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Despite media reports that everything is fine within the so-called Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ) in Seattle, both business and owners and residents report being afraid. In the occupied six-block area where protestors and the homeless have made camp, businesses have had difficulty getting trucks or other vehicles through the make-shift barricades.
One of those businesses is Trader Joe’s, which announced on June 13 that its Capitol Hill location would be closed indefinitely due to ongoing unrest in the area. The location had been offering senior citizen shopping hours throughout the pandemic, but the occupation became too much for them.
A CHAZ security guard who was interviewed by The Post Millennial said that the streets were now “…open to the community” while standing near barricades, fencing and guards for the six-block occupied territory.
Many storefronts are now covered with tents and makeshift structures with people sleeping in doorways. Some store owners wishing to remain anonymous have said that despite the claims by activists operating the Capitol Hill Occupation Protest (CHOP), which is now the occupiers new name for the area once known as the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, or CHAZ, employees are afraid to come in, owners are worried about ongoing unrest or damage and customers have not been attending establishments.
One look around the CHOP, anyone can see that there is barely a surface without graffiti, and homeless tents are everywhere. On Friday there was even a person wielding a machete running around after people al Cal Anderson Park which is inside the zone.
One business owner said: "They have set up their own free food giveaways and some are even selling their own food on the street so no one is coming in. The free food is also attracting the homeless."
There appears to be an attempt by media outlets and the occupiers themselves to whitewash the violence of the past week.
Despite this, the CHOP/CHAZ has been portrayed positively by outlets media outlets. The Seattle Times wrote a piece describing the militant occupied CHAZ, making no mention of the barriers installed to occupy a six-block radius. This occupied zone is complete with armed guards checking ID, "stop and frisk” measures, and assaults on reporters and others.
But here is how the The Seattle Times describes the scene:
“Welcome to the CHAZ, the newly named Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, where most everything was free Tuesday. Free snacks at the No-Cop Co-op. Free gas masks from some guy’s sedan. Free speech at the speaker’s circle, where anyone could say their piece. A free documentary movie — Ava DuVernay’s “13th” — showing after dark.
“A Free Capitol Hill, according to no shortage of spray paint on building facades. And perhaps most important to demonstrators, the neighborhood core was free of uniformed police.
“A new protest society — centered on a handful of blocks in Seattle’s quirky, lefty Capitol Hill — has been born from the demonstrations that pushed the Seattle Police Department out of its East Precinct building.”
That same day, Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best said that 911 response times had tripled in the area from 5 minutes to over 18 minutes and that “Rapes, robberies and all sorts of violent acts have been occurring in the area and we're not able to get to [them].”
The Zone houses more than businesses. There are many apartments in the area. Some buildings have hired their own security guards for residents and property.
On Saturday, the Daily Caller posted an interview with a Capitol Hill Resident named “Brandon” who said “I’ve been scared every day since Sunday, and I haven’t gotten a lot of sleep. For the first time in my life in Capitol Hill, I hear gunshots every single night. I’ve heard people screaming every single night outside. And they’re not protest screams … I’ve also heard screams of terror out there, and I don’t know what’s happening out there.”
Assistant Seattle Police Chief Deanna Nollette said at a press conference on Wednesday: “We have heard, anecdotally, reports of citizens and businesses being asked to pay a fee to operate within this area. This is the crime of extortion. If anyone has been subjected to this, we need them to call 911.”
In the preceding days local media were quoting SPD officials who were claiming business were being asked to pay a fee to operate in the area. In a press conference Thursday SPD Chief Carmen Best appeared to walk back those comments by saying they only have the status of rumor while reiterating her call that if it is happening to report incidents to the police.
The narrative coming out of supporters and organizers of the CHOP/CHAD downplays the many videos on social media of violence, armed guards at checkpoints into the region and intimidation of some visitors and media in the zone.
The ongoing violence and chaos in the zone has residents and business owners wondering when the occupation will end. Many have compared the situation to the Occupy Wall Street protest in Zuccotti Park in New York City.
The occupation of Zuccotti park eventually ended months later because of growing sanitary concerns and crime. Seattle officials are currently providing porta potties, washing stations, trash removal and other utilities as part of ongoing negotiations with the protestors causing residents and business owners to worry that there may be no end in sight to the occupation. On Sunday Night protestors appeared at the front of Seattle’s West police precinct which houses the city’s 911 center vowing to be back with more protestors, while comparing their cause to the French revolution.
With no end in sight, the tent cities in the area growing larger, the ongoing crime and damage to property plus more riots potentially on the way, residents and businesses have begun exploring options to move out of the area.