How CHAZ became CHOP: Seattle's police-free zone explained
Stretching several blocks down East Pine Street in Seattle — marked with the words Black Lives Matter painted in large letters down the center of the street and embellished with colorful murals — you'll find CHOP.
Known as the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ) at first, several protesters in the area made a push for the name to better reflect its purpose and renamed the roughly six-block area. CHOP, the new acronym, now stands for the Capitol Hill Organized (or Occupied) Protest.
Here's how it came about.
After the death of George Floyd, thousands of people in Seattle and across the country began marching to protest against police brutality and systemic racism. In Seattle, hundreds of people, night after night, marched to the Seattle Police Department's East Precinct, where police set up barricades and stood in front of protesters, often with riot shields and gas masks.
The standoff between protesters and officers resulted repeatedly in officers using tear gas, flashbangs and pepper spray to disperse hundreds of people demanding change. SPD said multiple times the use of force came after people in the crowd threw water bottles, rocks and other projectiles at officers.
Protesters and several elected officials — some of whom have come out to the protests — have said the use of force was not proportional and accused police of instigating conflict. The Office of Police Accountability will be investigating thousands of complaints it received during the protests about actions taken by police.
Last Monday, police left the area in front of the East Precinct, boarded up the building and allowed protesters to freely march in what has now become CHOP.
This is what the zone is now.
Since then, protesters used the barricades once separating protesters from officers to form boundaries at the ends of the zone.
People can now freely walk in the area, which has been covered with signs, murals, memorials and different types of art. The day after police left, protesters put up a sign on the East Precinct, now boarded up, that reads: "This space is now property of the Seattle people." In recent days, protesters have been advocating for turning the precinct into a community center, even as SPD's police chief has said officers want to return to the building.
Over the several blocks that make up CHOP, there are different kinds of booths set up, providing food, aid and action steps. The "No cop co-op," has food, snacks, drinks and signs that say everything is free, encouraging people to take what they need. There's a conversation cafe and a booth to write to Mayor Jenny Durkan demanding change. The zone is also 凯发k8地址home to a clothing station, where those in need can find various items of clothing and shoes.
Over the past week, people have created a community garden, screened documentaries and had large discussions and teach-ins about the Black Lives Matter movement, what their demands are and how they will effect change. It has been the site where marches have started and ended and where people have been given space to share their own experiences. Several tents are also set up in the zone for people to stay overnight.
Some protesters have said they will remain in the zone until their demands are met.
Still, some have worried the message of the movement is being lost with CHOP, which some have described as a festival-like environment. People in the area have said there are some disagreements between members of the community, and have emphasized protesters must maintain the momentum moving forward.
On Tuesday, the Department of Transportation put up new barriers to allow for some traffic to move throughout the area such as emergency vehicles.
“The City is committed to maintaining space for community to come together, protest and exercise their first amendment rights,” Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office wrote in a blog posted Tuesday. “Minor changes to the protest zone will implement safer and sturdier barriers to protect individuals in this area, allow traffic to move throughout the Capitol Hill neighborhood, ease access for residents of apartment building in the surrounding areas, and help local businesses manage deliveries and logistics. Additionally all plans have been crafted with the goal of allowing access for emergency personnel including fire trucks.”
SPD has said it will respond to "life-safety issues" in the zone, which could include an active shooter incident, an assault or a significant medical emergency, according to the blog post.
Here's what protesters are demanding.
Protesters have a number of demands, including defunding the Seattle Police Department by at least 50% and reinvesting funds in community programs. Several of the demands are written throughout the zone, on boards and posters.
Several groups in Seattle and King County have laid out more specific demands.
King County Equity Now Coalition is calling for redistributing $180 million from SPD's budget and investing at least $50 million from the budget into the Black community.
"It is equally important — as these country-wide protests have illuminated — to shift resources into Black-led, community organizations to ensure that COVID-19 does not exacerbate the only widening racial resource/wealth gap," the organization said on its website.
Other demands include ending all contracts between SPD and Seattle Public Schools and dropping charges for all protesters.
Here's what elected officials have said about CHOP and protesters' demands.
Over the past two weeks, Durkan has announced certain reforms in response to protester demands, including making sure mourning badges don't cover officers' badge numbers and having police turn on body cameras during public protests. Durkan also said she would invest $100 million toward "community-based programs that invest in Black youth and adults, including employment programs, Black-owned businesses and programs that provide alternatives to arrest and incarceration." She did not specify where that money would come from.
Durkan visited CHOP over the weekend, where she met with the person behind the area's community garden. In a tweet Friday, Durkan said Capitol Hill has been "autonomous" for as long as she can remember.
"It's always been a place where people go to express themselves freely," she tweeted, adding that she spoke with members of the community about "moving forward" and keeping communities safe.
Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant has shown full support for the area, holding a large event just last week in Cal Anderson.
"Our movement needs to urgently ensure East Precinct is not handed back to police, but is turned over permanently into community control,"she tweeted last week. "My office is bringing legislation to convert East Precinct into a community center for restorative justice."
Still, King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay is cautioning people to remain focused on the issues.
"By 'stay focused', I meant the goal of CHAZ is not to have an outdoor festival," he tweeted. "If we’re benefiting from freedom purchased through the work of Black organizers, we all have to be advancing their demands."
He cited demands including defunding the police, funding community safety and freeing all protesters.
Seattle City Council members last week launched an "inquest" into the SPD budget. They are also discussing bills that would ban Seattle police from using tear gas, pepper spray and flashbangs.
Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best has said several times officers want to return to the East Precinct, but there has not yet been definitive information or a timeline for returning.
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