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caption: Protesters watch over the CHOP's eastern barrier on 2th Avenue
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Protesters watch over the CHOP's eastern barrier on 2th Avenue
Credit: KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

The CHOP's long goodbye: City aims to end protest zone, but some activists hold on

CHOP -- Capitol Hill’s Organized Protest zone in Seattle -- is going to end soon. City officials have made that clear.

But protesters disagree on how soon the end will come.

If there’s any doubt that Mayor Jenny Durkan would make good on her pledge to end the CHOP, those doubts ended early in the morning Friday when Seattle’s Department of Transportation brought in huge trailers and a bucket loader.

City officials came right up to the border of the CHOP and tried to remove some of the barricades in the street.

The protesters woke up and confronted them.

“Why did you come at 5:30 in the morning?” asked one protester.

CHOP's inhabitants quickly formed a dense circle around several city officials including the mayor’s chief of staff and the head of the transportation department. The head of the fire department watched from the edge.

“We’ve been peaceful, but you’re pushing us to the edge,” said a second protester.

Multiple protesters made some form of this argument: You haven’t met our demand to defund the police by 50%. So why are you here?

“You can meet our demands or you can continue to act in bad faith and bring people in at 5:30 in the morning without any warning and continue to break community trust. So what is Durkan going to do?” asked yet another person in the crowd.

caption: Mayor Jenny Durkan's Chief of Staff, Stephanie Formas, speaks with protester David Lewis after protesters confronted city workers who tried to clear barriers at 5:30 AM on June 26, 2020. Also present is Fire Chief Harold Scoggins and SDOT head Sam Zimbabwe.
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Mayor Jenny Durkan's Chief of Staff, Stephanie Formas, speaks with protester David Lewis after protesters confronted city workers who tried to clear barriers at 5:30 AM on June 26, 2020. Also present is Fire Chief Harold Scoggins and SDOT head Sam Zimbabwe.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

The person who smoothed things over was Idris Beauregard from Seattle Public Utilities. He’s been in the CHOP every day, trying to build that trust.

“I think a lot of this that we’re talking about is going to be talked more in depth, you know," he said. "Right now, I think you guys have to convene with your people.”

Seattle's department heads would go back and talk to their people. "Let's go ahead and reconvene at another time," Beauregard said.

"We need to sit down and talk, that’s the main thing," said a protester in agreement with Beauregard.

There’s disagreement about who’s been negotiating in bad faith. And the city has stepped into trouble when it communicates with one group of protesters assuming that means that means there's consensus in the CHOP.

But there’s little disagreement that city of Seattle officials believe the CHOP has passed its expiration date.

caption: SDOT equipment, after driving right up to barriers at the CHOP, eventually retreated to this point a few blocks east.
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SDOT equipment, after driving right up to barriers at the CHOP, eventually retreated to this point a few blocks east.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Some demonstrators said they’re ready to move on. But others are holding out.

Sarah Tornai is with Black Collective Voices -- a group that has promised to stay as long as the mostly White protesters in the CHOP want Black leaders. She says it’s joyful here – with all the art and music. But it's hard, too.

“Almost everyone I know right now is dealing with PTSD," she said. "And like this weird feeling of being gaslit, because what happened here two weeks ago was so incredibly brutal,” with days of tear gas and flash grenades during the protests against police brutality.

caption: Sarah Tornai of Black Collective Voices, a group that stepped up Thursday in the CHOP to offer Black leadership after White protestors asked for it.
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Sarah Tornai of Black Collective Voices, a group that stepped up Thursday in the CHOP to offer Black leadership after White protestors asked for it.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

“And our mayor is so quick to pretend everything can go back to normal and we can be placated with nice words. I don’t know. It’s so confusing.”

It’s confusing because, Tornai says, on top of all the protesters with different agendas, now she says there are also undercover cops, right wing paramilitary types, and, “gangs that don’t even maybe care about what we’re doing, but are just violent or attracted to the intensity of this space. Some of that energy has to be dissipated back into something else.”

But people are still drawn to this place – for its positive energy too. “Yeah, I got inspired by a friend," said Eshawn Brown, whose family strode down 12th Avenue. "I’ve seen him out here, and I thought I’d take the children out here while it’s a little bit safer.”

Keisha Brown said she and Eshawn brought their kids here to show them “that they are important, they matter.”

Here’s what their young daughter Stella said about the graffiti-covered police precinct building: “I’m glad they did this to the police station. I’m glad. Yeah, it’s vandalizing, but, it’s like vandalizing a person too, by killing them. So they killed their police station. That’s what happened to them.”

The next few days could be a defining time for the CHOP.

Pride weekend could flood the CHOP once again with visitors.

caption: Falon Sierra is one of many parents who bring their children to the CHOP in part to expose them to its values. Seen here with her son, Xander. She said she also appreciates the food offered at the CHOP, which is free.
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Falon Sierra is one of many parents who bring their children to the CHOP in part to expose them to its values. Seen here with her son, Xander. She said she also appreciates the food offered at the CHOP, which is free.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

As of press time, the city hasn’t said when it’ll return to try to take the barriers down again. Protesters here say the city promised to give them until Monday morning.

Then, there are right wing groups chattering on Facebook about taking back the zone on the Fourth of July.

For now, Rick Hearns, who’s part of the security team here at CHOP, is philosophical about what will happen.

caption: Rick Hearns is one of many people who've volunteered to provide security in the CHOP.
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Rick Hearns is one of many people who've volunteered to provide security in the CHOP.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

“When you’re making history, how do you know what’s going to happen from day to day?" he said. "You tell me. Right now, it’s calm, it’s peaceful, it’s nice. And I did my meditation. So I don’t know.”

One thing we do know is that what happened in the CHOP will have changed Seattle, even if the place goes away.