Behold, the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, affectionately known as CHAZ, covering almost six blocks of neighborhoods, businesses and one police precinct that has for all intents and purposes been ceded to peaceful protesters after a tense seven day standoff with the police. According to The Cut, “on June 9, Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best announced a “decreasing footprint” around the East Precinct at 11th Avenue and East Pine Street, which had become a “flash point” of clashes between protesters and police. “Protesters have requested it, they want the streets open for peaceful marches, and we’re going to facilitate that opportunity for them,” Best said. “This is an exercise in trust and deescalation.” Law enforcement boarded up windows in the precinct and were seen removing items from the building. Once they were gone, protesters moved in on Pine and set up camp, reversing barricades in order to create a protected zone of about six blocks.”
Almost a week later, the atmosphere has been best described as “exceedingly chill”. The blocked off area includes apartments, businesses, free food and drink, a medical center, an outdoor theater, a garden, and a beautiful mural.
While there are no declared leaders or hierarchy of authority, the creators of CHAZ largely agree on one thing: no police allowed.
On the whole, CHAZ has become a peaceful place since the exodus of the police. Residents have set up regular deliveries of food and water to the area. Regular movie nights have been scheduled, with protesters screening Ava DuVernay’s 13th and Paris Is Burning, and musicians perform regularly. Almost anybody is allowed in or out of the zone, and even though barriers have been setup to discourage vehicle traffic, accommodations have been made for food trucks, grocery trucks, ambulances, fire trucks, and a variety of other services that might be required.
Debate has swirled, in both conservative and liberal circles about the motivations and goals of CHAZ. Tucker Carlson heralded this Seattle experiment as the world’s newest country while other conservative pseudo-journalists have lauded the fact that CHAZ residents did indeed call the fire department to put out a dumpster fire as proof of the protesters hypocrisy, though maybe I’m wrong in thinking that these global protests are indeed against police departments and not the fire departments. I could be wrong.
CHAZ even attracted the attention of Donald Trump pushing him to tweet that “Domestic Terrorists have taken over Seattle, run by Radical Left Democrats, of course. LAW & ORDER!” The problem is that this pearl clutching of his doesn’t match the reality on the ground.
While there have been some scuffles in and around CHAZ, they have been handled with little incident, either through deescalation or by kicking the offender out. Many rumors have circulated on the right about things like extortion of local businesses, mobs accosting people, and an armed SoundCloud rapper proclaiming himself chief. All of it is disingenuous crap, perpetrated by soulless conservative hacks.
There are ongoing discussions about the purpose of CHAZ. Some want to broaden their message to cover a wide range of class-related issues, while others worry that a broadening of message will distract from the main struggle of ending police brutality and defunding the police which is why CHAZ was built in the first place.
One thing is certain though. Most residents can agree that CHAZ is an experiment in self-policing. One protester speaking to the New York Times said, “We are trying to prove through action and practice that we don’t need them and we can fulfill the community’s needs without them.” Them, of course, meaning police.