SEATTLE (Reuters) - The mayor of Seattle said on Thursday it would be unconstitutional and illegal for U.S. President Donald Trump to send military forces into the city to clear protesters occupying a neighborhood, as he has suggested.
But Mayor Jenny Durkan, speaking at an afternoon press conference, did not say how or when authorities would remove the roughly 500 demonstrators who have established a makeshift encampment behind barricades in the Capitol Hill district.
“It is unconstitutional and illegal to send the military into Seattle,” said Durkan, a first-term Democrat. “There is no imminent threat of an invasion of Seattle.”
Activists have occupied the area since police on Monday night moved barricades blocking the streets and abandoned their East Precinct station in a move city officials say was aimed at reducing tensions.
Protesters used the police barricades to section off the area, calling it the “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone.”
“We’re not going to let this happen in Seattle. If we have to go in, we’re going to go in,” Trump Told Fox News on Thursday. “Let the governor do it. He’s got great National Guard troops ... But one way or the other, it’s going to get done. These people are not going to occupy a major portion of a great city.”
On Sunday, a man drove his car into a crowd of protesters into the area that became the “autonomous zone” the following day. He then shot and wounded a demonstrator who confronted him as he came to a stop, according to police and eyewitness video. The man who was shot was in stable condition at a hospital while the driver was arrested.
Major cities across the United States have been convulsed by marches, rallies and sometimes violence for more than two weeks over the death of a black man, 46-year-old George Floyd, while in Minneapolis police custody. A bystander recorded video of the now-dismissed officer holding a knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.
“What we have been given here is a unique opportunity to see how a police-free zone can be facilitated,” protester David Lewis told Reuters, standing in front of the abandoned East Precinct.
“Making this a community or education center would be a momentous and very powerful movement that the city can commit to the lack of police brutality and also an acknowledgement of the debts of the past.”
Police officers returned to the East Precinct building on Thursday morning to inspect it for damage but it remains unstaffed.
Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best said the neighborhood could not remain occupied but neither she nor Durkan would say how the city planned to dismantle the camp.”We have to make sure we don’t re-create the entire cycle we were able to disrupt,” Durkan said.
Reporting by Gregory Scruggs in Seattle; Additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Writing and additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb and Bill Tarrant in Los Angeles; Editing by David Gregorio and Grant McCool