Seattle police carried out a dawn raid to tear down the city’s “occupied” protest zone after the mayor ordered the area cleared following two fatal shootings in less than two weeks.
There were clashes between the police, many dressed in riot gear, and dozens of protesters at the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (Chop) zone that was set up near the city centre following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Police swarmed the Chop zone at about 5am on Wednesday, arresting at least 32 people.
“Our job is to support peaceful demonstration but what has happened on these streets over the last two weeks is lawless and it’s brutal and bottom line it is simply unacceptable,” police chief Carmen Best said.
Police tore down fences that protesters had erected around their tents and used batons to poke inside bushes, apparently looking for people who might be hiding inside.
One protest organiser, Derrek Allen Jones, said some had tried to stay put but were surprised by the early intervention by officers.
“People were trying to hold their ground but you could see the cops literally storm through people’s beds while they were sleeping and literally say ‘If you don’t get out, we will force you out or arrest you’,” he said.
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Most protesters appeared to have dispersed several hours after the operation started and armed officers looked on from rooftops as clean-up crews of workers arrived.
The protesters had occupied several blocks around a park for about two weeks calling for racial justice and an end to police brutality.
A police station was also abandoned following standoffs and clashes.
Police said they moved in to protect the public after mayor Jenny Durkan issued the order for protesters to leave.
“Since demonstrations at the East Precinct area began on June 8, two teenagers have been killed and three people have been seriously wounded in late-night shootings,” Seattle police said on Twitter.
“Police have also documented robberies, assaults, and other violent crimes.”
The tweet added that “suspects in recent shootings may still be in the area, and because numerous people in the area are in possession of firearms”.
Ms Best added: “The Chop has become lawless and brutal.
“Four shootings, two fatal, robberies, assaults, violence and countless property crimes have occurred in this several block area.”
There had been mounting calls by critics, including president Donald Trump, to remove protesters following the fatal shootings.
Protesters have said they should not be blamed for the violence in the area.