CHAZ:Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone

On June 9, after a multi-day standoff with protesters at the intersection of 11th and Pine in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, the Seattle Police Department abandoned the nearby East Precinct and left the area. This was after almost two weeks of protests over the murder of George Floyd by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. During peaceful rallies taking place at a police barricade at the intersection, protesters were routinely met with tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets, all initiated by an unprovoked mob of law enforcement, which included officers from the Seattle Police Department and the King County Sheriff’s Office, as well as members of the National Guard.

Since the evacuation of the East Precinct, protesters have set up the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, or CHAZ, a multi-block occupation that centers racial justice, free speech and community sans police. In just a few short days, a multitude of organizations and individuals have created an urban commune that includes free medical services, pop-ups with water, food, masks and other supplies, community meetings, open mics, art, music and resources for supporting Black Lives Matter and the end of police brutality.

I paid a visit to CHAZ a couple days ago. The following is a photo documentary of what I saw there.

Since my visit, the CHAZ community has organized trash pick-ups and worked with the city to bring in garbage bins and portable toilets. Large art installations have popped up, including colorful murals and the words “Black Lives Matter” painted across Pine Street. There have also been public screenings of 13th and Paris is Burning. And while there have been reports and rumors of malfeasance on the part of CHAZ–requiring ID for people entering the area and extorting local businesses–these are simply not true. Nobody has been asked for identification to enter CHAZ. I can attest to this personally. And many businesses have embraced the protesters, offering restrooms, charging stations, meals and first-aid supplies. All of this is happening with no police in sight.

I don’t know what the end game will be here. The protesters have made three demands of the city:

  • To defund the Seattle Police Department
  • To allocate funds for community health and safety services
  • To drop all charges against protesters

Some have suggested that CHAZ remain as a permanent fixture on Capitol Hill. There have been rumblings that the Seattle Police Department is making plans to move back into the East Precinct at some point. The future is unclear. It should be noted that this is not the first occupation in Seattle history. El Centro de la Raza was established in 1972, after a small group of students took over a school building, transforming an old dilapidated structure into a vibrant cultural center that still serves Seattle’s Latinx community today. While CHAZ is much larger in scale, I believe that anything is possible at this point, on Capitol Hill, in Seattle and across the country.

We all have a responsibility to create a just society. – Bryan Stevenson

Photo: Daily Hive


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