MYNORTHWEST BLOG

Opinion: Debunking myths of the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone

Jun 12, 2020, 8:56 AM | Updated: 1:05 pm
Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone...
The Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone. (Nick Bowman, MyNorthwest)
(Nick Bowman, MyNorthwest)

Seattle’s protests against police brutality have evolved in recent days. Whereas before they were defined by a series of clashes between police and protesters near the city’s East Precinct, the movement has now taken root in the form of what’s now become known as the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, or CHAZ.

And while the messaging of the CHAZ has at times been imperfect, it’s also the start of something truly powerful.

Scores of people are camped out in the six-block area of Capitol Hill, after police made the decision to clear out of the East Precinct. The movement’s philosophy has largely centered around remaking Seattle’s police department, in the face of a widespread campaign of disinformation designed to obscure that message.

A look inside Seattle’s newly-formed ‘Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone’

That all being so, it’s important to clarify what the CHAZ is and is not.

Rumors circulated around social media have made some pretty wild, largely unfounded claims, some painting a picture of a post-apocalyptic, anarchist nightmare-scape. One outlet went so far as to label it “‘Mad Max’ movie mayhem come alive.” Another particularly outlandish claim posited that Seattle-based rapper Raz Simone had positioned himself as a “warlord” in charge of the area.

Meanwhile, police said Wednesday in a brief seven-minute press conference that the department had heard reports of armed protesters checking IDs and extorting local businesses.

Chief Best repeated the latter claim Thursday, before walking it back entirely later on in the day, admitting that the department actually didn’t have “any formal reports of this occurring.” Businesses contacted in the area have also roundly denied it, with one saying that “for the police chief to engage in this fear mongering is bad for our city.”

“We hadn’t felt safe to reopen UNTIL the police stood down,” Optimism Brewing, situated blocks away from the CHAZ, said Thursday.

After spending time in the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone Thursday, the scene was less “‘Mad Max’ mayhem” and more “peaceful and cooperative.” No one checked my ID, there were no burnt-out husks of buildings, and the mood from many was a mix of solemn and hopeful.

Food and first aid tents are scattered throughout the six-block radius. Kids drew in chalk on the pavement. A hot dog vendor was selling food at the corner of 11th and Pine. Memorials to George Floyd and Breonna Taylor sat in front of graffiti art adorning surrounding buildings. Spirited discussions and debates took place in public forums in front of the now-empty East Precinct.

There have been plenty of other reports of businesses happily cooperating to pitch in with snacks, supplies, and bathrooms. CHAZ residents even convened Wednesday and Thursday to go over everything from garbage collection to what the political messaging should be in the days ahead.

It’s in that messaging where things are still a work in progress. Daily discussions among protesters, while productive, haven’t always had everyone seeing eye to eye. That being so, it’ll be important in the days ahead for the group to keep its original intent in the forefront of discussions: massive, systemic reshaping of the policing system.

That’s a tall enough order on its own, but when you start mixing in a wide swathe of other progressive causes, it’s easy for others to muddy the waters and dismiss the larger movement as a bunch of people co-opting a cause to live out their anarchist fantasies (which it decidedly is not).

When protests moved inside City Hall on Tuesday, we heard one speaker implore Councilmember Kshama Sawant and others to “please stop taking advantage of us.” That came after Sawant spent a good chunk of her speech using the protest as a springboard for her “Tax Amazon” campaign.

Sawant later clarified that she believes her big business tax directly addresses the issues of racial inequality (which in some ways it certainly does). Even so, the larger demands from many protesters remain centered around remaking the city’s policing.

A list of of 30 demands from the group published online also covers a lot of ground. Much of it is rooted in reforming and remaking the justice system, and will likely be an important part of any future discussion on where to redirect excess police funding. But as a collective work, in many ways it attempts to swallow the elephant whole, so to speak.

Demands posted on flyers inside the CHAZ put forth a much simpler, three-point list, representing the core of the movement’s goals: Defund the police department, fund community-based health and safety, and drop all charges against protesters.

Opinion: No more reform — it’s time to rebuild Seattle policing

With national outlets (and President Trump) turning their focus to the CHAZ, Seattle’s movement is now under a microscope. When the rest of the country peers into that microscope, the CHAZ will have to ensure that what people see is a strong, united, and focused message.

More than that, there’s a vested interest from opponents to make it look dangerous, disorganized, and violent. We’ve seen that in the many seeds of disinformation sown in recent days.

On the other side of the barricades, protesters want to prove not only that they can function safely, but thrive without the police. If that experiment proves successful, it poses a very real, existential challenge to policing as we know it, proving that maybe, just maybe, there truly is a better way.

Whether that way exists within the confines of that six-block span of Capitol Hill remains to be seen, but things are certainly off to a promising start.

MyNorthwest Blog

Mayor Bruce Harrell, Sonics...
Nick Bowman

Mayor Harrell latest to pick up the torch on years-long effort to bring back the Sonics

Mayor Bruce Harrell is the latest city leader to take the baton on a years-long push to bring the Seattle Sonics back to their home city.
2 months ago
Bruce Harrell...
Nick Bowman

Harrell aims to ‘hit reset’ on strained relationship between Seattle mayor, city council

In his State of the City address, Mayor Bruce Harrell highlighted his hope to repair the strained relationship between his office and Seattle City Council.
3 months ago
ktth, bryan suits...
KTTH staff

KTTH debuts ‘Bryan Suits Show’ weekday mornings

Bryan Suits returns to Seattle airwaves as part of a new lineup on AM 770 KTTH. 'The Bryan Suits Show' airs weekday mornings from 6–9 a.m.
3 months ago
pet names...
Stephanie Klein

Top dog and cat names in King County last year

King County released its 2021 list of most popular pet names and 'Bella' and 'Luna' came out on top.
5 months ago
Seattle election results, Seattle City Hall...
Nick Bowman

What Seattle can expect in new year with shakeups at city hall on the horizon

Seattle City Hall is in for a shakeup at the start of the new year, with a new mayor, councilmember, and city attorney all taking office in January.
5 months ago
unvaccinated officers Seattle...
Nick Bowman

Durkan, Seattle council engage in one final clash in closing days of mayoral term

With Jenny Durkan set to leave office in a matter of days, she and the council appear to have engaged in one final feud, this time over trees. 
5 months ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!
...

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]
...

Compassion International Is Determined to ‘Fill’ a Unique Type of Football ‘Stadium’

Compassion International SPONSORED — During this fall’s football season—and as the pandemic continues to impact the entire globe—one organization has been urging caring individuals to help it “fill” a unique type of “stadium” in order to make a lasting difference in the lives of many. Compassion International’s distinctive Fill the Stadium (FtS, fillthestadium.com) initiative provides […]
...

What are the Strongest, Greenest, Best Windows?

Lake Washington Windows & Doors SPONSORED — Fiberglass windows are an excellent choice for window replacement due to their fundamental strength and durability. There is no other type of window that lasts as long as fiberglass; so why go with anything else? Fiberglass windows are 8x stronger than vinyl, lower maintenance than wood, more thermally […]
...

COVID Vaccine is a Game-Changer for Keeping our Kids Healthy

Snohomish Health District SPONSORED — Cheers to the parents and guardians who keep their kids safe and healthy. The dad who cooks a meal with something green in it, even though he’s tired and drive-thru burgers were tempting. The mom who calms down the little one who loudly and resolutely does NOT want to brush […]
...
Experience Anacortes

Coastal Christmas Celebration Week in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.
Opinion: Debunking myths of the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone