Fifteen businesses and individuals filed a class action lawsuit against the city of Seattle over how officials handled the so-called autonomous zone that sprang up earlier this month, leading to chaos and mayhem on city streets.
After the Seattle Police Department abruptly abandoned its East Precinct in the second week of June, protesters took control of barriers and re-positioned them to block off access to an area comprising about six blocks. Occupiers later stopped police from entering. Response times to crimes in the area, including rape, soared.
“Rather than seeking to restore order and protect the residents and property owners within [the zone named] CHOP, the city instead chose to actively endorse, enable, and participate in the occupation of CHOP,” the lawsuit states.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, a Democrat, repeatedly praised the occupiers, saying the situation might lead to a “summer of love.” The city was actively involved in the occupation, providing portable toilets and helping replace a temporary barrier with a concrete one.
Noting that armed occupiers manned checkpoints, rejecting some who tried entering the space, the plaintiffs said the situation made it “virtually impossible” for residents and businesses to access their buildings and conduct normal operations.
Clients, employees, and delivery drivers became too scared to visit businesses or report to work because of the occupation, the plaintiffs reported.
They recalled pleading with Durkan and other city officials to intervene in the increasingly dire situation, but being rebuffed.
Businesses that haven’t shut down in the zone have seen a significant loss of revenue.
The lawsuit pointed to Mayor Jenny Durkan openly stating that not all emergency calls would receive a police response following a break-in near the zone that police refused to directly respond to. The business broken into, Car Tender, is one of the plaintiffs.
People stand near tents setup outside of the Seattle Police Department’s vacated East Precinct in the area known as the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP) in Seattle, Wash., on June 23, 2020. (David Ryder/Getty Images)
After a fatal shooting early June 20, officers didn’t approach the area until about 20 minutes after the shots were fired.
An Epoch Times reporter who spent days inside the autonomous zone found a lawless place that turned violent at night. He saw many buildings covered with graffiti and boarded up. Most of the slogans promoted anti-police messaging.
“The city’s conduct has enabled the widespread destruction and vandalism of private property,” the lawsuit states.
The parties want a judge to issue an injunction restraining the city from continuing its policies of supporting and enabling the occupation of the area. They filed the suit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington.
Rioters raise their fists as a fire burns in the street after clashes with law enforcement near the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct, in Seattle, on June 8, 2020. (David Ryder/Getty Images)
The plaintiffs took pains to say they support free speech and the right to peacefully assemble, specifically saying they support efforts like those of Black Lives Matter. They don’t want to “undermine CHOP participants’ message or present a counter-message,” the suit states. Instead, the suit is about the constitutional and legal rights of the plaintiffs.
In a statement sent to news outlets, the office of Durkan said, “City leadership have been on the ground daily having discussions with demonstrators, residents, and businesses and trusted community-based, black-led organizations to determine a path forward that protects the right to peacefully protest and keeps people safe.”
“Over the coming days, city and community organizations will continue to work with individuals to encourage them to peacefully depart in the evening for their safety and the safety of the surrounding community, while also encouraging individuals to peacefully demonstrate across the city throughout the daytime hours,” Durkan’s office said.
An inquiry sent to the City Attorney’s office wasn’t immediately returned.
Durkan promised to dismantle the zone after a deadly shooting over the weekend.
The occupiers said late Wednesday that “very few people” remain in the area and called on people to “continue the struggle” through social media accounts.