A group of protesters have taken over a six-block area in the city of Seattle on June 8 and claimed it as a zone separate from the United States. The zone is the latest move in the protests and riots following the death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed by a white police officer.
The area, claimed by Antifa and Black Lives Matter activists, is called the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ), based on its location in the Capitol Hill area of Seattle. One of the leaders is thought to be Raz Simone, a rapper from the city.
Protesters had been active in the neighborhood for over a week, and had clashed with police, who used tear gas and other non-lethal weapons against the protesters. On June 5, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced a 30-day ban on tear gas, but that was taken back after some protesters threw objects like bottles and rocks at officers.
The conflict was centred around the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct building, with protesters building fences around the area. The city’s government told the police to fall back and the building was abandoned, so the activists built stronger barricades and declared the area a police-free community.
What’s Going on Inside?
There isn’t much clarity about what’s actually happening inside CHAZ, since a lot of the news stories contradict each other. A sign on the abandoned police station says the building is “now the property of the Seattle people.”
Protesters have put on a public movie night and concert. Food was also handed out at a “No Cop Co-op.” They may run into trouble when it comes to basic supplies, however. The activists complained that homeless people had “stolen” the food supplies and started asking for people on the outside to send donations of vegan foods. A small vegetable patch was planted in a park with donated plants.
Assistant Police Chief Deanna Nollette said there had been reports of people being harassed by armed individuals and businesses being told to pay fees in order to operate (extortion). The police later took back the claims. Others have said that people with guns are patrolling the streets.
What Do They Want?
Since the area is six blocks in size, not everyone there may want the same thing – especially if they just happen to live or have businesses there. However, the activists leading the zone soon released a set of changes they want in society. Some are to do with getting more money to poorer people by introducing controls on the price of rent.
Most of their goals are based on getting rid of the police and other law enforcement agencies. Some of their demands include:
- abolish the police and court system
- abolish prisons, especially youth prisons
- give a re-trial to all black people convicted of a violent crime
- give prisoners the right to vote
- give local communities the power to create their own anti-crime systems
Other demands are based on separating black and white Americans, with ideas such as black students being taught by only black teachers, and black doctors and nurses for black patients in hospitals.
Responses to the new “country” have been mixed: Some have called it a paradise, while others have said it’s a den of chaos.
President Trump called the occupiers terrorists and tweeted:
“Radical Left Governor @JayInslee and the Mayor of Seattle are being taunted and played at a level that our great Country has never seen before. Take back your city NOW. If you don’t do it, I will. This is not a game. These ugly Anarchists must be stooped [sic] IMMEDIATELY. MOVE FAST!”
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan disagreed, responding:
“Unfortunately, our president wants to tell a story about domestic terrorists who have a radical agenda and are promoting a conspiracy that fits his law and order initiatives. It’s simply not true. Lawfully gathering and expressing first amendment rights, demanding we do better as a society, and providing true equity for communities of color is not terrorism. It’s patriotism.”
One city councilmember, Kshama Sawant, said she hoped the zone will stay in place permanently.
Will the White House step in to dismantle the “country,” or will it be allowed to continue?