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A Black Life Lost in Seattle’s No-Cop Zone


This is the story of a black life that didn’t matter enough, a young man who died in a place where politicians didn’t want the police to go. The story begins with what Seattle Mayor

Jenny Durkan

dubbed the “summer of love” and ends with a 19-year-old left to perish from gunshot wounds.

After the killing of

George Floyd

last May, protests devolved into riots in many cities. Seattle was especially chaotic. Police withdrew from the city’s East Precinct in early June, and armed anarchists seized control of several blocks near

Cal Anderson Park.

They declared the area the “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone” and advertised it as cop-free.


This is the story of a black life that didn’t matter enough, a young man who died in a place where politicians didn’t want the police to go.

“It’s not an armed takeover. It’s not a military junta,” the mayor told CNN’s

Chris Cuomo

on June 12. “We have block parties and the like in this part of Seattle all the time.” City Council member Kshama Sawant called for the area to be “turned over permanently into community control” and for replacing the police station with “a community center for restorative justice.”

About a week later,

Horace Lorenzo Anderson Jr.

went to check out the occupied zone. He never came home. “Evidently it wasn’t so peaceful,” his mother,

Donnitta Sinclair,

says.

On Aug. 5, King County prosecutors charged

Marcel Long,

now 19, with first-degree murder. He and Anderson had a history of enmity. Prosecutors allege that when they encountered each other in the streets of the autonomous zone, Mr. Long pulled out a handgun. Anderson backed away and ran, and others present tried to hold Mr. Long back, but he broke away, court filings say. A sobbing witness later told police that the victim tripped or fell and was “on his back, ‘laying there hopeless’ ” when the killer fired on him. Anderson sustained “multiple gunshot wounds” that ultimately killed him, according to court filings. This happened within blocks of the abandoned police precinct.

Young Horace Lorenzo Anderson Jr.



Photo:

Courtesy of Donnitta Sinclair

Ms. Sinclair filed a lawsuit last week seeking to hold the city liable in her son’s death. Attorney

Evan Oshan

has also filed negligence and breach-of-duty claims against the government on behalf of Anderson’s estate and his father. “Our leaders and government failed Lorenzo,” Mr. Oshan says.

Ms. Sinclair’s complaint alleges that after Anderson was shot, “with no assistance in sight” from the police, bystanders carried him to a medical tent inside the zone of anarchy. “He had a pulse when they laid him down on a table,” the lawsuit says, and a Seattle Fire Department ambulance “was standing about a block and a half away from where Anderson lay bleeding.” Ms. Sinclair’s suit quotes from a social-media video that shows “a man imploring the medics to help Anderson” and saying, “You could be saving his life. You could be saving his life right now. Sir, please, explain to me what’s going on. He’s dying. He needs your help.”

The Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone in Seattle, June 11, 2020.



Photo:

Karen Ducey/Zuma Press

But the medics were “apparently waiting for a green light” from police before entering the zone. In a June 21 statement, the fire department said that “this was a scene where the risk was too high to commit our crews to respond in without a police escort.” Ms. Sinclair alleges that “the City had no effective plan for providing police protection, fire protection, or other emergency services in the surrendered area”; police “deserted the area” and “adopted a policy and practice of not entering the area except in the case of life-threatening crimes, and sometimes not even then.”

Police records I’ve reviewed support that claim. In a report about the murder, Detective

Timothy DeVore

wrote that “on order of Seattle government officials, this became a police free zone.” Police spokesman

Sgt. Randy Huserik

says that the police department was “never provided an order to not enter” the occupied zone, though an “officer safety notice was put out that provided a minimum officer response plan should officers need to enter the area.”

Ms. Sinclair alleges that miscommunication between the police and fire departments “caused a delay of approximately 20 minutes.” That was too long for her son. Someone hoisted Anderson into a pickup truck and drove him out of the zone to Harborview Medical Center. He was pronounced dead about eight minutes after his arrival.

Ms. Sinclair got the phone call at home. “They said he got shot, but that he might not have made it. It felt like I took my last breath, to be honest,” she says. “This was a young man coming from a family that adored and loved him and still do. We miss him, and we deserve justice.”

Premature baby Horace Lorenzo Anderson, Jr.



Photo:

Courtesy of Donnitta Sinclair

Her son, nicknamed Nino, was a survivor, born at 24 weeks and weighing only 1½ pounds. As a baby, he suffered from hernias and needed glasses; as a toddler he needed oxygen because his lungs weren’t fully developed; and as a child he needed tubing in his ears. “Raising a premie with medical conditions is not easy,” she says. But he played football and graduated from high school in 2019. He also painted public art with the nonprofit Urban ArtWorks.

Anderson dreamed of becoming a rapper. “When we hang I try to get me a little verse in,” Ms. Sinclair says. “I want him to know his momma’s supporting him 100%.” But she urged him to have backup career plans, and before his death he had thought about following his mother into a community-service career. He had a mischievous sense of humor, and he taught his 1-year-old nephew to do push-ups, to the entire family’s amusement. Ms. Sinclair says her grandson still does them, and it both intensifies and soothes her loss.


“As a mother, I’m dying. As a community leader, I’m trying to rebuild strength.”

Ms. Sinclair has spent the past 25 years working with Seattle’s at-risk youth and the homeless, so she says the way her son died “felt like a stab in the back.” Weeping on the phone, she says: “As a mother, I’m dying. As a community leader, I’m trying to rebuild strength.” The authorities’ failure haunts her: “I know my son needed the police at that time, and my son needed the paramedics. Why we would ever have an event where there was no police available? That’s lawless.”

The anarchist occupation also impeded the shooting investigation. Video shows occupiers jeering and heckling as the police walk through. “Because Seattle Police had been excluded from this location,” Detective DeVore writes in his report, “the scene was not contained for their investigation and crime scene investigators did not collect evidence, map out the location, take photos or videos, or talk to individuals who often remain near crime scenes to talk with police.”

One witness, who belonged to the occupation’s volunteer security force, photographed blood stains on the pavement and collected the shell casings and bullet fragments in Ziploc bags. Others provided tips to police. A local business’s cameras caught much of the fatal altercation on video.

Anderson died on June 20. Nine days later another shooting in the zone left a 16-year-old dead and a 14-year-old seriously wounded. No one has been arrested or charged for that murder. The lawsuit notes that there were other shootings, “as well as other crimes such as robbery or sexual assault.” Police finally cleared the zone of occupants on July 1.



Photo:

Karen Ducey/Zuma Press

Public order in Seattle is likely to deteriorate further. The City Council cut the 2021 police budget by about 9%, or nearly $35.6 million, compared with 2019. More than 200 officers, or more than 1 in 7, left the department in 2020. Exit interviews suggest that many cops felt “this socialist city council and their political agenda” had adversely “affected the ability of the police department to functionally do its job,” as one unnamed longtime veteran of the force wrote.

Another departing officer wrote of being “embarrassed to have to abandon the East [Precinct], where I worked for 10 years.” Yet another wrote: “I feel from the recent events of riots, lack of support from the community and the City Council it is time for me to find a department that allows me to protect the people of the city. I feel that the city council has allowed the few hundred people who still continue to riot to run the city. Community members that need us the most are suffering.”

Seattle saw 56 homicides in 2020, up from 37 in 2019, and 26 of the victims were black. Last year calls for service for shots fired increased by more than 20% compared with 2019. Rates of other crimes rose last year as well: car theft by 23%, burglary nearly 36%, and arson 55%. Similar patterns are evident in other cities that have seen decreases in police funding or personnel, including Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Louisville, Ky. In all three cities, the majority of last year’s murder victims were black.

Justice for Anderson may prove elusive. Prosecutors say Mr. Long has fled the state and “all efforts to locate him have been unsuccessful.” Lawsuits against the government are a long shot; Ms. Sinclair’s lawyer,

Mark Lindquist,

acknowledges that “generally speaking, governments are not liable for criminal acts of third parties.” Courts have usually held that police have no legally enforceable duty to protect citizens, but Mr. Lindquist argues “there’s an exception when the government creates the danger, and that’s what happened here.”

Dan Nolte,

a spokesman for the Seattle city attorney’s office, says, “We intend to investigate these brought claims and will defend the City in this matter.”


“The city officials let us down, let us down as a whole, our whole community.”

The only solution may be political. “The city officials let us down, let us down as a whole, our whole community,” Ms. Sinclair says. The city will choose a new mayor in November. Ms. Durkan isn’t seeking re-election.

Ms. Melchior is an editorial page writer for the Journal.

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