Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone

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Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone
Free Capitol Hill
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Status Self-declared autonomous zone[1]
Declared June 8, 2020
Government
 • Type None; managed through consensus decision-making
 • Leader None

Template:Campaignbox George Floyd protests The Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ)[2] or the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP),[3] also known as the Zone and Free Capitol Hill,[4][5][6] is an occupation protest and self-declared autonomous zone[1] in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle, Washington.[7] The Zone, covering approximately six city blocks and a park,[8][9] was established on June 8, 2020 by George Floyd protesters after the Seattle Police Department (SPD) vacated its East Precinct building at Capitol Hill.[10]

Local governance in the Zone is decentralized, with the goal of creating a neighborhood without police. Purported demands associated with the Zone include rent control, the reversal of gentrification, the abolition or defunding of police, funding of community health, and releasing prisoners serving time for marijuana-related offenses or resisting arrest, with expungement of their records.[11][12]

Reactions to the Zone have varied through the political spectrum. President Donald Trump referred to the occupants as "ugly Anarchists" and called for the governor of Washington and the mayor of Seattle to "take back" the Zone,[13] while Mayor Jenny Durkan on June 11 described the Zone as "four blocks in Seattle that is more like a block party atmosphere. It's not an armed takeover. It's not a military junta. We will make sure that we will restore this but we have block parties and the like in this part of Seattle all the time ... there is no threat right now to the public."[14] On June 14, USA Today confirmed the festive atmosphere, reporting that protesters who had previously clashed with police "have had their rough edges dulled by tens of thousands of tourists and sightseers. CHAZ has morphed into what looks and feels like a mini Burning Man festival."[15]

On June 12, Black Lives Matter (BLM) protesters were reportedly negotiating with local officials to leave the Zone.[16] SPD Chief Carmen Best said that officials were working to return police officers to the precinct. She stressed the "need to have officers responding to calls in a timely fashion. And with the occupation that's taking place, we're not able to do so in a timely way."[17] On June 14, Chief Best spoke of having marched with BLM in the Zone two days before. "I was looking at the 60,000 people that were there, signs saying, you know, defund the police, stop police brutality, you know, no qualified immunity. ... And I just realized it was a moment, an epiphany, that this is a pivotal moment in history. We are going to move in a different direction and policing will never be the same as it was before."[18]

Background

File:Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone Black Lives Matter Mural 2.jpg
Street mural in the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone created by local artists depicting the message "Black Lives Matter"
File:Entering Free Capitol Hill.jpg
Western entrance to the Zone on June 10, 2020, with a sign echoing Free Derry Corner[19]
File:Black Lives Matter Shrine CHAZ Seattle WA.jpg
A shrine set up by Black Lives Matter around the corner from the abandoned East Precinct building

Capitol Hill is a district in downtown Seattle known for its prominent LGBT and counterculture communities. The district was previously a center for other mass protests,[20] such as the 1999 Seattle WTO protests[21] and Occupy Seattle.[22]

Protests over the killing of George Floyd and police brutality began in Seattle on May 29, 2020. For nine days there were street clashes involving protesters, the Seattle Police Department (SPD), and the Washington National Guard.[23] On June 5, Mayor Jenny Durkan and SPD Chief Carmen Best announced a 30-day ban on the use of tear gas.[24] Protests eventually coalesced around the SPD's East Precinct building, where the SPD used aggressive dispersal tactics, including blast balls,[25] flash bangs, and pepper spray.[23] By June 7, metal fencing and large cement blocks were placed around the precinct.[23] Later that day, a car drove into a crowd of protesters, after which the driver shot a protester who had attempted to disarm him, before surrendering to police.[23] The crowd outside the precinct grew and police, reporting that protesters were throwing bottles, rocks, and fireworks, were authorized to resume the use of tear gas shortly after midnight.[23] Over 12,000 complaints were filed about the police response to the demonstrations.[26]

The following afternoon, in a "police retreat,"[5] the SPD abandoned the East Precinct, covering the windows with plywood[27] and leaving the front door open.[28] Protesters erected street barricades and declared the area "Free Capitol Hill."[5]

Territory

File:Seattle East Precinct Sign under Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone.jpg
The Seattle Police Department East Precinct building's sign on June 10, 2020. The building, boarded up and abandoned, shows "people" spray painted over the word "police."

The Zone is centered around the East Precinct building, a police precinct which the police abandoned on June 8.[6][10] It stretches north to East Denny Way, east to 13th Avenue, south to East Pike, and west to Broadway. The entirety of Cal Anderson Park falls inside of the Zone.[27]

Protesters used blockades and fences to construct staggered barricades at intersections.[6] The entrance of the Zone's territory is marked by a barrier reading "You Are Entering Free Capitol Hill."[5] Other signs declared "You are now leaving the USA."[8] Spray paint renamed the occupied police station as the "Seattle People's Department East Precinct" amid anarchist symbols and graffiti.[9]

Internal governance

File:BLM Seattle on June 9, 2020 - 4.jpg
A sticker in the Zone declaring "POLICE NOT WELCOME"

The Seattle Times has referred to demonstrations in the area as the "Capitol Hill Occupied Protest" (CHOP),[3] with NBC News saying CHAZ is "part protest, part commune."[2] Reports describe the Zone's structure as a cross between Occupy Wall Street and an independent student housing cooperative. Occupants have said their intentions are to create a neighborhood without police and a society where the police are no longer necessary.[29][30] Protesters have accepted the open carry of firearms as a provision of safety.[31] Members of the self-described anti-fascist, anti-racist, and pro-worker Puget Sound John Brown Gun Club (PSJBGC) were reported on June 9 as carrying rifles in the Zone.[5][32] Although the Zone fell within[33] the restricted area subject to Mayor Durkan's May 30 emergency order prohibiting the use of weapons including guns,[34] her ban did not mandate enforcement.[33] The Washington Post reported on June 12 that PSJBGC was on site but with no weapons visible,[35] and USA Today the same day reported that "no one appeared armed with a gun."[36] Reporters from a local Seattle-based Fox affiliate were chased out of the Zone by occupants on June 9.[37]

Occupants of the Zone favor consensus decision-making instead of designating leaders, who according to one protester can be "taken out"—killed or arrested.[38] However, City Journal in a June 10 article claimed that former mayoral candidate Nikkita Oliver formulates the commune's political strategy.[9] Seattle officials have not seen evidence of Antifa umbrella groups organizing in the Zone.[39]

Demands

On June 9, 2020, a blog post containing a list of 30 demands appeared on Medium, which was "shared widely by people on the ground and familiar with the reality of the situation in the CHAZ."[40] Demands included abolition of the Seattle Police Department and the court system; defunding the SPD and reallocating those funds to community health; banning police use of firearms, batons, riot shields, and chemical agents; immediately releasing prisoners serving time for marijuana-related offenses or resisting arrest, with expungement of their records; mandatory retrials for people of color who are serving sentences for violent crimes; and prison abolition. Other demands included reforming education to increase the focus on black and Native American history; free college; and free public housing.[11][12] There was reportedly internal debate within the Zone over how many demands the commune should be putting forward, as some believe this is the start of a larger revolution while others believe police brutality should stay the immediate focus.[41]

Culture and amenities

File:Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone Snacks.jpg
Snacks and supplies booth in the Zone on June 9, 2020

Tents were pitched next to the former precinct in order to hold the space. The No Cop Co-op was established on June 9, offering free water, hand sanitizer, snacks donated by the community, and kebabs. Stalls were set up which offered cuisine such as vegan curry while others collected donations for the homeless.[42] The intersection of 12th and Pine was converted to a square for teach-ins, where a microphone was used to encourage people who were there "to fuck shit up" to go home. An outdoor cinema with a sound system and projector was set up[4] and used to screen open-air movies. The first film shown was 13th, Ava DuVernay's documentary about racism and mass incarceration.[4] Portable toilets were provided by the Seattle Department of Transportation.[4] Frequent town halls are held where protesters decide strategy and make plans.[13]

Peaceful demonstrations have been staged and organized, including "an invasion" of the Seattle City Hall demanding the resignation of Mayor Jenny Durkan.[1] City services are still being provided to the Zone, including fire and trash removal, and the SPD has said they will respond to 9-1-1 calls within the area.[37]

File:Gardens at CHAZ Capital Hill Neighborhood Ccal anderson park.jpg
The Zone's gardens, located in Cal Anderson Park, on June 13, 2020

A block-long street mural saying "Black Lives Matter" was painted June 10–11, located on East Pine Street between 10th and 11th Avenues.[43] Many occupants of the Zone have adopted a pink umbrella as an unofficial emblem.[8] Homemade riot shields crafted by the protesters were stenciled with pink umbrellas.[27]

Vegetable gardens have been planted by the occupants of Cal Anderson Park,[44] with a farm also operating in the park where communards grow a variety of food products using donated seeds.[44]

The Seattle Times on June 11 reported that restaurant owners in the area had an uptick in walk-up business and a concomitant reduction in delivery costs.[45] However, on June 14, USA Today reported that most businesses in the Zone had closed, "although a liquor store, ramen restaurant and taco joint are still doing brisk business."[15]

Reactions

Local

Mayor Jenny Durkan called the creation of the Zone an attempt to "de-escalate interactions between protestors and law enforcement,"[27] while Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best said that her officers would look at different approaches to "reduce [their] footprint" in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.[46] Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant (a politician from the Socialist Alternative) spoke to the Zone occupants at Cal Anderson Park on June 8.[27] She called for the protesters to turn the precinct into a community center for restorative justice.[4]

On June 10, Assistant Police Chief Deanna Nollette said in a news conference, "We're trying to get a dialogue going so we can figure out a way to resolve this without unduly impacting the citizens and the businesses that are operating in that area." She said police had received reports that "armed individuals" were running barricades set up by protesters as checkpoints, "intimidat[ing] community members," and that police had "heard anecdotally" of residents and businesses being asked to pay a fee to operate in the area, adding, "This is the crime of extortion."[47] The following day, Best said the police had not received "any formal reports" of extortion, and the Greater Seattle Business Association said they "found no evidence of this occurring."[45]

On June 11, the SPD announced their desire to re-enter the abandoned East Precinct building, and said they still operate within the Zone's territory.[47][48] Governor Jay Inslee, on the same day, said the Zone was "unpermitted" but "largely peaceful."[39]

On June 12, Police Chief Best said, "Rapes, robberies and all sorts of violent acts have been occurring in the area and we have not been able to get to it."[49] The same day, Mayor Durkan visited the Zone and told a New York Times reporter that she did not know of any serious crime that was reported in the area.[50]

The Stranger′s Charles Mudede compared the Zone to Manhattan's High Line, pointing to it as a possible model by which the Zone could be institutionalized.[51]

National

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On June 9, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz from Texas stated that the Zone was "endangering people's lives."[37] The next day, President Donald Trump demanded that Governor Inslee and Mayor Durkan "take back" the Zone, saying that if they didn't do it, he'd do it for them.[52] Inslee condemned Trump's involvement in the situation, telling him to "stay out of Washington state's business."[53] Trump followed up by calling the protesters "domestic terrorists."[13] Durkan told President Trump to "go back to [his] bunker."[54] On June 11, Durkan responded further: "Unfortunately, our president wants to tell a story about domestic terrorists who have a radical agenda and are promoting a conspiracy that fits his law and order initiatives. It's simply not true. Lawfully gathering and expressing first amendment rights, demanding we do better as a society, and providing true equity for communities of color is not terrorism. It's patriotism."[55]

The Zone received praise from the Industrial Workers of the World union and its magazine, Industrial Worker.[29] Conservative pundit Guy Benson, in contrast, mocked the occupation of Capitol Hill as "communist cosplay."[56] USA Today has described the Zone as a "protest haven."[36]

Protesters in other cities have sought to replicate the autonomous zone in their own communities. Protesters in Portland, Oregon, and Asheville, North Carolina also tried to create autonomous zones but were stopped by the police.[57][58] On June 12, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee condemned the attempts to create an autonomous area in Nashville,[59] warning protesters in the state that "Autonomous zones, and violence will not be tolerated."[60]

The Cut has accused the right-wing media of attempting to portray the Zone as "both dangerous and violent."[31]

On June 12, the Fox News website published digitally altered photographs of the area, to include a man armed with an assault rifle from earlier Seattle protests; also added to the photographs were smashed windows from other parts of Seattle. In a separate incident, the Fox News website ran articles about protests in Seattle, however the accompanying photo of a burning city was actually that of Saint Paul, Minnesota in the previous month.[61] Although the area was peacefully occupied, "Fox's coverage contributed to the appearance of armed unrest", stated The Washington Post. The manipulated and wrongly used images were removed, with Fox News stating that it "regrets these errors."[62]

National Review has contrasted the mainstream media coverage of the Zone, which they deemed as sympathetic, to the negative coverage of the 2016 Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation.[63]

See also

References

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Further reading

External links

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