Seattle’s CHAZ/CHOP police-free zone has ended. Good! – Labour Article
The Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ) also known as the Capitol Hill Organised Protest (CHOP) was an occupation-protest and autonomous-zone established on June 8th 2020. The zone was established at the end of a week of intense conflict between protestors and police.
Autonomy was established when Mayor Jenny Durkan decided to withdraw police from an area of six city-blocks and a park. From its genesis, CHAZ was an intense focal point of media attention. USA Today described CHAZ as “a sort of protest haven where artists paint murals, speakers discuss topics of racial equity, snacks are handed out for free and virtually no police are insight”.
Trump got involved and described activists within the zone as ‘domestic terrorists’. Jenny Durkan defended them saying that “demanding we do better as a society and provide true equity for communities of colour is not terrorism — it is patriotism”. Durkan’s optimism is admirable and is certainly a more thoughtful position than that of Trump. Unfortunately, the CHAZ efforts resulted in a tragically ironic reversal of expectations. The zone became a hotbed of violence with African-Americans among its most numerous victims.
Between the 20th of June and the 2nd of July, there were four shootings, two deaths, arson and several alleged sexual assaults. When Vox interviewed locals they discovered that most “didn’t feel safe walking at night in the area”. Two people were shot on the 20th in separate incidents. The first: a 19-year-old black man was pronounced dead. The second: a 33-year-old black man survived, reporting that his shooting was racially aggravated. On the 21st a 17-year-old was shot and another was shot on the 23rd, both refused to discuss their incidents with police.
The final incident was the most shocking. A 16-year-old boy, Antonio Mays Jr, left his family home reportedly leaving a note saying that he wanted “to be a part of history and protest” and that “he just wanted us [his parents] to be proud of him.” Antonio Mays’ friend, Ciara Walker, told the Daily Mail that Mays and a 14-year-old boy he was with at the time had phoned her while being chased and fired upon by a security car from CHAZ. The two teens were driving a car that they had stolen from the area. Ciara advised them to drive to the CHAZ-police precinct for protection. Thinking that the boys were heading for the tents of residents, CHAZ-police gunned the boys down as they approached.
The recapture of the region by the Seattle Police force was justified as a response to Mays’ murder.
As a leftist progressive, I feel a spontaneous urge to emphasise the positive aspects of the CHAZ efforts. To do this, I would have to produce a narrative that somehow concludes that CHAZ was a success and that the reclamation of the area by the police was a tragedy of lost potential. This urge must be resisted. The tragic reality is that CHAZ was a total failure and was always going to be.
Social construction is a difficult task. It has taken the whole of history to get humanity to the remarkable position that it is in today. But there is a lot more to be done. Large sections of society do not receive the benefits of this history. Leftism is a politics which demands that the least well-off benefit from historical progress. We must realise that the way to provide this is not to wipe the slate blank and start again.
What happened in Capitol Hill is seen by both the naive left and the fanatical right as a logical conclusion of pure leftist thought. This could not be farther from the truth.
Capitol Hill did not even fulfil the most basic demands of Black Lives Matter. ‘Defund the police’ does not mean removing a well organised and authoritative disciplinary institution and replacing it with a political militia that openly carries ARs on the street with no training.
Given that only 4% of police time is spent responding to violent crime, defunding the police means replacing aspects of its service with other institutions. Institutions with specific training, such as social workers and community support officers who do not carry weapons and do not present a threat to life. Instead, these workers would stand on the shoulders of the best sociological, psychological and criminological research to provide effective support and care to communities that have been left behind.
It does not help that news supporting the program of ‘abolishing’ the police has been unclear. An article for the New York Times by Mariame Kaba titled ‘Yes, We Mean Literally Abolish the Police’ makes no such demands. Instead, it calls for ‘cutting the budget in half’ and making the police ‘obsolete’ by gradually crowding them out with alternative services. This is totally different from abolition.
The problem is that sensible demands like this do not tend to inspire people at a protest. When Mayor Frey of Minneapolis quite reasonably said that he’s not for abolishing the entire police department, he was shouted down by a crowd of thousands of people.
Unfortunately, CHAZ/CHOP has become a powerful exemplar in the right-wing narrative of childish leftist idealism. Charming in principle but unrealistic and therefore unable to make good on its promises of delivering a better world. Perversely, CHAZ/CHOP will be culturally digested into fuel for the arguments of right wing-pundits, yet another barrier to the modest demands of Black Lives Matter.
Written by Guest Labour Writer, Joseph Cradick
Point of Information
The CHAZ is the epitome of ‘rebels without a cause’ – a Conservative Response
The idea of CHAZ/CHOP, at least on paper, is admirable at best, and naïve at worst. Conceptually, it was an exemplary expression of the fundamental concept which the US was founded on. Freedom from tyranny and the right to self-determination. Except it failed so miserably that, as my colleague Joseph stated himself, CHAZ/CHOP turned out to be largely detrimental to the BLM movement.
For a brief moment in time, the CHAZ was, in fact, the most dangerous place on Earth. About 23 times more dangerous than El Salvador, the country with the current highest murder rate. But the biggest issue with CHAZ/CHOP, and the reason it was a monumental failure, was the lack of organization and a realistic plan.
The inception of the CHAZ can be connected to a meme surrounding the idea of the creation of an “autonomous zone”. Without a centralized organizational body, CHAZ/CHOP was doomed from the beginning. The lack of organization contributed to the power vacuum which was subsequently filled by the even less trained security force; by a rapper who was a self-proclaimed warlord of CHAZ/CHOP. It quickly turned into a violent and pointless mess. A contributing factor to why BLM is struggling to succeed in its goals.
It’s really not all that revolutionary what BLM asks for. As my colleague stated, the demands are really rather modest in fact. Unfortunately, the creation of the CHAZ essentially hijacked the traction the BLM movement had. It turned into an opportunity for many, not all, to engage in lawless behaviour. BLM seeks to fix the current system, not dismantle it entirely. CHAZ/CHOP was nothing more than a silly example of the naivety of anarchists. It stole the spotlight from other protests occurring nationwide, where productive peaceful demonstrations were occurring with clear and sensible requests and demands.
An important quote I have kept in mind throughout these last few months is “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else”. Without a clear goal in mind, a movement will eventually falter and fail to achieve change. BLM has a clear goal and is gaining more and more momentum every day. CHAZ/CHOP did not, and that is why it so hilariously failed, whereas BLM has already begun to achieve some of its goals.
Written by Guest Conservative Writer, Sebastian Calcopietro
The road to hell – a Liberal Response
I admire Joseph’s honesty about the CHAZ in this article. It was a catastrophic failure. Sadly, I can also see CHAZ being used as a weapon against BLM and those who want real reform. Like Joseph, I recognise that this commune is not the logical result of progressive leftist politics.
It is the logical result of revolutionary politics.
A utopian ideal always starts with good intentions but often fails when put into practice so quickly. CHAZ is a good example. In fact, history is filled with many other failed utopias. Take the French Revolution, leaping off an idea of liberty only to dive into a pit of tyranny. It took 100 years for this liberty to actually materialise. The Russian Revolution, which descended from Parliamentary democracy into a Civil War and a Communist autocracy, is another salient example. The utopian rule of the proletariat became the rule of the plutocrats.
Speaking recently, who can forget the Arab Spring? As Rodan writes in ‘The Arabs: A History’, of all the nations that revolted in 2011, only one remained a democracy in 2020: Tunisia. Even then, Tunisia has a long way to go before real democracy is achieved. A swift change in authority, such as at CHAZ, is bound to fail.
Maybe I’m being unfair. After all, CHAZ is a commune, not a nation-wide revolution. Yet, like revolutions, communes that create themselves in an already existing political situation are doomed to fail. Whilst Amish communities and Israeli kibbutzim have succeeded, they are built from the ground-up rather than from a pre-existing political structure. They are the exception, not the norm, especially in an increasingly interconnected world. A city like Seattle, with its system of laws, class and race relations, and vast bureaucracy, is too delicate to become a commune overnight.
CHAZ is a lesson against utopias, not leftist thought. Trump is wrong to connect it to progressive politics. As Seb and Joseph both mention, BLM, a progressive, nonrevolutionary movement, has realistic goals. However, the progressive left has to guard against radicalism. Reform is our friend. Political progress is good. The political revolution is not. Need I be reminded of Saint Bernard’s proverb?
‘The road to Hell is paved with good intentions’.
Written by Guest Liberal Writer, Frank Allen