The existence of CHAZ, the Capital Hill Autonomous Zone created by protesters, has managed to evade much scrutiny. One story appeared in my hometown paper on June 11, which explained its existence in the simplest of terms.
“This space is now property of the Seattle people,” read a banner on the front entrance of the now-empty police station. The entire area was now a homeland for racial justice — and, depending on the protester one talked to, perhaps something more.
One block had a designated smoking area. Another had a medic station. At the “No Cop Co-op,” people could pick up a free LaCroix sparkling water or a snack. No currency was accepted, but across the street, in a nod to capitalism, a bustling stand was selling $6 hot dogs. It was dealing in U.S. dollars.
No one pondered where the “free” water or snack came from. Or how anyone would buy a $6 hot dog once their pockets were empty and there was no place to earn a living. Or buy smokes. Who were the medics? Where did they learn to become medics? Did they have medical supplies? Where would they get more when they ran out? And when did the “Seattle people” decide that some Seattle people got to decide for other Seattle people who owned that six-block area of Seattle?
And then came the shooting. One dead, a 19-year-old. One injured. Two separate shootings. I checked my hometown paper for the story, but there was none. It struck me as sufficiently newsworthy, but then, the sense of their newsroom as to what stories are worth telling, and how to tell them, no longer seems to align with those of us who just want to know what’s happening.
The Washington Post, however, offered a cursory description of death in CHAZ. Or is it CHOP, the Capital Hill Occupied Protest, because they can’t seem to agree on what to call it.
Jones recalls trying to discourage that behavior with at least one reveler who had a concealed weapon and claimed knowledge of gun-safety practices.
“I encountered a younger kid who had a gun and wanted to let his friend shoot it off as a celebration,” Jones said. “I was telling him this can’t be that type of environment; we’re trying to protest. Actively using guns in any form or fashion is going to bring wants and desires for the cops to come back.”
One of the problems with “freedom” is that one person’s isn’t necessarily another person’s, and Derreck Jones learned that “discouraging” behavior doesn’t mean others, similarly free to make their own choices, will behave the way he wants them to.
After 2 a.m., the festivities turned violent. One eyewitness described an argument that escalated into a fight and resulted in 10 gunshots. The suspects fled the scene while volunteer medics, who were stationed on the same corner, rushed to treat the victims. Upward of 20 “sentinels,” who provide volunteer security to the police-free protest zone, also responded to the scene.
It wasn’t that they didn’t “reimagine” a social order, but that it turned out rather similar to the old one, except they called the police “sentinels” and they weren’t any better equipped to save a life than cops.
“Arguments happen in the crowd all the time, even during celebrations. But gunshots change everything,” said a sentinel on site at the time who gave his name only as Cat, who was visibly carrying two knives Saturday. “It goes from some people are arguing and some people are celebrating to everybody is running.”
Cat is right. People somehow manage to always be people, no matter how many adjectives about love and tolerance, or oppression and fragility, they can string together. And Cat wasn’t entirely foolish, carrying two knives. They weren’t guns, but used properly, they can sting, and make a reluctant participant behave in a more appropriate fashion.
Since CHAZ is all about “racial justice,” whatever that means, let’s assume that the arguments that happened weren’t racist, whatever that means, and were just, well, arguments. People disagree about things, which in itself shouldn’t be problem except that people have become increasingly prone to believe that disagreement is less about people having their own views than the other people being wrong, and wrong being evil, and evil being hated, and hated people deserving to…be silenced.
Volunteers transported both victims to the nearby University of Washington-affiliated trauma center. The hospital confirmed that the two men arrived about 25 minutes apart in private vehicles.
There’s no information about why ten gunshots rang out. There’s no information about why either of the two men were shot. They were taken to a trauma center outside the autonomous zone because there was no trauma center inside. The medics, not doctors but medics, whose training, skills and facilities are unknown, weren’t up to the task of treating their own. How the volunteers transported the “victims” to the hospital isn’t clear, but if they used a car, someone had to design it, built it, and create the gas that powered it.
Someone inside the CHAZ called 911, a number that reached outside to a system created to deal with emergencies. And, even though this six blocks of social justice putatively seceded from the Union, services came with caution.
Officers, some with riot shields and others with guns drawn, seemed to search the area as protesters chanted, “Hands up, don’t shoot” and followed the roving patrol.
In body-cam footage of the same exchange later released by police, one protester becomes visibly upset by the presence of officers, grabbing his head with his hands and shouting, “Why are guns here?”
It was a fair question, but asked of the wrong people. And there is an answer, much as “one protester” seemed emotionally incapable of facing it. Even when you create a space where those who, for the few days until the food runs out, someone is sexually assaulted or someone steals your stuff, like it, and not everyone in the neighborhood does, believe they get to ride unicorns prancing on rainbows, somebody is going to dispute that they’re riding them the right way and something, whether knife or gun, will be used to test the issue.
While the New York Times has had little to say about any of this, at least Vox has provided one of its “explainers.”
CHAZ has since evolved further into a center of peaceful protest, free political speech, co-ops, and community gardens. Protesters have invited the city’s houseless population, who had been subject to a mass “clearing” of tent communities throughout the city, to come stay in the neighborhood.
Sounds wonderful. Too bad for the dead kid.