Trump told to back off Seattle’s Chaz police-free zone

State authorities in the north-western US state of Washington have hit back after President Donald Trump threatened to “take back” a police-free district controlled by protesters in Seattle.

Governor Jay Inslee said Mr Trump should stay out of the state’s business, and Seattle’s mayor said any invasion of the city would be illegal.

Police abandoned a precinct there on Monday after days of clashes.

Mr Trump said the area had been overtaken by “domestic terrorists”.

Since police withdrew, demonstrations in the area have been largely peaceful.

It has been called Chaz, an abbreviation of Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone. Hundreds of people have been gathering there to demonstrate, hear speeches and attend events.

The protests in Seattle, Washington began in response to last month’s death in police custody of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

President Trump, who has pushed states to take firm action against protesters, has meanwhile outlined proposals for reforming police, including greater funding for training and national guidelines on the use of force.

However, he dismissed calls for defunding the police as an “extreme agenda”. Such a measure involves budgets being allocated directly to communities rather than law enforcement.

Mark Henry Jr. of Black Lives Matter addresses a crowd in the ChazImage copyrightAFP
Image captionHundreds of protesters have gathered in the Chaz

How did the Chaz come about?

The area around East Precinct in Seattle became a battleground between protesters and police in the past two weeks, leading the governor to send in the National Guard and for the mayor to impose a curfew.

During the violence, demonstrators threw petrol bombs and other missiles at police, cars were torched and looting broke out, according to local media.

A sign reading 'This space is now property of the Seattle people' hangs over the closed Seattle Police Department's East PrecinctImage copyrightAFP
Image captionProtesters have hung a sign over the Seattle Police Department’s now-closed East Precinct

At the weekend, Seattle police used tear gas and flash bangs to disperse protesters. Members of the city council rebuked the police department, accusing them of heavy-handed tactics.

Then on Monday, the mayor ordered barricades removed near the precinct and the police building was boarded up.

Since then protesters have taken over a zone spanning about six blocks of Capitol Hill, a hub of the city’s trendy arts scene that has been gentrified in recent years as tech workers drive up property prices.

Local media describe a festival-like atmosphere, with poetry readings, music and movie nights. Free fizzy water, snacks, sunscreen and hand sanitiser are available.

A shrine to George Floyd and others is pictured in the newly created ChazImage copyrightAFP
Image captionProtesters in the Chaz have created a memorial of George Floyd and others

While the protesters say they are leaderless, armed volunteers have been spotted at checkpoints asking for the ID of people entering.

What did Trump say about Chaz?

In a series of tweets, the Republican president lashed out at liberal Democratic leaders in the north-western US state of Washington and its most populous city of Seattle.

“Take back your city NOW,” Mr Trump wrote on Thursday. “If you don’t do it, I will.”

In another tweet, he said “Domestic Terrorists have taken over Seattle”, saying Washington Governor Jay Inslee was “looking ‘the fool'”.

Media caption“Keep pushing”: Washington DC protesters on keeping the momentum going

Mr Inslee tweeted back: “A man who is totally incapable of governing should stay out of Washington state’s business.”

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan defended the right to protest and told President Trump: “Make us all safe. Go back to your bunker.”

“The threat to invade Seattle, to divide and incite violence in our city, is not only unwelcome, it would be illegal,” she added.

How do police see it?

Police say they want to reopen the precinct and it is unclear how long the autonomous zone will remain.

At a news conference on Wednesday, Assistant Chief Deanna Nollette said the police department had been abandoned because of threats that it would be vandalised or burned. She said the protesters’ barricades were intimidating some residents.

Police Chief Carmen Best posted a video message to officers in which she said the police withdrawal “seems like an insult to you and our community”.

On Thursday afternoon the police chief said claims that citizens and businesses were being extorted in the zone were not true and had been based on anecdotal evidence from news and social media.

The words 'Black Lives Matter' are painted in the middle of East Pine Street in the ChazImage copyrightAFP
Image captionArtists painted the words ‘Black Lives Matters’ on a street in the Chaz

Ms Best said call response times in the area served by East Precinct are normally between 5-18 minutes, but are now taking almost an hour, reports local Komo News.

She said this means police are not able to respond to reports of assaults, rapes and robberies.

US protests timeline

George Floyd dies after police arrest

Tributes to George Floyd at a makeshift memorial
Image captionTributes to George Floyd at a makeshift memorialIMAGE COPYRIGHT BYGETTY IMAGES

George Floyd dies after being arrested by police outside a shop in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Footage shows a white officer, Derek Chauvin, kneeling on Mr Floyd’s neck for several minutes while he is pinned to the floor. Mr Floyd is heard repeatedly saying “I can’t breathe”. He is pronounced dead later in hospital.

Protests begin

Demonstrators in Minneapolis

@BBC

The Independent Observer

John Sakala is a Journalist yearning for independent journalism

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