Militant Journalism

Houseless people, supporters mount resistance to ‘sweep’ in Seattle

In the early hours of Dec. 18, heavily armed officers of the Seattle Police Department carried out a “sweep” of a homeless camp in Cal Anderson Park in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. Liberation News witnessed several brutal arrests of people on 11th Ave. just outside the park, in which numerous cops dogpiled onto arrestees, placing their knees on peoples’ backs.

This sweep took place within the context of the global COVID-19 pandemic and in contradiction of public health guidelines against sweeping encampments. Heavily mllitarized vehicles paraded through the neighborhood followed by bike cops riding in formation. At least 21 people were arrested. Over several days, resistance on several fronts by houseless campers and community members delayed, but could not stop this sweep, which activists charge was highly political in nature.

The sweep was originally announced on Dec. 14 with a contingent of armed cops entering the park to post a notice of the sweep. Park residents swung into action on a number of fronts. Some packed up to move in advance of the sweep. The word was put out for supporters to come to the park to resist. Camp resident Ada “Mud” Yaeger, of the organization StreetLove, a group of homeless and formerly-homeless people advocating for basic human rights, filed a motion in federal court for a temporary restraining order to stop the sweep. The motion alleged that a sweep represented “a coordinated destruction and taking of personal property of unhoused citizens” without due process or consideration of civil rights.

Resistance on multiple fronts buys time

On Dec. 16, the originally scheduled day of the sweep, hundreds of people were gathered at Cal Anderson Park before 7:30 a.m. Barricades had been built all around the camp. Police circled the area, but did not attempt to enter.

Later that day, at 3:30 p.m., Yaeger’s motion was heard by federal judge Richard Jones. Jones issued the decision to deny a restraining order early in the evening of Dec. 17. The sweep commenced early in the morning of Dec. 18. 

Police on bikes first gathered at the north end of the park, and announced their intention over a loudspeaker to arrest anyone remaining in the park after 15 minutes had passed. This reporter approached the line of cops and witnessed a small number of independent media and some community members filming the police and shouting in condemnation of the sweep. As  Lt. Lung began announcing that arrests would commence in five minutes, most media moved to the sidewalk and street on the east side of the park on 11th Ave.

Moving south through the park, one could hear a chant rising up in the camp. On 11th Ave., Liberation News saw a steady stream of heavily armed police entering the section of the park where the camp was located. While most cops were brandishing long batons, some wielded pepper spray canisters and one stood in front of what remained of a donations canopy, holding a large firearm. This reporter saw two different people who had been tackled to the ground and piled on by at least three cops each; nonetheless the mood among bystanders was mostly calm. 

Looking north up the street, one could see a group of people carrying a fully erected tent out of an unbarricaded section of the park onto the sidewalk. Volunteers staffing the donations and refreshments tables began moving the canopies off the sidewalk in an effort to salvage these resources. By this time, the sun was all the way up. A tow truck arrived to remove a car parked across 11th at Pine as a barricade. Text messages exchanged with camp residents indicated that people had exited the park and were safe. 

Why sweep Cal Anderson?

Later in the day, Liberation News spoke with Mud Yaeger about the sweep and the struggle of people in the park. 

Yaeger expressed the view that the sweep was politically motivated. “Jenny Durkin herself called it political, and the sweep was reminiscent of the sweep they did after CHOP.” The political nature of the sweep was related to, “the presence of the protesters, our history of resistance to the police,  the history of CHOP at Cal Anderson, and so on. I think a majority of the people living there were LGBT as well.”

Cal Anderson Park has been the center of national attention as the site of the Capitol Hill Organized Protest or CHOP following the city’s abandonment of the East Precinct during the national uprising against racism. During the period of the CHOP, houseless people began to camp in the center of the park, surrounding some gardens that had been planted as a CHOP project. Over the summer, when the CHOP was disbanded, the park was closed for a week and occupied by police, but the camp community returned and continued to grow and organize. 

Seattle is literally filled with tent encampments in every neighborhood and all along the I-5 freeway. In accordance with public health guidelines, most of these camps are currently being left alone as Seattle and King County do not have enough shelters, let alone non-congregate shelters, for the more than 12,000 houseless people living here. In recent weeks, business interests in Capitol Hill have been pressuring the city to sweep the park; right-wing local media have once again been whipping up anti-homeless narratives. 

After the sweep, the Mayor’s office stated: “City contracted service providers have been offering shelter, hotel vouchers, and services at the park and reported to offer these resources to virtually every individual experiencing homelessness.” 

Yaeger commented: “Most were month-long hotel vouchers. I expect people to be on the streets after the month ends in a lot of those cases. There was some very limited tiny home availability. Options were often restrictive, whether by age or stricter rules or being capable of working. There were strings attached to virtually all the options.”

Regarding the legal fight for a restraining order against the sweep, Yaeger said: “The first part of the legal action was to get a TRO [temporary restraining order] against the police to delay the sweep. We didn’t really expect this to succeed, but I believe it may have bought us a day while it was being decided in court. The next part is ongoing. We are going to add the mayor as a defendant and some additional plaintiffs and go forward with a suit against the city. Still working with the lawyer on this, but we have plenty of evidence from coverage of the sweep.”

Feature image: Police on 11th Ave. outside the park during Dec. 18 sweep, making an arrest. Liberation photo. Liberation journalist Andrew Freeman contributed to this report.

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