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Seattle Officials Shut Down Police-Free Zone Known As 'CHOP'

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

It was a street camp that some saw as an inspiration. Others called it lawless. And now, apparently, it is going away. Early this morning, police in Seattle cleared the area that's come to be known around the world as the CHOP - the Capitol Hill Organized Protest. They arrested at least 30 people. NPR's Martin Kaste is in Seattle and in that neighborhood. He joins us now.

Hey, Martin.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So help us understand what happened today because this all started three weeks ago because police left the local precinct building to try to de-escalate things with protesters. Why did they go back today?

KASTE: Well, they say it's because of the growing sense of unease here, especially at night. Local merchants had already sued the city to try to get police more present here. And then for the last 10 days or so, there have been a number of shootings. Two young Black teenagers were actually killed in a couple of those shootings. Not really clear who is shooting whom yet, but there is a sense that things were kind of getting out of control here, and certainly that's what the police would say.

Chief Carmen Best, the police chief here - she's an African American - she said even though she understood the calls for reform, she thought that, quote, "enough is enough." She thought that the situation here was becoming brutal and lawless, and she sent a force of not only Seattle police, but also police from a neighboring suburb of Bellevue in here this morning to clear people out.

KELLY: I can hear street noise behind you. I mentioned you are right there. What does it look like there right now?

KASTE: I'm right at the edge of it. So there's a perimeter the police have set up for the access streets to the main drag where the CHOP was. You can probably hear some machinery in the background because front-end loaders are clearing detritus from the camp, you know, old tents, barriers, kind of makeshift barriers that some of the people had set up to kind of protect the edges of this. There's a sense here of sort of slow return to normalcy, actually. Businesses are kind of going back to whatever normal life you can have in a pandemic. And, you know, I'm at the edge of this perimeter. The cops are pretty relaxed. People are kind of talking in a relaxed fashion. I talked to someone who lives on the inside of the zone. He has - his apartment is here. He said he supported the movement, but he felt like a hostage toward the end, and he was relieved to see the police arrived this morning.

KELLY: What about the protesters, the people who have been inside occupying the CHOP? What are they and their supporters saying?

KASTE: Well, there are fewer here than there were. The numbers have definitely dwindled. They say - they reject the idea that this was becoming a focus of violence. They - some of their supporters on the city council said this is just part of America's gun culture; you shouldn't blame the CHOP. Although it should be said that normally they aren't this many shootings in this sort of span of time in this part of Seattle. But they - you know, they say they're not going away, that the fight for reforming the police, changing the police is definitely continuing here. There've been some probing protests elsewhere in the city. Some people are talking about perhaps the west precinct building closer to downtown might be a target of protest soon. It has been in the past. But there's definitely a sense here that this reform movement is not just going away.

KELLY: Which - I was going to ask, does this look like the end of police protests in Seattle? It sounds like the answer is no.

KASTE: No. I mean, obviously like a lot of cities here, there's a budget crisis here, too, because of the pandemic. So there's a sense here that yeah, there will probably be some defunding of the police. Whether or not - why that's happening, people can debate. But right now, the city council is looking at three different scenarios for drastic cuts in policing. And frankly, the Seattle Police Department has already been in a long-term process of reform. And the chief says she wants to keep talking about that. So I don't think this is ending.

KELLY: All right, thanks so much for your reporting.

That's NPR's Martin Kaste.

KASTE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Hey, thanks for reading.
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