Seattle Mayor Defends Autonomous Zone, Says Trump Can’t Send in Troops

June 12, 2020 Updated: June 12, 2020

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan defended the so-called autonomous zone that’s been carved out in the city, alleging that President Donald Trump cannot send in military forces to seize the area back from activists.

On the same day that Trump said his administration won’t “let Seattle be occupied by anarchists,” Durkan also pushed back on calls to resign over the handling of protests and riots since a black man died in police custody in Minneapolis on Memorial Day.

Durkan, a Democrat, and Police Chief Carmen Best are remaining in their positions for now.

“No and no,” Durkan told reporters Thursday, referencing questions about resigning. Best said she still has faith in the mayor while Durkan said she remains confident in the police chief.

Hundreds of protesters stormed Seattle’s City Hall on Tuesday, demanding Durkan resign.

Durkan said at one point that she and Best “thought about having a Thelma and Louise moment,” referring to friends who drive off a cliff.

City officials have faced increasing pressure after scores of activists and others commandeered part of the city following the police abandonment of a precinct building.

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A protester uses a scope on top of a barricade to look for police approaching the newly created Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone in Seattle, Wash., on June 11, 2020. (Jason Redmond/AFP via Getty Images)
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A volunteer works security at an entrance to the so-called “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone” in Seattle, Wash., on June 10, 2020. (David Ryder/Getty Images)

Now, armed people in the so-called Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone are checking identification. Police officials have received reports of businesses and people in the zone being extorted.

Video footage from inside the zone show at least one instance of a person being ejected by a jeering crowd and several instances of assault, as well as at least one tense encounter with police officers. People who are armed include members of the John Brown Gun Club, according to activists. The club has links to Antifa, a far-left group that advocates for violence.

Demands put forth by the occupiers include abolishing the Seattle Police Department, the release of any prisoner serving time for resisting arrest, and an end to qualified immunity for police officers.

Best entered the abandoned East Precinct on Thursday, telling reporters later that the occupation has had detrimental effects.

“The actions of a small group cannot and should not deprive an entire segment of our community from public safety services,” she said. On the first day after the precinct was abandoned, response times to crimes in progress were over 15 minutes, about three times the average.

“If that is your mother, your sister, your cousin, your neighbor’s kid that is being raped, robbed, assaulted, and otherwise victimized, you’re not going to want to have to report that it took the police three times longer to get there to provide services to them,” Best said, noting the time involved could be a matter of life or death.

Neither she nor Durkan accepted responsibility for ordering the abandonment of the station. Best said in a video to her officers that it “was not my decision,” adding on Thursday: “It didn’t come from me.”

Durkan, who said some of her family members were inside the zone on Thursday, has vigorously defended the zone. She and police officials have so far declined to use force to take back city streets from protesters and activists.

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A group gathers in the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone in Seattle, Wash., on June 10, 2020. (Ernie Li/NTD Television)
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Artists fill in the letters of a “Black Lives Matter” mural on E. Pine Street as protesters establish what they call an autonomous zone near the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct in this aerial photo taken over Seattle, Wash., on June 11, 2020. (Lindsey Wasson/Reuters)

“Lawfully gathering and expressing First Amendment rights, demanding we do better as a society, and providing true equity for communities of color is not terrorism—it is patriotism,” Durkan told reporters at the briefing.

Trump took aim at the autonomous zone this week, saying that anarchists “just took over Seattle” and that Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, and Durkan “are being taunted and played at a level that our great Country has never seen before.”

“Take back your city NOW. If you don’t do it, I will,” he said on social media.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said on Fox News’ “America’s Newsroom” earlier Thursday: “The president’s message is that he will secure the streets in this country.”

While Trump prefers local leaders do their job, but when they don’t, he will, she added, claiming credit for the president for “surging” National Guard troops to Minnesota and Washington amid recent riots.

Trump told Fox News’ “The Story” later in the day that his administration is “not going to let Seattle be occupied by anarchists.”

“If there were more toughness, you wouldn’t have the kind of devastation that you had in Minneapolis and in Seattle. I mean, let’s see what’s going on in Seattle,” Trump said. “I will tell you, if they don’t straighten that situation out, we’re going to straighten it out.”

Durkan said at the briefing that it would be “unconstitutional and illegal to send the military” to Seattle, adding, “there is no imminent threat of an invasion.”

Occupiers in the zone are mulling what to do next, according to a packet being distributed. Options include taking over the East Precinct, moving the zone, or dissolving the zone.