The CAPITOL Hill Autonomous Zone, better known by its acronym CHAZ, is the latest phenomenon stemming from mass protests against police violence in the U.S., sparked by the brutal murder of unarmed African-American George Floyd.
For some, it is the illegally occupied neighborhood of Seattle and another symptom of the loss of control, concessions and retreat of local authorities, led by opposition Democrats, in the face of militant leftists, or anarchists. The controversial but very popular Fox News host Tucker Carlson sarcastically described it as a new, 196-independent country in the world.
It was founded, he says, by “a group of people with no useful skills, no success or personal hygiene, a group capable of breaking windows and setting fires, but nothing else,” alluding to arson, smashing and clashes with police in which, according to the Donald Trump administration and some city and police officials, including the director of the FBI, were actively involved by members of the Antifa movement. Trump even announced that he would declare Antifa a terrorist organization, but none of that happened, apparently because there is no legal basis for such a move.
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Trump even threatened Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, a Democrat, last week that she would send the military to regain control of this “autonomous zone.”
“This is not a game. These nasty anarchists must stop NOW. DO IT QUICKLY,” Durkan Mayor and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said on Twitter. Durkan didn’t owe him anything – she told him she couldn’t understand that “listening community is not a weakness but a strength ”.
“It’s not an armed occupation. It’s not a military junta. We will ensure a return there, but we have street parties and the like in that part of Seattle all the time … There is no public threat at the moment,” she added.
“Protect us. Return to your bunker,” she told him also on Twitter, alluding to his brief stint in a bunker under the White House on May 29 at the suggestion of the Secret Service, which concluded the situation had become dangerous because of White House protesters.
>> Trump on Twitter threatened to take Seattle, the mayor replied
A mixture of protests, communes and street parties
But for others, including the protesters themselves who have established this “autonomous zone” and those who support them, it is an experiment in direct democracy, self-government and mutual assistance, with alternatives to organizing local communities on the ground, without police and other forms of state repression. . In this way, they put into practice what they demand at the national level – the abolition of the police, ie the redirection of funds for the same to public needs such as mental health, social work, rehabilitation of homelessness, addiction and poverty.
>> Will America abolish the police?
Mayor Durkan described the zone as a “street party”, and when asked how long she intends to allow it to take place, she replied: “I don’t know. Maybe we’ll have a Summer of Love.”
Summer of Love is, of course, the famous summer of 1967, when the hippie movement was at its peak and established a kind of commune in San Francisco’s Height-Ashbury neighborhood – with plenty of music, spirituality, psychedelic drugs, political opposition to the Vietnam War and “free love.” .
And indeed, judging by the media reports, CHAZ is more reminiscent of a hippie commune than of scenes of riots and violence for which the Antifa movement has become infamous.
And the “autonomous zone” in the Capitol Hill neighborhood in Seattle arose precisely from the vacuum that the police created by their withdrawal from the police station there. She did so at the behest of the mayor, after a full nine days of street fighting between police and protesters. Although neither side reached for firearms, police used aggressive, “less lethal” means, such as tear gas and stun grenades. flash bang), while protesters threw stones, bottles and firecrackers at them.
Police continued to use tear gas even after the mayor announced a 30-day ban on it. On June 7, police barricaded a station in the neighborhood, and on the same day, a man in a car crashed into protesters and got out of the car and fired a gun at them. He eventually turned himself in to police. No one was hurt, thankfully.
Protesters took power in the neighborhood when police withdrew from the station
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Police in riot gear stormed a rally on Friday, removing hundreds of protesters by truck. Mayor Durkan described it as an attempt to “de-escalate the interaction between protesters and police”. Protesters quickly moved police barricades to the edges of the “zone” to prevent police from returning and unwanted guests from entering a small area spanning just 6 apartment blocks.
Capitol Hill was an ideal location for this kind of social experiment also because it was already a well-known gathering place for anarchists, the LGBT community, and related subcultures. It was this neighborhood that was the center of the famous protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle in 1999, as well as the Occupy Seattle protests of 2011.
Activists say that the name CHAZ itself came about as a kind of joke, that is, as a meme that soon became a reality. But the situation soon became more complicated, and the problems these utopians faced became a kind of meme and a subject of ridicule on the right.
“We are the shelf of this community now”
Less than 48 hours after the establishment of CHAZ, footage and testimonies of an armed group, led by African-American rapper Raz Simone, took control of the zone, harassing other protesters and even extorting “voluntary contributions” from local shops and cafes. and restaurants. One footage also shows this group physically attacking a masked man drawing graffiti on the wall of a local business, ignoring their orders to stop.
“We are the shelf of this community now,” Simone and his patrol say before physically attacking him. He also allegedly attacked an amateur journalist, although this journalist later published a video in which he claims that there are no problems between them and that they have resolved their disputes.
Just so everyone knows there is NO ISSUE with me and @RazSimone we discussed our issues as men last night and are here both supporting #WeWantToLive as brothers today. Don’t get distracted. It’s all ONE LOVE. #WWConverge pic.twitter.com/zu8584BrMs
– Omari Salisbury (@Omarisal) June 7, 2020
Although police said they had received information about intimidation and extortion, they later clarified that they had not received any official complaints, and the Seattle Employers Association also said it had found no evidence of extortion from local businesses.
Raz Simone – CHAZ military commander?
On social media, Simone was soon dubbed the military commander of CHAZ, comparing the situation to the anarchy that often occurs in civil wars and opens up space for the power of commanders of local paramilitary groups. Right-wingers called him a terrorist, and even a left-wing version of Osama bin Laden. Simone, on the other hand, denies such accusations, and in interviews for various media, the impression she leaves is quite different from the right-wing caricature that has spread on social networks.
A Forbes reporter interviewing him described him as “free-spirited, intelligent, enlightened,” with “thoughtful suggestions for initiating proactive and positive change” and “passionate about achieving racial equality and justice”. In addition to being a rapper, Simone is engaged in renting her real estate in Seattle. In an interview, he explained that weapons and barricades were needed, citing examples of right-wing armed attacks on protesters. Interestingly, he himself insists that he does not want to abolish the police, but to give them a “different purpose,” abolishing its militarization.
Problems with the homeless, planting a garden, maintaining order …
Media reports from CHAZ, in which journalists and numerous tourists and curious people enter freely, talk about free film screenings and concerts. political speeches, poetry evenings, and children drawing in chalk on the street.
“We had an impromptu border guard game. We have people smoking weed in circles … and having a normal conversation, and ten meters away you have a group of people standing in a circle around someone talking about Marxism with a megaphone,” recounts one protester a typical day at CHAZ for Vox.
For more conservative commentators and the media, however, CHAZ is something between a hippie auto-parody, with an “urban garden” planted by someone who obviously doesn’t know too much about gardening, and a dark “no go” zone that threatens to sink into violence and chaos. The topic of delight was also the news that the protesters invited the homeless to their zone, only to later complain that these homeless people had stolen all the food – of course, vegan – that they had stored. But supplies have since been replenished, and the garden has been expanded.
The Cal Anderson garden started by Marcus Henderson has grown to four plots with info tents for people who want to get involved. Moms in here planting with their kids. #CHAZ https://t.co/gRWASqlHcT pic.twitter.com/XVD32Gu6dy
– Chase Burns (@chaseburnsy) June 13, 2020
Fox News, on the other hand, was forced to apologize after posting several articles on its page about CHAZ-mounted photos suggesting arson and riots – but these are photos from earlier riots, before CHAZ was even established. A special topic of ridicule on social media was one of Fox’s posts in which they read a message about an “anarcho-unionist commune,” completely unaware that it was a quote from the famous Monty Python and the Holy Grail movie.
BREAKING: No one @FoxNews has ever seen @montypython & The Holy Grail. 😂 #runit #goodjournalism #factchecking pic.twitter.com/46sKRh4qQi
– John Cleese (@JohnCleese) June 15, 2020
Duplicate impressions are perhaps best illustrated by the reaction to the entrance to an abandoned police station, where protesters wrote “folk” instead of the word “police” above the door. For some it is a symbol of a more just and less violent social alternative, and for others just the opposite.
Protesters, meanwhile, have decided to change their name to CHOP – the Capitol Hill Organized Protest – just to avoid accusations that they want to “separate” from the rest of the US. But there is no doubt that this unusual “autonomous zone” will continue to provoke drastically split reactions.