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Senator’s bill aims to prevent a second CHOP in Seattle, other cities

The former entrance to the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest in early June. (Nicole Jennings/KIRO Radio)

New legislation from a state senator would try to deter any other Washington city from allowing its own version of a CHOP-like protest to go forward.

Sen. Steve O’Ban’s (R-University Place) bill, set to be introduced when the next legislative session starts in January, would set financial penalties for cities or counties that withdraw law enforcement from any neighborhood.

He wrote the bill in direct response to the CHOP situation, which ended Wednesday when Seattle police retook the East Precinct after more than three weeks of being away from the area. The city made the decision to send police in to occupy the precinct once more after four shootings took place in or near the CHOP within 10 days, killing two teenagers.

“It was deplorable, and I don’t want that to ever happen again,” O’Ban said. “The Legislature needs to make sure that city leadership — whether it’s Seattle or any other city — never gives up on a community or neighborhood, withdraws essential services like fire and police, again.”

Seattle protesters face off with police overnight on Capitol Hill

O’Ban’s bill would withhold some state funding for law enforcement from any law enforcement jurisdictions that allow a cop-free zone to be created, and would fine them up to $10,000 each day that it went on.

“We shouldn’t be spending taxpayers’ money on services that cities are not providing to some of their citizens,” he said.

However, he emphasized that he does not want to have to get to the point of punishing cities — he would much rather this policy deter a future CHOP from ever forming again.

O’Ban said he supports the spirit of public activism that created the CHOP, but never wants to see police called out of a neighborhood by city leadership. He feels that in the three weeks police were out of the six-block zone, the movement deteriorated as crime ran rampant.

“I believe in the right to peacefully assemble, and exercise free speech, and to call for necessary law enforcement reforms, but that’s not what [CHOP] became,” he said. “It was initially maybe peaceful, but it devolved into something far worse … a kind of lawless environment, particularly when the message was sent that law enforcement was not welcome.”

Seattle Police and Seattle Fire had said they couldn’t send first responders in after recent shootings because it was not safe. O’Ban doesn’t fault them, but instead feels city leadership should have prevented the situation from getting to that point in the first place. He blames Mayor Jenny Durkan, members of the Seattle City Council, and others for not just allowing the CHOP to go on, but for, as he sees it, embracing the removal of police from a precinct.

“I think references to ‘summers of love’ [a reference to a quote by Mayor Durkan earlier this month] and certain city council members who were certainly championing it and even, after the fact, say they think CHOP should have continued to exist, tells you that you’ve got Seattle city leadership that has missed its priorities. … I hope the city has learned its lesson, but I’m not entirely confident that it has.”

KIRO Radio has reached out to Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best for comment.

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