How the Seattle CHOP zone went from socialist summer camp to deadly disaster
When protesters first took over Seattle’s Capitol Hill district last month, supporters pitched it as something of socialist summer camp: movie nights under the stars, free food, a sidewalk library — and no cops.
But the leaderless six-block zone — known as the CHAZ, or Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, before it was renamed CHOP for Capitol Hill Occupation Protest — quickly spiraled into violence and chaos, culminating in a pair of shootings that killed two black teens.
On Wednesday, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan finally issued an emergency order for police to take back the streets and clear out the protesters who had been camped out for nearly a month.
It was a stunning reversal for Durkan — who originally compared the CHOP to a “block party atmosphere” and suggested the city could be in for a “summer of love.”
The CHOP first emerged June 8 amid the raging nationwide protests over George Floyd, the black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck in late May.
As demonstrations grew more violent in Seattle, cops were told to abandon the East Precinct on June 8 in Capitol Hill, the LGBT-friendly neighborhood with a vibrant nightlife.
Police Chief Carmen Best later made it clear it was not by choice — blasting the city’s leaders for relenting “to severe public pressure.”
“I’m angry about how this all came about,” she fumed.
That night, protesters, led by Councilwoman Kshama Sawant, invaded City Hall before retreating back to the East Precinct. They huddled together on the pavement to watch the 2016 documentary “13th” on a giant screen, with many camping out overnight.
With cops gone from the area, protesters took over — erecting barriers, spray-painting the precinct’s sign to read “Seattle People Department,” setting up a “no-cop co-op” with free food, organizing political discussions and erecting a giant memorial in honor of Floyd and other people of color killed by police in recent years.
But the peace didn’t last.
Some protesters armed themselves and stood guard at the edges of the autonomous zone — including Solomon “Raz” Simone, an assault rifle-toting rapper who some accused of acting as a “warlord” in what was supposed to be a leaderless movement.
There was also in-fighting — Simone clashed with a graffiti artist, in an caught-on-tape fist fight, and videos showed one protester demanding his white counterparts fork over $10 to black demonstrators.
Residents and business owners within the CHOP have also filed lawsuits alleging constitutional rights violations — after police said early on they’d only respond to the area if there was an immediate threat to life or safety.
In recent weeks, the violence turned to tragedy with at least four shootings in or around the CHOP in nine days — including two that left a pair of teens dead.
Lorenzo Anderson, 19, died of his injuries in a shooting on June 20 that also left a 33-year-old man injured.
The slain teen’s father said it was time for CHOP to be shut down.
“This doesn’t look like a protest to me no more,” said Horace Lorenzo Anderson, KIRO7 reported. “That just looks like they just took over and said, ‘We can take over whenever we want to.’”
Another shooting early Monday morning claimed the life of Antonio Mays Jr., 16, who was driving in a Jeep Cherokee that witnesses said crashed into one of CHOP’s concrete barriers.
Marty Jackson, a volunteer medic within CHOP, estimated that the SUV was riddled with 300 bullet holes, claiming the zone’s own security members shot up the car.
A 14-year-old boy was also critically wounded in the shootout.
Video taken the same night and released by local police shows someone prowling the area with a long gun, while others cower behind concrete barricades.
“Now it’s like pretty much an active war zone,” Jackson told radio station KUOW.
Both of those killed in the zone were black, police said.
“Two African American men are dead, at a place where they claim to be working for Black Lives Matter. But they’re gone, they’re dead now,” Best said on Monday.
That same day, Durkan announced plans to finally dismantle CHOP —and issued her vacate order just before 5 a.m. Wednesday.
Police outfitted in riot gear and armed with batons and tactical vehicles arrived on scene, giving protesters eight minutes to clear out.
Cops used bicycles to push protesters back about five feet at a time, while warning them about the possible use of chemical weapons, according to MyNorthwest.
They then began tearing down tents and wooden barricades.
“A lot of chaos, you hear many, many voices,” Debora Killman, who was sleeping in a tent, told KOMO News. “But then I heard on the megaphone it’s either going to be the police or National Guard so that’s when I started saying OK, it’s time to get up.”
Durkan’s Wednesday order directed the police to set up a “security buffer” around the area as they work on taking back the East Precinct.
Police said they’d made 31 arrests on charges including failure to disperse, obstruction, assault, and unlawful weapon possession as of 9:25 a.m. local time.
“As I have said, and I will say again, I support peaceful demonstrations. Black Lives Matter, and I too want to help propel this movement toward meaningful change in our community,” said Best.
“But enough is enough. The CHOP has become lawless and brutal.”
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