Misunderstanding, Disorder and Uncertainty: A Look into CHAZ
BY: Giordano Proulx
As protests rage on throughout the United States, there have been a slew of community-driven initiatives aiming to take a stand against systemic racism and police brutality following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Although most communities have resulted to peaceful protests, the residents of Seattle have taken a different approach to protest. As a matter of fact, demonstrators have taken over six city blocks in downtown Seattle and dubbed this area CHAZ or CHOP, the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone or Capitol Hill Organized Protest respectively.
This section of the city has now become the source of ridicule and praise alike, raising eyebrows and leading many to question what it entails. Some, like well-known Internet personality and UFC commentator Joe Rogan, have referred to it as a sort of stronghold to a so-called “warlord”. On the other hand, political commentator Tucker Carlson mocked the zone, referring to them as the “hundredth and ninety-sixth country on Earth,” all while asking about their “immigration” and “trade policy”. Considering these widely different views, one is left to wonder what is CHAZ and how did it come to be?
PROTESTS AND VIOLENCE
At the outset of the protests, people gathered in large numbers around Seattle’s Capitol Hill to have their voices heard. Violent encounters between police and protesters were growing in number and becoming increasingly intense, culminating in the occurrence of a child who was pepper-sprayed by police on May 30th. As protester turnout began increasing around the Capitol Hill precinct of the Seattle Police Department, Chief of Police Carmen Best decided to pull out all officers located in the precinct out of fears for their safety. According to Best, these actions were taken as “Protesters have requested it, they want the streets open for peaceful marches, and we’re going to facilitate that opportunity for them,” Best also added that “This is an exercise in trust and de-escalation.” Although Best has made her intentions of returning to the precinct clear, law enforcement have not yet been able to go back. Consequently, CHAZ became, and remains a section of the city without law enforcement, as is clear by the multiple “No Cop Zone” signs which are meant to prohibit law enforcement’s entrance into the zone.
What ensued was a mass rally at the corner of East Pine Street and 11th Avenue, near the location where the precinct is located. The rally resembled strongly the Occupy Wall Street movement which took place several years prior. Initially, in the first couple of days of its inception, CHAZ hosted performances by the Lakota and Yakama tribes, screened films, served free food and beverages and even hosted yoga classes. Among these multiple initiatives, CHAZ had also presented a list of demands which they wanted fulfilled by the Mayor of Seattle Jenny Durkan and Seattle City Council. Some of these demands included the abolishment of the Seattle Police Department, the release of individuals imprisoned for minor, nonviolent drug offenses, and increased funding to social services like mental health programs, education and social housing initiatives for the homeless.
However, following these reports in the first couple of days, information from within the autonomous zone has become increasingly conflicting. Some state that it remains a collective initiative to put an end to police brutality which is now attempting to become fully autonomous, with initiatives including growing their own produce. On the other hand, others view the collective as becoming a more lawless section of the city. For example, a small business owner by the name of John McDermott recounts how his store was broken into, robbed and subsequently set ablaze. Following his arrival, detainment of the suspect, and over a dozen calls to 911, he was never met with law enforcement or firefighters, instead being met by a mob that demanded the release of the suspect.
Although the previous events paint a conflicting picture of the current state of affairs in CHAZ, other accounts remain downright perplexing, as is the case of one protester, who was recorded speaking to a crowd, demanding that all white demonstrators donate 10$ to any African American person in the autonomous zone to prove that they are “down with the struggle”. Other reports include that individuals with firearms patrol the streets surrounding the six city blocks which make up CHAZ, and even some recounting how journalists have been driven out of the zone or downright assaulted. In addition, in videos recorded within the commune, some demonstrators can also be heard ordering fellow individuals to not record any violence within CHAZ as to not portray a negative picture of the community.
Equally perplexing of a situation would be CHAZ’s leadership, as some advocate that the zone should hold democratic elections in order to determine its leader, while others point to Raz Simone. Simone who was previously a self-titled “SoundCloud rapper” has been propelled into the limelight recently as he has become viewed as the “leader” of CHAZ. Though he does not believe such a moniker should be placed upon his shoulders, he remains vocal regarding the intentions regarding the zone, stating that he hopes the community is a harbor to positivity, harmony and unity. Subsequently, in an effort to portray such ideals, CHAZ is of recently, referred to as CHOP, as demonstrators in the autonomous zone have dealt with criticism within their group for being perceived as a separatist group attempting to secede from the United States by mainstream media sources like FOX News.
In the wake of its creation, President Donald Trump expressed his discontent with the situation in Seattle stating, “Domestic Terrorists have taken over Seattle, run by Radical Left Democrats, of course,” while also adding “Take back your city NOW. If you don’t do it, I will. This is not a game. These ugly Anarchists must be stopped IMMEDIATELY. MOVE FAST!”. Conversely, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan instead views it as a “block party” stating that it could represent the “Summer of Love” in Seattle. In contrast to these responses, many Seattleites have decided to visit CHAZ and participate in its myriad activities and events, adding to its festive mood, even drawing comparisons to music festivals like Coachella.
In these uncertain times, it is difficult to determine exactly what will come of the creation of CHAZ. Will it have its demands met by Mayor Durkan? Will it become a model for communities throughout America? Will it descend into further chaos, forcing an external intervention? Only time is capable of answering these difficult questions. Hence, although its future is questionable, CHAZ is a unique social experiment and view into the current sentiments of multiple Americans.
*All arguments made and viewpoints expressed within Youth In Politics and its nominal entities do not necessarily reflect the views of the writers or the organization as a whole.
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