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Dispatches from Left Coast: Inside Seattle’s Capital Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ)

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Christopher Sandford, The Spectator, June 11, 2020

Ah, Seattle, that environmentally obsessed city where all is decorous, the sidewalks immaculately swept, the parks rigorously trimmed, proverbial for its snow-capped mountains and sparkling lakes, and now, too, for its riotous Capitol Hill residential neighborhood where free spirits roam with their feral dogs and semi-automatic weapons. Their little community survives — even flourishes — by handing out free stuff like gas masks from the back of trucks, eating lentils cooked over an open fire, and sustaining each other’s morale by peak-decibel showings of the racially-themed movie 13th. Apparently they’re in it for the long haul. A 30-year-old dreadlocked hip-hop artist named Solomon Simone, who goes by the moniker Raz, has emerged as a spokesman for the six-block enclave. ‘This is not Coachella,’ he remarked through a megaphone late on Wednesday night. ‘Bring your sleeping bags and tents. We here.’

But why? The short answer is that in the wake of the George Floyd killing local protesters engaged in a spirited discussion with police, punctuated by the sound of blast balls and flash bangs, up and down the city’s Capitol Hill. In scenes reminiscent of Assault on Precinct 13, Seattle’s finest took the decision on the night of June 8 to abandon their station-house in the area and surrender it to the mob. ‘This is an exercise in trust and de-escalation,’ explained Seattle police chief Carmen Best. Exact statistics are elusive, but there currently seem to be between 300-400 full-time residents of the ‘Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone’, or CHAZ, where signs greet you reading ‘Property of the People’ and ‘Leaving USA’. 

Behind the barricades, Raz and his team have reportedly shown a generous cast of mind. One CHAZ resident tweeted, ‘It’s a victory for #seattleprotests, but please remember that we are still occupying Duwamish Indian land.’ There have been similar effusions of solidarity with the gay community, illegal immigrants, the ‘fascist-oppressed’ in general, and even to the memory of poor George Floyd. But apparently our town’s experiment in communal living has also had its challenges. ‘The homeles [sic] people we invited here took away all our food,’ one Twitter user reported glumly.

Apart from the ubiquitous rain, it’s all pretty much like July 4 up in Raz’s domain. There’s an ambient smell of grease in the air, and people sear hotdogs on curbside grills. Admittedly I didn’t see any patriotic bunting or hear the National Anthem when I visited, but for some reason there was a mural depicting the late Ronald Reagan in an unusual pose. Some teenagers passed a bottle of beer among themselves, while another group was busy at work spray-painting the wall of an abandoned convenience store. At night there’s a touch of Dunkirk about the scene as you pass by rows of bedraggled-looking campers hunched together around braziers or stretched out on army-surplus cots.

You also have to hand it to the inhabitants of CHAZ for their ambition. ‘This is no simple request to end police brutality.’ the organizers tweeted at the head of a 30-point list of demands. These range from specific criminal-justice reforms up to what might be called the socio-economic realm. They want the ‘de-gentrification’ of Seattle, for example, increased funding for ‘arts and culture’, and a segregated local healthcare system. (Yes, that’s right: ‘Only black doctors and nurses should be employed specifically to care for black patients,’ it says here.) Just how all this might be achieved remains fuzzy, but no mainstream Seattle official has seen fit to seriously question the protesters’ agenda. The grown-ups have abandoned the family home to the teenagers, who are hanging off the gutters and binging on vodka like Russians, and there’s no prospect of them returning to restore order anytime soon.

Which brings us to 46-year-old, Indian-born Kshama Sawant, of the Seattle City Council, who believes that her adopted city is a ‘playground for the rich’ who need to be punitively taxed as a result. On Tuesday night, Sawant led demonstrators down the hill from their exclusion-zone into the normally hushed chamber of Seattle City Hall. Once inside, the thousand-strong crowd (who appear to have taken a relaxed view of social distancing) spent an hour chanting about police brutality and railing at the absent Mayor Jenny Durkan. After that the protesters headed back to their collective on Capitol Hill. No police officers attended the scene.

Meanwhile, the gloriously feckless Washington governor Jay Inslee was asked at a press conference to weigh in on the no-go zone that had by then been up and running for the last 36 hours. ‘Well, that’s news to me, so I’ll reserve any comment,’ Inslee said. Could this be the same man who for the past three months has issued a near-daily series of executive orders and fiats that control every aspect of his citizens’ lives? (As I write this, King County, which includes Seattle, is in the throes of applying to the state Department of Health to ‘Potentially allow for limited openings of businesses in a Modified Phase 1 of the state’s Safe Start Plan, [while] meeting daily to help prevent misinformation, prejudice, and stigma.’) In this jungle of a governmental system, as incalculable as any oriental sultanate, it appears that our chief executive somehow remained oblivious to the fact that gun-toting activists had seized a sizable chunk of his largest city some two days earlier.

In the last resort, maybe it’s all down to something about the Pacific Northwest. Until the likes of Bill Gates came along the area was dominated for a century by logging and fishing, with an aggressive blue-collar tradition. The Northwest has been called the hideout capital of the USA, a far-flung outpost where generations of the nation’s failed, fed-up, and felonious have gone to disappear.

It apparently cuts both ways, because in 2016 we had one of those white-supremacist standoffs beloved of CNN when a dozen or so armed militants occupied an Oregon wildlife refuge seeking to take a ‘hard stand’ against government ‘tyranny’. The protesters gave up following a six-week siege, after a spokesman for the group had been shot dead by police.

The Capitol Hill crowd may dominate the news cycle today, but forces of a very different sort are still out there, brooding and volcanic. Whatever happens to Raz and company, I’m not convinced this will ultimately end well.

Ryan Miller, USA Today, June 12, 2020

In Seattle, a group of peaceful protesters have cornered off several city blocks and established the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone – a sort of protest haven where artists paint murals, speakers discuss topics of racial equity, snacks are handed out for free and virtually no police are in sight.

President Donald Trump has branded the protest society as a group of “ugly Anarchists” and “Domestic Terrorists,” but the city’s mayor says Trump doesn’t get it. It’s a group of people gathering lawfully and exercising their First Amendment right of free speech, said Mayor Jenny Durkan.

“It is patriotism,” Durkan added.

The group gathered after Seattle police abandoned a precinct in the Capitol Hill neighborhood on Monday and effectively handed the area over to the protesters they had clashed with for days. 

According to media reports from around the area, the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, or CHAZ, has a festival-like energy where people are peacefully gathering and discussing how to better the world in an experiment of a society without police amid calls around the country to “defund” departments

Where is the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone?

According to a Seattle Times map of the area, the zone spans several city blocks. It runs east to west along East Pine Street from 10th to 13th Avenues East. On 12th Avenue East, the zone extended down to East Pike Street. Some tents and a community garden have been set up in Cal Anderson Park, which runs along East Pine Street.

Capitol Hill is a neighborhood northeast of downtown Seattle and the famous Pike Place Market. The neighborhood is popular with many young residents in the city and home to many diverse artistic spaces, restaurants and Cal Anderson Park, named after Washington’s first openly gay legislator.

How did protesters first occupy the area?

Seattle, like most cities in the United States, saw major protests in the days that followed George Floyd’s killing in the custody of Minneapolis police.

For days, protesters and police in riot gear faced off nightly outside the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct. 

In response to outcries against the tactics used by police in Seattle to control the crowds, Durkan promised at a news conference last week there would be a 30-day ban on the use of CS gas, commonly known as tear gas. 

Despite that ban, police used tear gas to disperse demonstrators over the weekend, prompting a new wave of outrage from activists and City Council members. In response, the Seattle Police Department removed barricades from outside the East Precinct.Get the Coronavirus Watch newsletter in your inbox.

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Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best said Thursday it was her decision to use tear gas after the ban, as she said officers believed there could be violence, but it was not her decision to surrender the building, per the Times.

What’s the scene like inside the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone?

News reports describe the occupied area as peaceful and safe. The words “Black Lives Matter” were painted on East Pine Street. Free food has been handed out at a “No Cop Co-op.” Speakers, poets and other performers share ideas and art.

A sign on the abandoned police precinct reads that the building is “property of the Seattle people.” The Seattle Times reported that some protesters hope to turn the building into a community center.

A sign which reads "this is property of the Seattle people" is pictured on the closed Seattle Police Department's East Precinct.

A community garden has also been planted in Cal Anderson Park. “We’re forced to build new plots because people are giving us so many plants,” Marcus Henderson, who was working in the gardens, told the Seattle Times.

Francis Vann, a 15-year-old high school freshman, told the newspaper that the movement happening inside the area is being driven by young people.

“A lot of times, the older people criticize the young people for how we choose to show our grief,” Vann said. “It kind of takes a lot to stir up emotions with the young people, but once we’re mad, we’re mad. And we’re mad. It’s the young people’s energy that’s out here and the old people’s wisdom that’s keeping us out here.”

Are businesses being threatened?

No.

Seattle police claimed earlier this week that some businesses housed inside the area are being extorted and forced to pay a fee to operate in the area. Best said Thursday that claim was false. “That has not happened affirmatively,” Best said, per the Seattle Times. “We haven’t had any formal reports of this occurring.”

Restaurant owners told the newspaper the protest has actually been good for business with more walk-ups. “This protest has not hurt us at all,” Bok a Bok Chicken co-owner Brian O’Connor told the Seattle Times.

Will police return to the area?

Police officials have said they plan to return to the abandoned precinct, but there is no timeline. 

“We don’t want to introduce additional flashpoints,” Durkan said at a news conference about police’s potential return, the Seattle Times reported.

The Seattle Times reported that a group of officers were spotted at the police precinct Thursday evening and that there was a brief confrontation with protesters. Some protesters claimed they were pepper sprayed during the incident, the newspaper reported.

 Vandana Rambaran, Fox News, June 12, 2020

Activists and police have clashing views regarding the activities going on inside the so-called “CHAZ,” a six-block area of Seattle that has been taken over by protesters — and authorities are still scratching their heads as to who is actually running the rabble.

Photos of demonstrations inside the zone, which includes a now-shuttered police precinct, seem to paint a rosy picture: outdoor movies, music performances, sidewalk artwork and more.

“There’s that stuff, but then there’s the darker side of things too,” one law enforcement official told Fox News.

“This is now a community center” reads one sign hanging outside the East Precinct in the #CHAZ

Several protests over the last week have landed at the steps of City Hall and some protesters have entered for meetings with the mayor, but I think this is the first time this big of a group has been in here for #seattleprotest against police brutality.

One CHAZ supporter, identified as Armani on Twitter, encouraged protesters to “buy guns.” “Good morning and friendly reminder to black an brown people: buy guns!”

Police have repeatedly said they have “heard, anecdotally, reports of citizens and businesses being asked to pay a fee to operate within this area” while others have complained about armed guards asking to see identification for people to enter their homes, according to Assistant Chief of Police Deanna Nollette.

Police have also said their response time to 911 calls has tripled over the last few days because they are unable to access the downtown region and are being blocked out by protesters.

A volunteer works security at an entrance to the so-called "Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone" on June 10, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. 

A volunteer works security at an entrance to the so-called “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone” on June 10, 2020 in Seattle, Washington.  (Getty)

A possible leader behind the movement is Kshama Sawant, a Seattle City Council member who helped let hundreds of demonstrators into City Hall earlier this week in a late-night protest calling for Mayor Jenny Durkan to resign.

Sawant has encouraged protesters to hold out on giving back the precinct to police or allowing officers inside the barricaded region.

“The process for deciding East Precinct conversion must include those involved in CHAZ, black community organizations, restorative justice, faith, anti-racist, renter orgns, land trusts, groups, labor unions that have a proven record of fighting racism,” Sawant wrote in a post on Twitter.

“My office is bringing legislation to convert East Precinct into a community center for retorative3 justice,” Savant posted further on Twitter.

“Our movement needs to urgently ensure East Precinct is not handed back to police, but is turned over permanently into community control,” she wrote.

Meanwhile, posts circulating on Twitter encourage those inside CHAZ to contact their friends and encourage them to fight back against police reclaiming their precinct.

Due to COVID-19 we respectfully decline the @SeattlePD s request for their precinct back. The People will move forward with their plans to convert the space into a Mutual Aid HQ for COVID.

“Yall better be hitting up every single one of your “f—–g” friends right now so they can witness this,” one demonstrator said. “This is not what we fought for. They need to get out.”

Businesses situated inside CHAZ, including dozens of restaurants and bars, have put out free food, medical supplies, masks and other necessities to help sustain protesters, according to reports by King 5.

The area has also started a garbage-collection program, according to reports by Insider.

Other local reports state that CHAZ has also started planting a garden.

One agitator group on Twitter posting photos inside CHAZ showed a list of items needed by demonstrators including cigarettes, tents and bedding.

Despite President Trump vowing to straighten the situation out if the local government didn’t take care of it, it would appear these protesters are preparing for an extended stay.

CHAZ has set up a supplies poster, apperently it’s raining in Seattle right now so this is probably as of just a couple of hours ago

Surprisingly they want Gatorade more than water

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