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"Police walk back report that Capitol Hill protesters extorted businesses

The Seattle Police Department walked back its claim, widely repeated in the news media, that denizens of the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone are extorting businesses.

"That has not happened affirmatively," Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best in a news conference Thursday afternoon, adding that the police department had based earlier claims on anecdotal reports, including in the news and on social media. "We haven't had any formal reports of this occurring."

That contradicts earlier statements from the police.

In a news conference Wednesday, Assistant Seattle Police Chief Deanna Nollette said police have heard from Capitol Hill community members that some protesters have asked business owners to pay a fee to operate in a roughly six-block area around the precinct. Police Chief Carmen Best repeated the claim in a video address to officers Thursday morning.

The police narrative rang false to many in the Capitol Hill business community. Restaurant owners said they hadn't heard any reports of extortion in the Autonomous Zone. On the contrary: Sales are strong and the increase in walk-up business is cutting down on delivery costs.

"This protest has not hurt us at all," said Bok a Bok Chicken co-owner Brian O'Connor. When he came to the Autonomous Zone Wednesday, rather than extortion, he said he was met with an offer of a free bagel-and-cheese sandwich.

The claim seems to have originated on conservative blog The Post Millennial, in an article written by former Seattle City Council candidate Ari Hoffman. The article quoted unnamed police officers who alleged protesters were extorting businesses for protection money.

Hoffman did not respond to questions about his sourcing. The claim was later repeated by a commenter under the name "Marcus S." on the Capitol Hill Seattle blog, and in a tweet by Andy Ngo, editor-at-large of The Post Millennial.

Apart from those sources, Christina Arrington, who heads the Capitol Hill branch of the Greater Seattle Business Association, said she has had "no other indications that this is taking place." The GSBA "found no evidence of this occurring," the group tweeted, based on conversations with area business.

The Seattle Times, among other local news outlets, repeated Nollette's claims that the police had received reports of extortion from community members."

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