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Seattle journalist Omari Salisbury shares an inside look at the CHOP

Barriers and tents are seen outside of the Seattle Police Department's vacated East Precinct in the area known as the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP) on June 28, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

After another deadly incident in Seattle’s CHOP early Monday, journalist and videographer Omari Salisbury with Converge Media stopped by Seattle’s Morning News with an update from the area and share his perspective. Salisbury has been reporting on the ground from the CHOP every day.

The shooting Monday appeared to have started in the park, Salisbury told KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross. There was an initial exchange of gunfire, one group looked like they left the park, and then a white Jeep Cherokee drove through the park, he said. A member of so-called CHOP security let off what they told Salisbury were “warning shots.”

Then, a few minutes later, the same Jeep crashed into one of the barricades on 12th Avenue and was met with deadly force. Salisbury was unable to confirm who fired first.

“But I do know that it, man, it was a lot of shots fired,” he said.

Salisbury has been a presence in the CHOP since the initial protests before the police left the East Precinct. He lives and works in the area. Ross asked if he thinks the CHOP can continue?

“No. I mean, not like this, it’s not sustainable,” Salisbury said.

He has footage of who he referred to as “the main CHOP people,” including protesters and people who have been in the tents, who six days ago agreed to give up Cal Anderson and some of the streets.

“I mean we played it live on the stream, some said they’re going to Seattle Center, some said they were going to camp in front of the East Precinct,” Salibury recalled. “They gave up the space.”

The city and the protesters are in constant communication, he added, negotiating about electricity, portable bathrooms, barriers, or access for medics.

“It might sound crazy to people, but … a lot of them want this barricade gone,” Salisbury said.

There are many protesters who want to remain at the East Precinct, he clarified, but a number of protesters who have been there since the beginning have agreed with city officials to reopen some of the streets and Cal Anderson Park.

“I’m standing here on 10th, but guess what? It’s not the protesters who are out here that might potentially block SDOT, it’s all new people,” Salisbury said.

“I see a lot of people I’ve never seen before, and what they’re saying is they’ve come here to block SDOT’s effort,” he added. “Meanwhile, the actual people who camp here and tent here, the people who have the firearms and everything else, they said they wanted the barricade to go.”

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KIRO Radio reporter Hanna Scott, who has visited the CHOP herself and spent more than 48 hours last week, asked if Salisbury can tell who’s in charge right now.

“Yeah, the people with the guns,” he said. “… Let’s be realistic, on the ground, it’s the people who actually have the security of the situation who are operating the situation.”

This group, he said, has been clear that they want to stay in the barricaded area next to the East Precinct. As to how long they’ll stay, Salisbury’s not sure.

“Everybody has a different motivation,” Salisbury said. “It’s a few people that never want to see a police precinct open. There’s a few people who are like, ‘Oh, this is a bargaining chip.’ There’s a few people who are there [because] it’s just a place to be.”

The protesters have mostly been distilled down to a hard core of people who are committed to the defense of the space directly in front of the precinct, Salibury explained.

“There’s just a bunch of people here, a lot of them who have just been marginalized, maybe their whole life,” he said. “… I’m not trying to put the protesters in one bucket or whatever, and there’s people you talk to this is the most important thing they’ve ever done, … there’s a lot of people who feel like this is their Alamo, this is their line in the sand. There’s other people who are like, well, we’ll close a precinct then move on.”

So is the CHOP still focused on its original message?

“I don’t know,” Salisbury said.

When it comes to the violence, Salisbury said he can’t identify those actions as valuing Black lives.

“If you’re talking about putting a value on the lives of Black people when you say ‘Black lives matter,’ it’s impossible for me to sit here and say that what I’ve seen in the level of violence here, I’m actually standing right across from the memorial where Lorenzo Anderson was murdered last week, and now, what I’ve witnessed last night, … I think that some people in the tented area, for sure, they believe in adding more value as to how Black people are treated in America,” he said. “But I think that if someone was to say that, in my opinion, is this all about Black lives matter? Me, personally? No.”

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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