A look inside the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ)

By Daniel R. Smith

The Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ) in Seattle, established by Black Lives Matter protestors, has inspired a wave of negative media attention (false rumors of extortion initiated by a rightwing blogger were repeated by Police Chief Best, she later retracted the statement) along with a threat of military force by President Trump on Twitter. CHAZ, comprising several blocks near Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct, is a self-governed area, largely free of police presence, established when SPD abandoned the precinct Monday. Following a week of violent police actions directed at protestors, CHAZ has been transformed from a raucous war zone with teargas and flash-bang grenades, to a mecca for activist speeches, mural painting, leafleting, and free food and water.

Having visited CHAZ three successive days this week, Tuesday—Thursday, it’s obvious the protestor’s position is tenuous. During the day, crowds swelled to several thousand and with the sun out it’s incredibly relaxed, like Seattle’s most vital street fair. But the fear of police returning is constant—protestor speeches are punctuated by calls for bodies to man street barricades. On Wednesday I saw police nonviolently repelled twice by protestors, but a chain of bike police did manage to enter the East Precinct in the afternoon. They installed themselves in windows directly above the people’s mic at 12th and Pine, monitoring the protests from above.

Protestors see the police as an occupying force which uses violence disproportionately against people of color. Among protestor demands are defunding the SPD, essentially redistributing funds to the community, turning the precinct building over to the community, so no return of the police. The protestors give near-constant recognition to the fact that CHAZ sits on stolen land, and encourage collaboration with Native movements. Roxanne White, Yakima, Nez Perce, Nooksack and Gros Ventre, an advocate for the families of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) spoke on Wednesday about the connections between Native people and BLM: https://vimeo.com/427945837

The future of the zone is unclear. Protestors say they are willing to talk to Chief Best but that she backed out of a meeting yesterday. In the meantime the city is experiencing a flourishing of voices and mutual-aid collaboration not seen since Occupy. At a minimum, everyone hopes a resolution is achieved, non-violently, that brings significant reform to the way Seattle is policed.

Petition to Defund SPD: tinyurl.com/defundSPD

Reading helpful to understand the context of CHAZ: