Currently in Seattle an area of the city has been declared the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ) after the neighborhood it is located in on June 8-9, 2020. Some alternative names that I have seen used are the Capitol Hill Zone, the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, the Seattle Autonomous Zone, the Free Capitol Hill and the People’s Republic of Capitol Hill. It covers about 6 city blocks from Carl Anderson Park to around East Pike Street. This followed a series of events which came in the wake of the protests resulting from the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. There are different ways to interpret what is currently happening in the area since there is so much information coming out of it, some highly sensationalized. Some people have declared the area as an anarchist commune, which means it has no leaders and functions independently of any government. I have also seen it described as a place people can protest peacefully and an organizational center. I think that it is somewhere in between with a mix of protestors, anarchists, community activists, business owners, locals, BLM supporters and a variety of other people pursuing different goals and ideas. What will ultimately happen is unknown at this point. Regardless of the future the beginning is easy to trace.
In Seattle, protests have been ongoing since May 29 with examples of rioting and police suppression of protestors including the use of rubber bullets, tear gas and flash bangs in either justified or ambiguous circumstances. On May 30 Governor Inslee activated the National Guard to assist in protesting in Seattle. On May 31 a police officer was caught putting his knee on two different looter’s necks while arresting them which drew outrage. The police also received 12,000 complaints along with reports of a number of incidents of police acting overly violent. On June 1 the Police at the East Precinct in Capitol Hill declared the protestors were breaking curfew and were rioting, causing fighting to break out. On June 2 protestors started using umbrellas during the protests, copying Hong Kongers who used them to shield against tear gas or pepper spray. A pink umbrella was taken from a protestor which caused people to start using them and led to it becoming a symbol.
A major change to occur after this was the Mayor of Seattle, Jenny Durkan, instructing police to ban the use of tear gas for 30 days on June 5. SWAT teams were still authorized to use it. By June 8 Seattle City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda unveiled her plan to cut the Seattle Police’s budget in half. On the same day the police reopened streets around the East Precinct, which had been boarded up, after having shut them down for several days. It was also being reported that they’d removed items of value from the building in anticipation of abandoning the building. Later in the day a protest in the same area saw police used tear gas again, breaking the promise by the Mayor to not use it. There is also video of protestors throwing projectiles at police after they began pushing the protestors. Later in the day police seemed to abandon the area. City Council members Lorena González, Kshama Sawant and Teresa Mosqueda spoke out against the police response. In the night of June 8 going into June 9 protestors took over the area around the abandoned East Precinct, setting up barricades on the street and being mainly focused around the intersection of Pine Street and 10-11th Avenue.
On June 10, City Councilmember Kshama Sawant let protestors into City Hall here they held a demonstration. The entire Seattle City Council is made of Democrats except Sawant who is a member of the Socialist Alternative. Protestors at a protest in Portland, Oregon were shouting autonomous zone however they disbanded and left later in the night. It’s clear Seattle inspired them. By June 11 police had returned and re-entered the police precinct which had not been used by protestors. Some protestors said they wanted to convert the building into a mutual aid site and there were tensions between them. To read more about the emerging autonomous zones click here.
By this time President Trump voiced his opinion on the situation in his normal fashion, Twitter.
He was not a fan. Police had heard reports of violence and extortion in the CHAZ however on June 12 they reported that they haven’t found any evidence of violence or extortion nor seen any presence of ANTIFA in addition. One prominent event was a supposed assault which was caught on video involving Raz Simone, a local and hip-hop artist. He claimed that afterward they resolved the problem. This and other posts online as well as more incidents led people to calling Raz a warlord and saying that all communes eventually destroy themselves. Developments surrounding these rumors are still ongoing.
There is a website for the zone where you can watch live streams, read their demands and look at photos from the zone. The demands were also outlined in a Medium article. These included abolishing the police force, having the federal government investigate past behavior, retrial for all people of color, abolishing prisons, rent control, free college and more public spending among others.
Below are a series of photos and videos detailing the CHAZ and show what the people there have been doing since June 9. The Seattle Police Department East Precinct was renamed Seattle People Dept. by the protestors. Some signs seen throughout the area included:
End Qualified Immunity
People’s Republic of Capitol Hill
No Justice No Peace
Free Capitol Hill Sign
BLACK LIVES MATTER painted on Pine Street
No Cop Co-op station
A More Detailed Map
Watching an educational film
A public book exchange
The Community Farm
A person cleaning the area
A Smoking Section
Night Watch Sign-up
People’s Community Clinic
Footage Inside CHAZ (the footage looks very relaxed and peaceful with no sign of the violence I’ve seen reported)
Mayor Durkan describes the CHAZ as more of a block party with no military junta
Photos/Videos from CHAZ
First Hand Accounts of CHAZ
KING 5 Video:
Rioting During Protest
Police Putting Knee on Looter
12,000 Complaints – Office of Police Accountability
Video of boarded precinct and protestors
March from City Hall to CHAZ
A statement on the status of the zone rejecting claims of violence, harassment and starvation among other things.
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