SEATTLE - As residents were asking when Seattle Police Department officers would return to the abandoned East Precinct building, city transportation crews were stymied Friday morning by protesters who blocked their construction equipment from removing barricades in the CHOP area.
One protester laid down in the middle of the street, impeding access by the operator of a heavy load hauler. The protester in the so-called Capitol Hill Occupied Protest zone was quickly joined by others who laid in the street or atop the makeshift barricades.
Although Chief Carmen Best and Mayor Jenny Durkan have expressed support for a plan to return to the precinct office, they have not forced a return to the building, preferring instead to work with protest organizers. On Friday, a spokesperson for the mayor said, "SPD had no plans to return to the East Precinct today."
The standoff continue as city officials and police planned a return to the area despite objections by demonstrators who say they won't leave until their demands are met.
Those demands include defunding the Seattle police by 50 percent and moving that money to Black communities.
The collective of protesters, activists, educators and volunteers in the Capitol Hill Organized Protest was born after clashes with police who tear-gassed people protesting the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan has expressed support for the protest, calling it “a peaceful expression of our community’s collective grief and their desire to build a better world.”
But following several recent shootings in the area, Durkan said this week the city would wind down the protest zone, at first by encouraging demonstrators to leave, and that police would return to a nearby precinct they abandoned following clashes with demonstrators.
Meanwhile, the number of protesters left in the zone has dwindled to a few dozen. But they are far from giving up - one group scrambled onto Interstate 5 again overnight, and their tents remain set up near the East Precinct building.
Stephanie Formas, Durkan's chief of staff, told KOMO News that the city transportation crews are just trying to improve access to the CHOP zone for residents and businesses.
"There's been a makeshift barrier between 12th and 13th, so our goal today was to remove that configuration to allow more access to the residents in the neighborhood," she said, "So we're going to be speaking with organizers for how can we remove that one makeshift barrier."
A meeting between protesters and city representatives is planned for about noon, and a column of city DOT trucks is positioned about a block away - waiting for the order to move in.
Formas said the city will not forcibly remove the barrier and added that police are not going back to the East Precinct on Friday.