Looting is so yesterday. When you smash a whole block of store windows and pick their inventory cleaner than buzzards stripping roadkill, you’re pretty much done, because the owners aren’t likely to restock the stores for you. So on Monday night June 8, a group of Antifa, BLM, and who-knows-what-else protestors executed a more sustainable plan. Just sieze the entire hood: Stores, houses, the streets themselves, and toss in a police station for good measure. Barricade the streets. Declare yourself no longer part of America. Rename your new country Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone. (CHAZ). Create your own armed militia. Extort local businesses to fund your ad hoc police force. Then sit back and laugh while the Mayor says you’re just a big, innocent block party.
Then, one night after seizing Capitol Hill, get Kshama Sawant, your favorite socialist city council member, to lead a few hundred of your pals to city hall, use her key to let you in, and mob the chambers to repeat your demands that the mayor be fired, and the police be disbanded.
Here’s how Seattle surrendered in such a short time: For nearly a week after the George Floyd murders, protestors, perhaps believing they were in Minneapolis, raged outside the Seattle Police Department East Precinct headquarters in the Capitol Hill area. Apparently, none of the officers felt like taking a knee, but used more traditional means of riot control.
The night of the 8th was the most intense. That evening, protestors crossed a section of the Seattle Police Department perimeter that was protecting the station. Shortly after midnight, they were being hit by bottles, rocks, fireworks, and other unpleasant stuff. Some protestors were also shining lasers in their eyes. In response, police set off a ten-minute counterattack of flash-bangs, pepper spray, and tear gas that drove the protestors away.
But in Seattle, the sight of police doing police work makes city officials squeamish, so the police were ordered to take down the barricades, board up the station’s windows, and open the streets. On June 9, Police Chief Carmen Best said, “Protesters have requested it, they want the streets open for peaceful marches, and we’re going to facilitate that opportunity for them. This is an exercise in trust and de-escalation.” The same day, police cleared out the station, sent a mobile shredding unit to the building, and boarded up the precinct. Boarded up is probably a harsh term. In the future, plywood sheets will likely be renamed “canvases for diverse community art.”
Welcome to CHAZ. (Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone.)
A few hours after the Seattle police retreated, Capitol Hill left the United States, Protestors marched down a section of East Pine Street that used to be guarded by officers in riot gear. Then they huddled up outside the precinct to hear a manifesto with 30 demands. The list is too long to print here, but here are a few of my favorites:
We demand the de-gentrification of Seattle, starting with rent control.
We demand a retrial of all People in Color currently serving a prison sentence for violent crime, by a jury of their peers in their community.
We demand the hospitals and care facilities of Seattle employ black doctors and nurses specifically to help care for black patients.
That all happened on Monday. Justin Carder of Capitol Hill Seattle Blog has an excellent timeline of how quickly life in The CHAZ is turning into Mad Max 13: By Tuesday morning, protestors had used the barriers and walls the police left behind to set up a zig-zag blockade of the neighborhood. Tent shelters were put up to keep Seattle’s ubiquitous rain from dampening the party. The sign on the boarded-up police station was spray-painted to read “SEATTLE PEOPLE DEPARTMENT EAST PRECINCT.”
Predictably, instead of taking the occupied zone back immediately, Seattle authorities acted like parents who never force kids to clean their rooms. Seattle Department of Transportation is picking up their trash, has cleaned graffiti that they found to be offensive, and has set up garbage cans and portable toilets throughout The CHAZ.
To prevent arson fires in dumpsters, Seattle Public Utilities cleaned or removed 50 dumpsters. They’re also cleaning all the trash from the street every day, helping to board some windows that have been broken, and boarding others before they’re likely to be broken,
Even the Parks Department is helping. They’re cleaning garbage and debris, weeding, fixing torn-up garden beds, and removing graffiti. They’ve hired an artist to create a mural at the local park. About the only thing the city hasn’t done to is order every protestor a participation trophy.
Despite the coddling, things are turning sour in The CHAZ. The Seattle Department of Neighborhoods sent a message to businesses and organizations in the zone that there was a credible threat to burn the precinct headquarters down. They told building owners that, as a preventive measure, the Seattle Fire Department would assess the police station and nearby apartment buildings for treatment with “a biodegradable foam fire suppressant”. Considerate of them. If you’re going to prevent a hipster’s apartment, fair trade coffee, and vinyl collection from going up in flames, it should always be with a biodegradable agent.
A bit more troubling, a video surfaced of a determined man walking the streets with an AR-15, in the company of others who were also strapped. He’s a Seattle rapper named Raz Simone, and has a unique website that sells, besides his CDs, knit beanies that fold down to become ski masks. Most notably, in this police-free zone, Simone seems to have appointed himself as de facto police chief.
Not everyone in The CHAZ is delighted with this arrangement. In a comment thread on the Capitol Hill Seattle Blog, over a hundred people expressed their opinion of the most recent developments. For anyone who thinks this story is just fictitious right-wing hysteria, here are verbatim complaints from residents of The CHAZ, (No spellings were corrected.)
Complaints about dangerous excesses:
Dewon on Wednesday, June 10, 2020 – 10:52 am said:
Last night Raz Simone and his militia exiled several people from The CHAZ who he convicted of graffiti. There’s a video here: https://gofile.io/d/IffAr1. My understanding is that Raz is governing this neighborhood now, but his troops are currently limiting their active patrolling to after dark. Some CHAZers want to challenge Raz for leadership of the neighborhood but he has us outguned.
CHAZ resident on Wednesday, June 10, 2020 – 3:46 pm said:
This experiment could have a very sad ending. The CHAZ “people police” are just people who own guns, they have no training as police. How are us residents supposed to feel living here when untrained “police” are going around at night vetting us or chasing after our cars with assault rifles? CHAZ “people police” have no training and less than 48 hours of “on the job experience” so far. No training, no body cameras, no oversight. I’m pretty sure military-style assault rifles in the streets goes against what this neighborhood stands for Something could easily go wrong.
Anon on Wednesday, June 10, 2020 – 3:59 pm said:
Raz Simone and his crew threatening an assaulting someone who paint graffiti Here’s Raz’s own video. At 2:47:45 he confronts someone in a white smart car and chases them down the street, rifle in hand. https://www.facebook.com/razsimone/videos/264830291498845
Complaint about extortion:
Marcus S. on Tuesday, June 9, 2020 – 11:38 pm said:
I’m a business owner in the area; my business was entered this evening by a group of six Free Cap Hill participants who requested I pay $500 to help finance what they said was community security and protection. They said they will accept cash or Bitcoin; I told them I would prefer to pay in the latter in hope it would buy time. They’re supposedly coming back tomorrow to give me digital wallet details (none of them actually had that info when they showed up; I’m assuming there’s a leader or someone in the background who keeps it). Even $500 is going to be a hit for us as we only just reopened but I’d rather pay than ask for trouble.
Where are the real police, and what are they doing?
According to Capitol Hill Seattle Blog, Seattle Police, SWAT and the National Guard were using local schools as staging areas for possible responses to protests if anybody had the resolve to let them retake The CHAZ. This being Seattle, the school district released a statement saying, “Last night, we learned that SPD, SWAT, and the National Guard used Seattle Public Schools property as a staging area in their response to protests. We did not give permission, nor condone, the use of SPS property for staging of militarized police or actual military.”
It’s just as clear that Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best will support reestablishing sanity to the zone. On June 11, in an emotional video to the force, Chief Best declared that abandoning the precinct was not her call. Without naming names, she talked about how she upset she was with the decision to surrender the precinct where she began her career.
If this abject surrender continues much longer than this weekend, President Trump has said he will force Capitol Hill to rejoin the Union. For those who are still sheltering in place, that should make good television.
So far, we’re only in the middle of this story. Check back for new developments.