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On Tuesday, the Seattle Department of Transportation began installing concrete barriers to reinforce the boundaries of the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP), the occupied zone formerly known as the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ). These concrete barriers replaced those that had been erected by the city's newest occupiers.
According to an announcement regarding the work from Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan:
“Over the past week, conversations continued between City officials, organizers onsite for the CHOP, residents and businesses. The City is committed to maintaining space for community to come to together, protest and exercise their first amendment rights. Minor changes to the protest zone will implement safer and sturdier barriers to protect individuals in this area, allow traffic to move throughout the Capitol Hill neighbourhood, ease access for residents of apartment building in the surrounding areas, and help local businesses manage deliveries and logistics.”
Though occupiers in the CHOP have published their list of demands previously, it appears as if now those demands are changing. Occupiers now appear to want to keep the area closed for demonstration purposes and convert the abandoned Seattle Police East Precinct to a community centre. These demands have been echoed by Marxist Seattle City Council Member and police abolitionist Kshama Sawant.
Now Mayor Durkan seems to give in to those demands:
“Every day, Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins, Seattle Department of Transportation Director Sam Zimbabwe, and Seattle Public Utilities General Manager Mami Hara have been on site. On Sunday, they ?held a meeting with onsite organizers, small businesses, and residents to discuss proposed changes to the protest zone. In coordination with protesters onsite, work began at 6:30 a.m. on Tuesday to remove a tent barrier at 10th and Pine and replace it with a sturdier concrete barrier to improve public safety.
"The City has successfully worked with protesters onsite to reconfigure the CHOP to allow for public safety and better access for the local community. That has involved rerouting traffic, freeing up alley access, opened streets, and replacing makeshift barriers with heavy concrete barriers that can be painted. The area adjacent to Cal Anderson park on Pine between 10th and 11th will remain closed. This street is now home to the Black Lives Matter street art.”
This is not the first time the Mayor has unilaterally closed streets of the city with no public comment or an open transparent process. In May, the Mayor and SDOT permanently closed over 20 miles of Seattle streets to vehicles to allow people home under stay at home orders from coronavirus to “People have more ways to get out safely and get out and walk and bike,”
Before the stay at home orders, the Mayor and SDOT were under fire from residents opposed to reductions in traffic lanes due to installation of bike lanes and street alterations which caused increases in commute times and heavy traffic to enter residential areas because of drivers trying to avoid “road diets” Residents called the moves a “war on cars”.
The Mayor and SDOT appear to be using the occupation to further a radical agenda and at the same time appease armed militant groups that have taken control of the neighborhood. The Mayor’s announcement discusses working with Black Lives Matter, Urban League, Choose 180, Not This Time, Africatown Protestors but makes no mention of Antifa or the John Brown Gun Club who make up the armed wing of the occupation.
The Mayor’s announcement claims that: “Minor changes to the protest zone will implement safer and sturdier barriers to protect individuals in this area, allow traffic to move throughout the Capitol Hill neighborhood, ease access for residents of apartment building in the surrounding areas, and help local businesses manage deliveries and logistics.
Additionally, all plans have been crafted with the goal of allowing access for emergency personnel including fire trucks.” The post went on to say that “The Seattle Police Department will dispatch to respond to significant life-safety issues in the area. The Seattle Police Department’s definition of life-safety issues may include an active shooter incident, an assault, a structure fire, significant medical emergency (i.e. heart attack, stroke, trauma) and other incidents that threaten a person’s life safety.“
This is following dozens of videos on social media depicting violence in the CHOP without a police presence and militants violently enforcing their own whims on occupants. This culminated in an incident Sunday night when an army of activists stormed an auto shop a block outside the CHOP, knocking down gate and entered the property. The owners of the property have said that they called 911 repeatedly and no one ever responded.
Though CNN, the Seattle Times and other media outlets have tried to downplay the violence inside the CHOP and describe the area as a “street fair” or “block party” during the day, every night brings new video of violence and armed militants in the zone.
Business owners and residents have said that they cannot operate in the CHOP and that they are afraid for their safety. One resident telling me today that they do not go outside after 8pm unless armed.
Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best has stated that "Rapes, robberies and all sorts of violent acts have been occurring in the area and we're not able to get to [them]." #capitolhillautonomouszone #antifa #BlackLivesMatter"
Mayor Durkan appears to have embraced the narrative of the militant occupiers. “Preserving a space for demonstrators to come together is one of several actions the City has taken to respond to the community’s call for change. Over the last two weeks, Mayor Durkan has prioritized meeting with community leaders and demonstration organizers, heard their concerns, and is committed to enduring systemic changes to reimagine what policing looks like in Seattle and to addressing systemic racism.”
With the eyes of the world on the occupation of six blocks in Seattle and questioning how and when it will end, it appears that the mayor and other elected officials are continuing to give in to the demands of the militants and that the occupation is on its way to becoming a permanent fixture.