Seattle police clear out protester-occupied zone

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Media caption,
Police clear protesters from Seattle's self-governed zone

Police have cleared out an area near Seattle city centre that was taken over three weeks ago by protesters, some of them armed.

Dozens of people were arrested as heavily equipped officers swept into the district on Wednesday morning following an order by the city mayor.

It was city hall that ordered police on 8 June to abandon their precinct after violent clashes with demonstrators.

Since then there have been four shootings in the protest zone.

Mayor Jenny Durkan said that until now the authorities had "reasonably facilitated an ongoing exercise" of free speech and demonstration rights under the US Constitution in the so-called Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (Chop) zone.

But 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".

Mayor Durkan, a Democrat, had initially praised the demonstration as an expression of "democracy" and said it could usher in "a summer of love".

On Sunday protesters marched to her house in the wealthy Windermere area of the city calling for the city police department to be defunded by half.

Mayor Durkan has already proposed a more modest 5% cut to the police budget.

Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best said the area had become "lawless and brutal", while the city police department warned that any protester who returned to the area would be arrested.

Her department posted a nearly four-minute video to YouTube on Wednesday morning titled "Violence in the C.H.O.P", showing clips of armed people in the zone, gunfire and brawls.

Some protesters on Wednesday erected a small barricade trying to stop the police.

Police said 32 people had been arrested for offences ranging from unlawful weapon possession to assault and failure to disperse.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
The zone was initially known as Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (Chaz)
Image source, Getty Images
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Municipal workers were later seen dismantling barriers put up by protesters

Two people have died in a spate of shootings in the zone over the past fortnight including a 19-year-old man and a 16-year-old boy. A 14-year-old boy was critically injured.

The police chief said on Monday: "Two African American men are dead, at a place where they claim to be working for Black Lives Matter."

One of the occupants of the zone, Aaron "Relentless" Hill, told the Seattle Times that the area was no longer safe.

"It just flipped and turned into a nightmare," he said. "The atmosphere, the mood, everything."

After President Donald Trump last month demanded the local authorities remove the protesters, the Seattle mayor and Washington governor told him to mind his own business.

The area was initially known as Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (Chaz), and is in the city's trendy arts district, which has been gentrified in recent years.

The protests in Seattle and other US cities began in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on 25 May.

Image caption,
Protesters also refer to it as the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest, or Chop

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