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Opinion: Seeing through the noise as CHOP debate rages

Signs at the entrance to the CHOP. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

In recent days, the discussion around Seattle’s CHOP area has largely focused on safety, rather than activism. Many of those concerns are valid. Some less so. But one thing is clear: It’s becoming increasingly difficult to see through the noise.

Debunking myths of the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone

In the last week, we saw our first example of what happens when a crime is committed in or around the CHOP, and residents of the area have to deal with the fallout sans a police response.

That in turn has led to a discussion about the procedure for handling any criminal elements, what to do when a suspect is apprehended, and how to ensure businesses feel protected.

That being so, other problems have been the result of right wing groups like the Proud Boys actively seeking to disrupt the peace.

In one video, we see Proud Boys gathering in the CHOP, draped in American flags, speaking into a bullhorn, and attempting to rile up protesters. That same group was later filmed violently assaulting a man blocks away.

We’ve also seen national outlets blatantly misrepresenting the area to push an agenda, rather than engage in anything that resembles a productive discourse. Last week on the front page of Fox News, photos depicting a city on fire and burnt-out husks of cars were displayed alongside headlines describing a “downtown district seized by brazen, anti-cop anarchists.”

It was later found that those photos were in fact taken in Minneapolis during protests in late-May.

That continued Wednesday morning, when a headline on the front page of Fox News cited an opinion from “ex-city councilman” Ari Hoffman about how the CHOP is “dangerous at night,” and claiming businesses are “afraid to open.”

Hoffman has never served on Seattle City Council. He did run for District 2’s council seat in 2019, garnering just 11% of the vote in the August primary. And sure, this is a smaller lie, but when it comes to touting a credible source of information on local politics, there’s a sizable difference between someone who actively served in city government, and someone who briefly ran a failed campaign.

I point all this out because these instigators and lies exist to obscure the original reason the CHOP was established: Because protesters didn’t feel safe from their city’s own police force. Lest we forget, a residential neighborhood was regularly being tear-gassed, and its residents were begging for change.

In the days since, we’ve seen an attempt to undercut that message from an agenda based around the idea protesters are less safe without police.

Part of the CHOP’s raison d’etre is to act as a social experiment determining whether peace can actually be maintained without a police presence. But we’re never going to truly know the answer to that question if we’re forced to wade through an onslaught of lies, bad-faith arguments, and instigators.

Ross: Can changes to the CHOP help bring peace?

That’s not to say there aren’t other questions we should be asking about the CHOP, too. How can it actually be leveraged to enact true changes to policing? What’s being done to ensure that the demands city leaders hear are consistent across a largely leaderless movement? Is this really still about the “Black Lives Matter” message? There’s space in the public discourse to be critical of the CHOP — like all things, we shouldn’t simply take it at face value.

But we also need to ask these questions truthfully, constructively, and in good faith. If we can’t ignore the people whose only goal is to see it fail, it may just be impossible to see through the noise.

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