I've had several friends and family members outside of Washington State asking me about "what the heck is going on out there in Seattle?" and urges to "stay away from that CHAZ land". This comes especially in this time where we've been so isolated, and yet so connected due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and where frustrations have reached a boiling point over the latest news about police brutality and the unjustified killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
As there's some confusion about perception about how my city's current status, I'd like to share about how Seattle got to this tipping point, what CHAZ really is like, and how people (many of whom are my friends) are handling this situation.
What is CHAZ/CHOP?
The Capitol Hill Occupy Protest (CHOP), formerly known as the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ), is a six-city-block area of the Capitol Hill neighborhood where the Seattle Police Department's East Precinct boundaries lie. Widthwise, it covers streets east of Broadway and west of 13th Avenue, longitudinally from E Denny Way to Pike Street, encompassing Cal Anderson Park.
On June 8, 2020, the Seattle Police Department had abandoned the precinct, and protesters followed up with painting barricades and forming the territory.
As of June 14th, the activists have rebranded the movement as the Capitol Hill Occupy Protest (CHOP); I'll use this term to describe the movement going forward in this post.
What does CHOP have to Offer?
Cal Anderson's baseball fields turf is covered with isolated groups sitting down and listening to speakers and musicians. Along the streets, there are volunteer medics who are offering free food, drinks, and snacks to anyone who passes through the zone. People are gathered, somewhat social distancing - majority using masks, and listening to the voices of those who have experienced hardship.
The spotlight of the whole block is the newly painted "BLACK LIVES MATTER" mural on Pine Street, similar to the one that was established in Washington DC.
With everyone coming together (majority in facemasks) in this challenging time, it felt more like this year's Capitol Hill Block Party Community.
Impacts and Challenges of CHOP
While the area was mainly peaceful protests and groups of people sharing their experiences with racism, there are some consequences or inconveniences as a result of this form of peaceful protest.
- Seattle PD response times for major crimes have tripled
- Graffiti or vandalism on businesses will need to be cleaned up whenever the movement settles
- Residents who drive vehicles and live inside the CHOP boundary have reported issues being allowed in the zone with a vehicle
These are minor compared to the state of the situation a week earlier. As protests were escalating, the Seattle PD faced a standoff with protestors deploying teargas and flashbangs throughout the evening. Quite a few of my friends or colleagues were impacted by this as the fumes from the teargas leaked into their homes in the area. They describe CHOP as a pleasant recess from the harsh sounds and scents from protests past.
Amid the grief, pain, and trauma, CHOP is overflowing with community and solidarity. Now is a good time to have an open dialogue on racism with friends, family, and acquaintances. If you have a story to share about your experience visiting or living inside the autonomous zone, please share it below.