As protests and riots continue to grow surrounding the death of George Floyd, areas around the country are becoming epicenters for the movement, but none have gone so far as The Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ).
CHAZ is a newly-“designated” area of downtown Seattle that was established in the vacuum left when the police precinct was vacated.
It has been called anarchistic by some, and a block party by others, but what is it really? Here are ten actual facts about CHAZ that might help make things clear.
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10 Where Exactly Is CHAZ?
The Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone is situated within Capitol Hill, a district in downtown Seattle that has long been associated with gay and counterculture communities. Previously, Capitol Hill was the home of the 1999 Seattle WTO protests, and it was used by the Occupy Seattle movement in 2011, which saw protesters clash with police. The area itself is densely populated with approximately 32,000 people, and it is the center of Seattle’s counterculture communities. The gay community began growing at the site during the 1960s, which earned Capitol Hill the designation as Seattle’s primary “gayborhood.”
The so-called “autonomous zone” was established in Capitol Hill after the East Precinct building was abandoned by the Seattle Police Department. Shortly after the police presence was gone, residents occupied the East Precinct and erected barricades left in the area, declaring it “Free Capitol Hill.” The Precinct building is the center of the Zone, which covers an area of around six city blocks. The barrier leading into CHAZ is marked with “You Are Entering Free Capitol Hill” with another reading, “You are now leaving the USA.”
9 Why Did The SPD Abandon The East Precinct?
Protests began in the city on May 29th, and what followed were nine days of violent clashes between the police and protesters. During that time, the SPD used a variety of weapons and tactics, including flashbangs, blast balls, and pepper spray. The majority of these clashes came from personnel working out of the building, and as a result, the protests soon centered on that location.
On June 5th, the Mayor and Chief of Police announced a ban on the use of tear gas for 30 days, promising a deescelation. Unfortunately, this didn’t quell the protesters, and by June 7th, the SPD placed metal fencing and cement blocks around the building, leading to the strongest show of force up to that point. That same day, a car drove into a group of protesters, and the driver shot a man who tried to stop him, which led to the Precinct being surrounded.
Things worsened from there, and protesters began throwing bottles, rocks, and fireworks at the building, which led to the resumption of tear gas after midnight. The following morning, the police retreated from the Precinct.
8 Is It Truly Anarchy?
The answer to that question depends a lot on who you ask. President Trump has called the Zone’s inhabitants “ugly Anarchists,” but the local government has taken a different approach. Mayor Jenny Durkan described it 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.”
The police vacated the area, and a border was erected, but that doesn’t mean CHAZ has devolved into a lawless area reminiscent of Thunderdome. Instead, it’s meant to be a neighborhood capable of existing without the police, though the Zone isn’t without social services. Tents have been set up in the park, which encompasses about three blocks of CHAZ territory. Additionally, inhabitants are honoring the constitutional right for citizens to open carry their firearms.
In terms of leadership, the Zone’s occupants favor a consensus democracy without any centralized leadership, who can be “taken out — killed or locked up.”
7 What Do The Occupants Want?
While some see the occupation as a terrorist movement, others see it as a peaceful approach to self-governance. That being said, the occupants do have a list of demands. On June 9th, a blog post showed up on Medium, which listed the views “shared widely by people on the ground and familiar with the reality of the situation in the CHAZ.” The post was titled “THE DEMANDS OF THE COLLECTIVE BLACK VOICES AT FREE CAPITOL HILL TO THE GOVERNMENT OF SEATTLE, WASHINGTON,” and included a list of 30 demands along with an explanation of the movement.
The 30 demands included undoing gentrification throughout Seattle by instituting rent control, stating that federal authorities would investigate the police over more than 12,000 complaints of police brutality, and that the SPD and courts would be abolished, to name a few. Many of the demands are extensive, and they cover a lot of ground, including reparations for victims of police brutality, a retrial of all black people serving in prison for violent crimes, and many more, to include economic demands relating to education, health care, and more.
6 If It Has No Leaders, Who Is This So-Called “Warlord?”
The majority of CHAZ occupants want to prove that a leaderless society devoid of police can function, but that doesn’t mean it’s entirely without people standing in leadership roles. One of the protesters and organizers who stormed the East Precinct was Solomon “Raz” Simone, a hip-hop artist who has since emerged as a local warlord/celebrity. The term “warlord” isn’t entirely comparable to actual warlords around the world, though that isn’t how the President sees it. After some Tweets made by Mr Trump, Simone fired back, saying the President “really put a hit on my head.”
Solomon has been seen walking the streets of CHAZ while carrying an AK-47, seemingly working a patrol beat. Online comments have applied the “warlord” title to him, but he’s spoken out on that as well. He wrote online that “I’m not a Terrorist Warlord. Quit spreading that false narrative. The world has NEVER Been ready for a strong black man. We have been peaceful and nothing else. If I die, don’t let it be in vain.” Despite taking a role as one of CHAZ’s primary players, Simone is not acting as a leader in the traditional sense, though he has become a polarizing figure.
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5 What Does The Day-To-Day Look Like In CHAZ?
When people talk about CHAZ, some see it as an attempt at anarchy, while others consider it an extension of the protest movement, but everyone pictures what happens inside differently. Without a police presence, people are free to roam the streets doing whatever they want, but they aren’t raping and pillaging, or anything like that. Instead, they are mostly doing what Seattle residents do all the time. They came together in the park to plant a community garden, they pitched tents for people to sleep in, and they painted messages of peace all over the streets, and in places where they can be seen.
Messages of “Black Lives Matter” are all over the place, and residents often spend their days singing, dancing, and playing music. It’s a community that still has businesses operating, and many restaurants have said their walk-up business has skyrocketed. People from the occupation get together often to have community meetings about what should be done in terms of keeping the peace, letting people enter and exit freely, and deciding what to do next. The city is still providing services to CHAZ, so electricity, water/sewage, trash removal, fire rescue, and police response to 9-1-1 calls remain (ironically) in place.
The place is not without its amusing tales either! After inviting a brigade of homeless people into the area who took all the food, “leaders” within the community made public pleas for the donation of vegan food so the occupants can eat during their occupation.
4 How Do People In The CHAZ Sustain Themselves?
It’s easy to think of the CHAZ as an entirely walled-off area, where people are locked inside, but that’s not the case. People can come and go as they please — so long as they aren’t cops — and, for the most part, there isn’t a problem with food. Cal Anderson Park is situated in a large portion of the CHAZ, and while it may not have been entirely necessary for sustenance, a community garden was established. The project was headed by Marcus Henderson, a member of the movement, who has a Masters Degree in Sustainability in the Urban Environment.
Henderson guided volunteers in the proper preparation of soil in the park, and the planting of sustainable crops. The Community Garden was in place soon after the CHAZ was created, and it grows a variety of foods from donated seeds. Since the garden needs a lot of time for the plants to mature, it’s hardly the source for the community’s sustenance. People bring in food, or leave and eat without any problem. Food is given away freely to anyone who asks for it within the CHAZ.
3 Are CHAZ & ANTIFA Connected?
Again, this question may fetch a different answer, depending on who you ask. According to left-wing media, the answer is no. But conservative outlets say that ANTIFA is present, armed, and were the ones who set up the Zone’s border defenses when CHAZ was established. It is true that some in the area are carrying weapons, though they are doing so under the same laws that allow people to carry weapons in other cities around the country. Whether or not those people were ANTIFA remains unlikely to be verified, as ANTIFA members hide their identities behind masks. However, it is true that some violent attacks on people have occurred in the area with masked people being the agitators. The video above testifies to that fact and certainly does resemble the typical thuggish behavior of an ANTIFA gang.
President Trump has stated that “Domestic terrorists” have taken over Seattle and has threatened to take back the occupied area should the local government fail to do so. There is no actual evidence (yet) that anyone involved in the occupation within CHAZ is affiliated with ANTIFA, and many of the people involved were outspoken protesters within the Black Lives Matter movement. While there is no official link confirmed between ANTIFA and CHAZ, the so-called border defenses are minimal, open to everyone (except for police unless they are called for emergencies), and are loosely guarded.
2 What About The Precinct?
The SPD did abandon the East Precinct, but that move was more about keeping the peace than it was about giving it over to the protesters. The SPD has every intention of returning to the building once the situation has calmed down, and if the occupants have their way, the Precinct will remain untouched until that happens. The concern many occupants have expressed since CHAZ was established was that doing anything destructive to the Precinct would be seen as an aggressive act, and that would then necessitate a response, which isn’t what anyone wants. Donning riot gear, and gassing the CHAZ could escalate the situation, making things worse.
One protester said, “They gave us this precinct, and we’re not going to destroy this motherf——ker!” Since the CHAZ was established, protesters have blocked access to the Precinct, and are intent on ensuring it survives the situation unharmed.
1 How Will This End?
CHAZ has to come to an end of some sort; the people involved know that as well as the Mayor, Chief of Police, and Governor. Still, like any protest movement, it can come to an end in any number of ways. Ideally, force and violence won’t need to be used, and with any luck, the entire situation will resolve peacefully. On June 13th, negotiations began taking place in an effort to have the occupiers and Black Lives Matter protesters leave the CHAZ and return the autonomous zone to the city of Seattle. The negotiations began with members of the CHAZ and representatives of the Seattle Police Department, intending to end everything peacefully.
While the demands posted on Medium won’t be met, there has been some give from the office of the Mayor in response to the occupation and the protests going on around the city. Mayor Durkan has agreed to invest at least $100 million in establishing a community-driven Black Commission and to make improvements in the city’s minority communities. Some officers have already returned to the East Precinct, and have been responding to calls. While CHAZ remains in existence as its first week came to a close, it appears things might conclude without a large-scale escalation of force.
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