Seattle clears 'autonomous zone' set up to protest police brutality

·3 min read

Seattle (AFP) - Seattle law enforcement moved in early Wednesday to clear out a self-governed autonomous zone created by protesters against police abuse three weeks ago.

A large force of officers in riot gear began forcing out self-described occupiers of the six-block "Capitol Hill Organized Protest" zone at 5 am local time (1200GMT).

At least 31 people were arrested for failure to disperse, obstruction, assault and unlawful possession of weapons including knives and large metal pipes, police said.

Police Chief Carmen Best told reporters Mayor Jenny Durkan ordered the area cleared after a surge in crime in the three-week-old police-free district, including multiple shootings that left two teenagers dead.

"What has happened here... is lawless and is brutal, and, bottom line, it is simply unacceptable," she said.

"I support peaceful demonstrations. Black lives matter," said Best, who is African American.

"But enough is enough. Our job is to protect and to serve the community," she said.

Police on foot and bicycles and carrying batons provided perimeter security while city crews began a cleanup operation, as protester tents and street barriers were dismantled.

But officers, armed and clad in battle-gear, were also on guard amid concerns about earlier police reports that numerous protesters were armed.

Police said on Twitter early Wednesday they were investigating several vehicles without license plates that were seen circling the area and occupied by individuals with firearms and body armor.

CHOP -- originally known as CHAZ, or Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone -- was established in early June as demonstrators in cities nationwide protested against the killing of a handcuffed African American, George Floyd, by Minneapolis police.

- 'ZERO respect' -

They shut down Seattle streets to traffic and took over a police precinct building abandoned during the initial protests.

The Seattle demonstrators said they were protesting local police abuse and demanded reforms and funding cuts to law enforcement.

But the city's government came under attack for tolerating the protestors, including from President Donald Trump.

"Seattle Looters, Agitators, Anarchists and 'Protestors', are now refusing to leave the 'CHOP' Zone. They have ZERO respect for Government, or the Mayor of Seattle or Governor of Washington State! Not good!" Trump tweeted on Monday.

In an order issued overnight Tuesday into Wednesday, Durkan said that up until now the city "has reasonably facilitated an ongoing exercise" of free speech and demonstration rights under the US constitution.

However, she said, those rights "do not require the city to provide limitless sanctuary to occupy city property, damage city and private property, obstruct the right of way or foster dangerous conditions."

She cited several shootings in the area that have left two dead, as well as assaults, rapes and drug use in the area.

The order also followed a CHOP group holding a protest at Durkan's home outside the zone on Sunday, led by a city council member.

"Seattle can and should peacefully demonstrate but should not put families and children at risk," Durkan's office said in a statement at the time.