After George Floyd’s death in police custody, protests erupted in cities across the US over police brutality and systemic racism against Black Americans.
A group of protesters in Seattle, Washington, made a particularly bold statement when they took over part of the city on June 8, dubbing it an “autonomous zone.”
Insider’s Isaac Scher reported the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, or CHAZ, was set up along several blocks, where it created a space for tents, free food, art-making, and rallies around the city’s abandoned East Precinct.
One occupant told Insider that the formation of an autonomous zome “has symbolic meaning that once the police withdraw, it’s not that communities descend into chaos, but that we can create safe, democratic, autonomous spaces.”
“We do not request reform, we demand abolition,” FreeCapitol Hill, an anonymous collective, wrote in a blog post. “We demand that the Seattle Council and the Mayor defund and abolish the Seattle Police Department and the attached Criminal Justice Apparatus.”
The area quickly drew a negative mention from President Donald Trump, who told authorities via Twitter on June 10 to “Take back your city NOW” and warned, “If you don’t do it, I will.”
In the days after it was first established, the area that reportedly held hundreds of demonstrators became known as “CHOP,” for Capitol Hill Organized (or Occupied) Protest.
“Early on it was a very positive vibe — a festival vibe that everyone was talking about — for better or worse,” said Jack, an occupant who asked for Insider to withhold his name out of fear of police retaliation. “Since then there’s been a tension and paranoia. It’s not as comfortable.”
As the number of people in the zone dwindled through June, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced on June 23 that the autonomous zone would end. Authorities would reclaim the area as officers were due back in the precinct the next week.
As the area prepared to be disbanded, tensions reached a fever pitch after two teenage boys were shot on June 29. One of them, a 16-year-old died, and the 14-year-old was left in critical condition.
By the next day, the Department of Transportation began to dismantle some of zone’s barriers, Insider’s Isaac Scher and Connor Perrett reported.
Durkan issued an executive order on Wednesday that declared demonstrators gathered in the autonomous zone unlawful, marking the final hours of the two-week occupation.
More than 100 heavily armed police officers descended on the area early Wednesday morning after the order was announced, arresting several dozen demonstrators and overturning portable toilets.
Insider’s Haven Orecchio-Egresitz reported that the department tweeted the officers were armed “because individuals associated w/the CHOP are known to be armed and dangerous/may be associated with shootings, homicides, robberies, assaults & other violent crimes.”
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