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Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, CHOP
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Capitol Hill resident says living within CHOP is an ‘eye opening experience’

A crowd gathers to watch Ava DuVernay's '13th' documentary in the Capitol Hill protest zone. (Getty Images)

A former colleague and now friend of Seattle Morning News’ Colleen O’Brien chose his apartment on Capitol Hill because of its proximity to the light rail. In the last week, however, he’s had an up-close view of the standoff between protesters and police at the East Precinct, before the transformation of the six-block area to what’s now called the CHOP.

The area was still referred to as “CHAZ” at the time of the interview.

“It’s been really interesting to see the change,” Joseph said. “You know, it was kind of, quite frankly, like a nightmare living in this area across from the precinct for the past week.”

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The street in front of his apartment was the staging area for the police and National Guard.

“You have to see all that activity, all day long,” he said. “And then the south barricade is right in front of my bedroom window, so the protesters would be chanting there, taunting police, and just total chaos. No one wants to live like that, and fortunately, the day after that is when police decided to move out of the area and it’s been basically, from my perspective, totally peaceful ever since then.”

But it’s still been noisy, as protesters and crowds gather just below his window.

There have previously been rumors of armed guards on the perimeter of CHOP, and Police Chief Carmen Best had said guards were extorting money from businesses in the area, a claim she has since walked back. Best clarified that she heard rumors of extortion happening but said she had no proof.

Joseph said he has not seen that himself, but there are some strange new restrictions.

“Our building management emailed us and told us that we have to get a sign printed by them to put in our windshield so that when we get to the gate, they’re like, ‘Oh, OK, you live in here, you can come and go,'” Joseph said.

But who are “they?”

“I’m looking at the entry point right now,” Joseph said. “Sometimes they, whoever they are, they have a car parked there that they’ll move in and out to let people through. Sometimes … it’s just a person standing there, I think just checking to see who people are.”

It’s not building management setting this up, he said, but whoever is running the protest area.

“I feel like we kind of just have to go along with whatever these CHAZ people are telling us to do,” he added.

He did point out, however, that building management also cooperated with police when people were throwing things from the roof of the building, so it’s not that they’re only cooperating with police or only protest organizers.

Colleen noted that as different as it is to live in Capitol Hill at this time, Joseph seems calm.

“I think why I feel that way is because the last week with so literally insane with the police,” he said. “That was actually … crazier than this, to be honest, from my perspective. So I feel like at least now, it’s at least calm.”

For now, he’s going to watch closely as the situation develops.

“I think people would tell me, if I was to complain about it, black people have had to live with fear in their lives forever,” he said. “And if I can’t live with this for, like five minutes, I don’t know. It’s just kind of an eye opening experience all around.”

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