The self-declared Capitol Hill Occupied Protest Zone (‘CHOP’) in Seattle has become a symbolic reference point of the protests in the US. For some it represents the ideals of individual freedom and liberty and the rejection of the ever expanding encroachment of ‘the State’ (and, one could add, ‘the Market’) over the lives of the citizens they are supposed to serve. For others, it represents the destructive and chaotic forces of malignant or ignorant masses, anarchists and hooligans (usually ‘left-wing’, whatever that means today) who produce and contribute nothing to society and intend to destroy social order and everything positive.
Many commentators are seeking to turn every incident in the zone into proof positive that their opinion has been proven ‘beyond a doubt’, and extrapolate from there to either valorise or condemn the protest movement, en masse and without distinction, across the US. The zone has come to epitomize efforts to either defend and praise, or disparage and discredit, the CHOP and the concepts and principles upon which it was founded – that the police have become a tool of oppression and discrimination, which has been simplified and reduced over time to the raw conflict between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, usually with heavy racist undertones.
Increasingly violent clashes between Seattle Police and protesters, including several shooting incidents, prompted SPD to abandon its East Precinct about two weeks ago in an effort to pacify protestors, and the demonstrators established a six-to-nine block occupied protest zone around the abandoned building.
The protesters say they’re trying to demonstrate that society can manage without police intervention. The initiative has made headlines nationwide and has drawn strong condemnation from President Trump, who has threatened to take action if the governor and city leaders don’t take back the occupied zone.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and other city leaders have called the occupied protest a largely peaceful one and said Capitol Hill has long been a hub for First Amendment activity. The city council has made numerous concessions to accommodate the protesters demands, including setting up concrete barriers to stop traffic from entering the zone and agreeing to keep it free of police unless there’s a life-threatening emergency.
Durkan elaborated on the reasons for the decision to negotiate with the protestors and defended the actions taken on her Twitter account:
The #CHOP has emerged as a gathering place for community to demand change of their local, state, and federal government. At the @CityofSeattle, we’ve made a few changes to facilitate first amendment activities while also maintaining safety and access for all of our residents. LINK
While the situation in the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest zone continues to evolve, some people whose homes and apartments are located inside the CHOP say they feel like hostages in their own neighbourhood. Many business owners and residents of the area have criticised the measures, and police have stated that response times have tripled in the area.
While demonstrations within the CHOP zone have mostly been peaceful, there are also reports that businesses are being asked to pay protestors to continue operating in the area, and an increasing number of claims that acts of violence and robbery are now rampant in the zone.
Russell Kimble, owner of Car Tender on the edge of the CHOP, said his auto shop was burglarized and set on fire Saturday night. He said when he called police, they didn’t arrive. Kimble’s son and his business partner responded to the burglary, and ended up getting into a scuffle with protesters.
Police Chief Carmen Best said officers observed the incident from afar and did not find any reason to intervene, but she has also said abandoning the precinct was not her decision and “if you’re asking about the current situation, it’s not one that l like.” LINK
The debate over whether the movement is a worthwhile social experiment in alternative forms of maintaining social relations or a dangerous criminal subversive threat against the Seattle residents and the US in general has heated up over the last couple of days as the first homicide has occurred in the zone.
A post at ZeroHedge proclaimed:
Following roughly 2 weeks of existence that have been characterized by an incessant stream of video showing beatdowns, brazen theft, armed robbery and myriad other crimes and/or ‘revolutionary’ acts, Seattle’s autonomous zone has finally sustained its first casualty since “declaring independence” from the US.
At least one person is dead with another in critical condition after a shooting early Saturday morning in the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest, or CHOP (as they’re now calling it). The shooting comes after the mayor of Seattle decided to appease the group of mostly fringe leftists and anarchists by barring cops from using tear gas and other crowd control methods. LINK
Officers responding to the shooting initially said they had trouble getting to the scene because they were “were met by a violent crowd that prevented officers safe access to the victims,” Seattle Police said on their blog.
Two males with gunshot wounds arrived in private vehicles at Harborview Medical Center about half an hour after the shooting, a hospital spokeswoman said. A 19-year-old man died while the other person was in critical condition in the intensive care unit.
“Homicide detectives responded and are conducting a thorough investigation, despite the challenges presented by the circumstances,” police said.
While critics have renewed and intensified their rhetoric against the movement and the creation of the CHOP zone following the incident, it remains uncertain whether it will provide the basis for returning the area back to ‘normal’, or whether it will be possible for Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and Governor Jay Inslee to maintain the existence of the ‘cop-free zone’ for a while longer.
“We need to have a way for the community to have a way to speak and for police and fire services to be provided,” Mr Inslee said.
“One way or another we obviously need to provide a way to offer protection for people, and that’s a necessity.”
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