians’ social media feeds.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., wrote that antifa – a loosely connected militant activist network known for violence – had designated Seattle as its capital and that the United States should not “surrender ANY of its communities to mob rule EVER.”
Sen. Ted Cruz,R-Texas, commented sarcastically: “Lord of the Flies in downtown Seattle. What could go wrong?”.
Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show on Wednesday night included an alarming report on CHAZ, describing a “complete takeover of a seven-block area of a Seattle neighborhood,” and alleging that armed protesters are patrolling the area.
Soon after moving in on Tuesday, the protesters hung a banner on the police precinct proclaiming, “THIS SPACE IS NOW PROPERTY OF THE SEATTLE PEOPLE,” the Seattle Times reported. Protesters later screened Ava DuVernay’s documentary “13th,” which highlights racial inequities in the justice system. At least one man with a long gun was seen in the area, the Times reported, despite a weapons ban on Capitol Hill, but the scene has been peaceful since police left the area.
Inside the zone, the protesters have held long “town halls” to discuss their plans and hash out a strategy. Speakers on Wednesday took turns on a stage with loudspeakers, sharing their visions for change with an attentive crowd seated in a wide semicircle.
“From what I’ve gathered, we’re trying to take our community back so we can live without a massive police force patrolling the streets,” one protester, Michael Taylor, told the Times.
It’s unclear how long police will steer clear of the group. Durkan, who has faced calls to resign over the police’s use of tear gas and flash bangs on protesters, hasn’t directly addressed the autonomous zone. Asked about CHAZ on Wednesday, Inslee declined to comment, saying, “That’s news to me.”
Trump’s stance was clear, however, as he blasted the movement as a dangerous development aided by his political opponents. “Domestic Terrorists have taken over Seattle, run by Radical Left Democrats, of course,” Trump tweeted.
(c) 2020, The Washington Post · Tim Elfrink, Marisa Iati