The Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP) is feeling the burden of leadership, and as they aim to implement order, they are finding themselves caught in the same trap as the city they are seeking to occupy. In short, the CHOP activists are creating a ghetto in the zone, a place to put undesirables to keep them away from the good activists so that work is not hindered by drug addicts and poor behaviour.
A statement released by Voices of CHOP, one of the official handles for the protest that claims to be “BIPOC and white ally volunteers and activists” proposes new guidelines for the occupied area.
It reads, in part:
"It has been made immensely clear that we need to help our community with drug/alcohol use with the CHOP. We want to discuss the idea of safe use areas near the outskirts of CHOP and different signage (that we are willing to provide) encouraging intoxicated folx to: a) keep safe distance away from CHOP while intoxicated, b) seek help if needed white stating free resources/helplines fr mental health and substance abuse."
The CHOP is becoming a mini version of Seattle itself, facing those same issues the city has, and dealing with them... in the same way the city has. The CHOP mirrors many of Seattle's incessant social problems. Seattle has been coping with open air drug use across the city, trying to come up with solutions. The city has been vilified by its newest occupiers, but they are faring no better in their attempts to mitigate these problems.
Homeless encampments have sprung up near needle exchange sites and clinics. Boxes of hundreds of unused needles have been found when encampments are cleared and used needles litter sidewalks, parks and even cemeteries. As a proposed solutions, Seattle officials set money aside for a mobile injection site even though injection sites in Seattle have faced backlash from community residents and federal officials.
CHOP is proposing safe injection sites as well, and just as with the broader city, they want those spaces to be separate from the rest of the community. CHOP occupiers don't want their good works to be disrupted by drug-addicts who can't control themselves while under the influence. Seattle residents feel the same way.
Cal Anderson Park, which the city recently spent millions of dollars upgrading with a turf field and more is now becoming a growing homeless encampment. Residents camp in tents and exhibit behaviour of inebriation. They have been seen harassing people, defecating in public and stealing from local businesses.
Seattle’s homeless population is the 3rd largest in the united states behind Los Angeles and New York but the highest based on a per capita scale. Theft by this population in the downtown corridor before coronavirus led to many stores permanently closing. The occupiers of CHOP appear to be experiencing the same problems as the retailers downtown
Fights and scuffles inside the CHOP have been attributed to many things ranging from gang violence to drug and alcohol use. CHOP occupiers have proposed a curfew to help deal with it. In their missive, they write:
"The late hours of CHOP tend to give way to some problematic behaviour as well. As such, to help lessen the load of overnight volunteer security, medics, and residents we propose suggested CHOP hours of 8am-8pm. This way organizers, supply tents, education/petition tents, medic stations, and other resources at CHOP can be together when needed to seek community, organize and protests. These suggested hours would hopefully:
"a. Thin out the bodies at CHOP to just those intended for peace keeping and occupy purposes. b. Encourage those protesting and keeping the message alive to REST. Which is important to keeping our community healthy and level headed as well."
This will not be intended to stop marches and outside events/efforts outside of these hours but it will, hopefully, encourage CHOP to stop being a chaotic, immobile zone in the late/early morning hours.
Now that police are gone, and Seattle leadership has basically abandoned the area, CHOP occupiers are finding that they are still plagued by the social ills of violence, drug-addiction, and other anti-social behaviours. This despite the fact that they have formed this new occupied zone with the intention of curing those social problems that have plagued American metropolises since oh, the beginning of time perhaps.
Over the weekend, there were two shootings in the CHOP. Shortly after the shooting early Sunday morning which left 1 dead and another injured CHOP released a statement to KOMO News and other outlets saying that the individuals involved in the shooting may have had previous history and that it seemed to escalated because of "gang affiliations".
Video taken moments before the shooting show a fight in the CHOP which witnesses say may have been what led to the deadly showing which left a 19 year old dead.
Yet, despite video evidence to the contrary, many assumed that these bad actors were committing acts of violence in service to a white supremacist ideology. These speculations on social media had nothing to back it up other than a steadfast belief that without police and democratic representation the social ills would disappear and criminal activity would stop altogether.
Activists who support the CHOP downplay the violence in the zone. According to David Preston from Safe Seattle “They feel justified in threatening us when we make a true statement about violence at the camp and it makes readers mad, but they take no responsibility when they've stirred their people up with an inflammatory statement and it turns out to be false.”
While activists give cover to criminals and push a false narrative, the real perpetrators are still at large and violence is growing. There are multiple videos every night of violence in the CHOP among the different groups in the occupation with clearly visible facial features and are often posted from the social media of the perpetrators themselves. Last night was another shooting in the CHOP. Witnesses describe a possible drive by shooting.
The cell phone of someone streaming the CHOP during the shooting was even stolen by CHOP security. Not only has CHOP recreated a police force in the absence of the one they wish to defund, they have created their own medical area as well, and a command area in tents outside the Rancho Bravo restaurant.
In leaving society behind, they have created a new one, and attempted to provide those same amenities that broader society has also attempted to provide.
CHOP occupiers are little different from those occupiers who came before—instilling fear of harm in those who already live in the area, making existing enterprises close, repurposing the area for their own needs despite existing residents and their needs or wants, making a security force, creating a ghetto for undesirables, and making laws to protect the new occupiers from bad actors.
After the shooting Sunday morning, first responders could not access the scene because City of Seattle standard operating procedure includes police securing a scene for EMS and the fire department. Police were blocked from entering the zone by CHOP activists so medical teams could not enter to help the victims. CHOP's medical area was not up to the task of providing care for gunshot victims.
Others have laid the blame for the violence directly on CHOP organizers. In an interview with Q13 news Stacy who is the Godmother of Lorenzo Anderson the 19 year old victim of the shooting Sunday said: “You just messed up your whole movement because you should’ve sat up here and been protecting him.” She continued “You guys let a black life go in your so-called ‘Black Lives Matter’ protest on the street. Come on now. I’m trying to understand, why wouldn’t you let 911 medics in to help him. You all picked him up. He could’ve still been breathing. We don’t know that.”
Seattle Police were operating at 60 percent of capacity before the mass protests and riots in the wake of the death of George Floyd. Meanwhile with the abandonment of Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct, crime in the CHOP has skyrocketed to 250 percent of normal.
This statement by individuals in the CHOP appears to be the first time the violence is being publicly recognized by CHOP leadership. With the East Police precinct still shuttered, a growing homeless encampment in the CHOP and nightly violence, this statement seems nothing more than an acknowledgement of what many already knew.
The ills of society cannot be solved with good intentions, instead the problems of broader society will be recreated in microcosm. And as CHOP tries to solve the problems in the exact same way that Seattle itself has tried to solve them before it, perhaps they will realize that there is a reason for law, law enforcement, and organizations that both help those who need it and protect those who wish to live in a just and reasonable way.