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Seattle Protesters Complicate Investigation Into Shootings In 'Autonomous Zone'


To Seattle now, where for two weeks, anti-police-brutality activists have occupied what they call an autonomous zone in the city's Capitol Hill neighborhood. But now, due to multiple shootings and one death, Mayor Jenny Durkan wants the protesters to go home.


JENNY DURKAN: The cumulative impacts of the gatherings and protests and the nighttime atmosphere and violence has led to increasingly difficult circumstances for our businesses and residents.

MCCAMMON: Reporter Casey Martin from member station KUOW joins us now from Seattle.

Welcome, Casey.

CASEY MARTIN, BYLINE: Thank you for having me.

MCCAMMON: So the mayor says police will return to this area. Do we know when that will happen?

MARTIN: No, that is not quite clear right now. The mayor has said that there needs to be some sort of police presence, but it will be some sort of phased plan. It's uncertain if they will be armed police or they'll be unarmed police. And the mayor did say that the protests have largely been peaceful, so she wants to protect the people's right to assemble. But the shootings over the weekend are too concerning, and the city does want police back in the area.

MCCAMMON: This protest began as a police-free community. How are protesters reacting to the mayor's announcement?

MARTIN: Well, in short, they say that they are not leaving. They feel that they fought for this area, that they have claimed a peaceful area to protest. And they aren't just going to give it up without their demands being met. Those demands include defunding the Seattle police, funding more social and education programs, releasing protesters from jail. Here's protest organizer David Lewis.

DAVID LEWIS: We promised her that until we saw that change, we'd be marching every day. And that has become one of our chants every day. And we promise you, Mayor Durkan - every day, we'll be marching.

MARTIN: Lewis and the other activists say they don't want violence, but they will defend the autonomous zone if necessary.

MCCAMMON: This protest is happening right in the middle of a residential area. How are people who live there responding to these activists?

MARTIN: People there definitely want the police to return. Even before this weekend and the shootings, people said that they were calling the police, saying, hey, when are you going to be back here? Some folks that I've talked to that live right in the center of this area say they support the Black Lives Matter movement. They support the protests during the day. But they are really tired of the all-night partying.

Some people have shown up with guns as security out in the area, and people who are living in the area say they do not want to see guns. They - in fact, they moved to this neighborhood because you don't see a lot of guns on the street every day. And since this weekend and the shootings, they're really worried about more people showing up armed.

MCCAMMON: And what about these activists who created this police-free autonomous zone? How do they describe its legacy, as they see it?

MARTIN: Well, they're worried that this weekend's violence will overshadow their accomplishments, as they see it. They feel that this was a real moment in Seattle's protest history, and they really want some sort of change to come out of this. They say that this was a moment that people were able to peacefully organize, that they could govern themselves peacefully without police being there.

And they don't want the area to just go back to being what it was. There's this giant street mural where people have painted black lives matter and also these community gardens. So people are literally growing roots there. And they really wanted to have some sort of legacy so people always know that they were there; they occupied that space; and they contributed to Seattle's protest.

MCCAMMON: We've been talking with reporter Casey Martin of member station KUOW in Seattle.

Thanks so much for joining us.

MARTIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Year started with KUOW: 2015