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Seattle leaders, organizers mull changes in CHOP after weekend violence

A memorial inside the CHOP for one of the victim's of Saturday's shooting. (Getty Images)

After a pair of shootings in Seattle’s Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP) zone over the weekend, local leaders and organizers have spoken out over safety concerns in the area.

Observations from inside Seattle’s CHOP

The first of the two shootings occurred early Saturday morning, killing a 19-year-old man and injuring a 33-year-old victim. The second took place late Sunday night, sending a 17-year-old patient to Harborview in serious condition.

“Working with Chief Scoggins, Chief Best, and other City departments, the City will continue to make changes on Capitol Hill in partnership with Black-led community organizations, demonstrators, small businesses, residents, and trusted messengers who will center de-escalation,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said in a written statement, issued prior to Sunday night’s shooting.

The mayor’s office noted that there has been a difference between the experiences in the area during day and nighttime hours. Durkan will be working with local leaders, including Not This Time’s Andre Taylor, to meet with organizers Monday morning to discuss “next steps” for the area.”

At some point Monday, Durkan will be “sharing the City’s plan for addressing significant nighttime public safety concerns and issues.”

“We believe there can be a peaceful resolution,” her office said.

The Seattle Police Department has yet to directly address its plans for the area in the wake of the weekend’s incidents. That said, the Seattle Fire Department clarified its policy on entering the CHOP during “volatile situations,” after victims from Saturday’s shooting were transported to Harborview by CHOP volunteer medics rather than SFD medical responders, who did not enter the scene of the incident.

SFD has instructed CHOP residents to “walk or bring the patients to the perimeter of the crowd or transport in a private vehicle to the hospital to expedite medical treatment.” The department has also worked with organizers to identify “pre-designated collection points” to meet volunteer medical staff.

That stems from concerns over entering the CHOP without the aid of police, who claimed that a “hostile” crowd on Saturday night prevented them from entering the area to assist the victims. That’s a claim Councilmember Lisa Herbold questioned in a Monday briefing.

“The suggestion that the crowd interfered with the access to victims I believe defies belief, because the first victim had already been transferred [to the hospital] by the time the police arrived,” Herbold pointed out. “I really reject the narrative that it was the mood of the crowd that prevented SPD from reaching the victims — the victims were already gone.”

The Seattle Fire Department contends that it didn’t enter the scene due to the risks posed by not having police on-hand when they arrived. According to data presented to Councilmember Herbold, SPD responded to the shooting on Saturday roughly 18 minutes after the fact.

“Our mission is to save lives and protect property, but we must keep our firefighters and paramedics safe so we can continue to help people,” SFD stated. “(Saturday) was a scene where the risk was too high to commit our crews to respond in without a police escort.”

Herbold also acknowledged the need to improve access for medical first responders in the CHOP area, and that the mayor’s office has intimated that “something needs to change” in how it’s set up during nighttime hours.

“It’s clear to me that a situation that requires people in need of medical care to be escorted to the perimeter of the CHOP to get help isn’t in anyone’s best interest,” Herbold said Monday. “I really don’t think that is a sustainable, ongoing, operational approach we can count on to help people.”

“We want to make sure that firefighters and EMT have access to do their jobs and help those that need it,” Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda agreed.

The victim from Sunday’s shooting was also transported to the hospital in a private vehicle.

Activists and volunteers inside the CHOP issued a letter to organizers over the weekend as well, proposing a handful of changes.

That includes asking that anyone who is intoxicated by either drugs or alcohol be kept a “safe distance away” from the CHOP, enacting suggested hours for the CHOP between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., and urging “better communication routes than standard social media.”

Police release body cam footage after CHOP shooting

The request for a suggested active period centered on “thin[ning] out the bodies at CHOP to just those intended for peace keeping and occupy purposes” during off hours, and to “encourage those protesting and keeping the message alive to REST.”

Councilmember Kshama Sawant expressed support for that proposal in a written statement issued Monday, while noting that any changes to the active hours of the area should be made “democratically” by demonstrators themselves.

“The decisions regarding CHOP are the movement’s decisions and NOT Mayor Durkan’s or the establishment’s, and our movement will politically defend itself from any attempted sweep by the police,” she said.

Black Lives Matter Seattle-King also issued a statement shortly after Saturday’s shooting, urging black demonstrators to “please consider gathering elsewhere in Black led events and spaces.”

“We know that now, more than ever, it is important for us to gather, to heal, and to defend our right to live. We can do all of those in a space that is truly safe for us to do so,” the statement reads.

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