Addressing the takeover of the area surrounding the Seattle Police Department’s abandoned East Precinct building, Chief Carmen Best said in a video addressed to her officers Thursday major chaos had been averted but also that she was “angry about” how the situation unfolded.
After days of protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, Seattle police boarded up and left the East Precinct building Monday night – and then a crowd of protesters set up barricades in the surrounding area, declaring it an “autonomous” and “cop-free zone.”
Images of the barricades show hand-written messages including “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone” and “You are now leaving the USA.”
“The decision to board up the precinct, our precinct, our home, the first precinct I worked in, was something I had been holding off,” Best said. “You should know, leaving the precinct was not my decision. “
The immediate area had seen more than a week of protests, with some of them growing violent. A man allegedly drove into a crowd of protesters Sunday night and shot someone just a block away from the building.
“You fought for days to protect it,” Best continued in her remarks. “I asked you to stand on that line, day in and day out – to be pelted with projectiles, to be screamed at, threatened and in some cases hurt.”
Protesters allegedly also threw glass bottles, rocks and “explosives” at police there on Saturday. Police said they used blast balls and pepper spray to try and break up the crowds. The city also made the decision to ban its police force from using tear gas to quell the unrest.
“To have a change of course, nearly two weeks in,” Best said, shaking her head. “It seems like an insult to you and our community.”
She blamed “the city” for giving in to “severe public pressure” for the decision to pull out of the East Precinct building.
“We had solid information to believe that anti-government groups would destroy the precinct once we left, whether through vandalism or arson,” she said.
But despite the credible intelligence and widespread vandalism in the area, she said major destruction of the police building and surrounding homes and businesses was avoided. And no police were hurt, she added.
“Today, the precinct remains standing,” she noted – even if it’s boarded up and empty.
She also said, using air quotes, that police had heard reports of armed people “patrolling” the area, which she said was “very concerning.”
“Especially because we don’t know who these people are,” she added.
And she hinted that they may even be extorting local business owners and demanding local residents show identification.
“This is not legal,” she said. “And we ask anyone who may be experiencing this to come forward and file a police report.”
In closing, she said that she believed most city residents supported the police force – despite left-wing calls to defund departments around the country — “even though they may not be the ones posting on social media.”