The ‘CHAZ’ Poses Problems, But Not For Seattle Police

A recent byproduct, and national sensation, of the recent Black Lives Matter protests is the sudden formation of the so-called Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, otherwise known as the CHAZ. While most of the hype surrounding the CHAZ is little more than media sensationalism, and even outright propaganda, during an election year, the police-free zone is certainly causing frustration for nearby locals.

Photo courtesy of Kyle Kotajarvi

Encompassing six commercial and residential blocks in the heart of Seattle’s trendy Capitol Hill neighborhood, the CHAZ spooled into existence after officers and staff suddenly abandoned the east precinct police station. BLM protesters then seized upon the opportunity to create an autonomous zone built on community, respect, and diversity. Since its formation, the CHAZ has hosted movie nights, dodgeball tournaments, and has even opened its doors to Seattle’s homeless population.

However, as well-intentioned as the CHAZ may be, it is posing problems for the Capitol Hill neighborhood, one of the most popular and hip locations in Seattle. Not only are six blocks of streets now off limits to motor vehicles, local residents are expressing real concerns about safety. Rumors of armed guards in the area continue to spread as some business owners fear the situation could quickly descend into chaos.

Rising Crime in the Seattle CHAZ

Without a regular police presence in the area, more unprincipled occupants of the CHAZ have begun to take advantage. A nearby auto shop was vandalized overnight by CHAZ protesters. The storefront was nearly set on fire and money was stolen from the cash register. The owner John McDermott and his son managed to put out the fire and chase down the alleged arsonist. But after several 911 calls for assistance, neither the police nor even the fire department bothered to arrive. The protester even attempted to injure McDermott’s son with a boxcutter as they waited for the police to arrive.

“I don’t know what to expect next,” said McDermott. “If you can’t call the police department, you can’t call the fire department to respond, what do you have? [I’m] heartbroken. I mean, they are the cavalry.”

After other protesters intervened, McDermott had no choice but to let the detained protester free. Both McDermott’s son and a number of the protesters were armed, so the situation could have escalated if cooler heads hadn’t prevailed.

Until the situation in the CHAZ is resolved, Seattleites who live in and around the Capitol Hill neighborhood should be on guard and should not expect police officers to arrive if they are needed. Driving in the area was complicated enough before the Chaz, so if you get in a car accident today don’t expect a police report to be filed. Without witnesses, liability could very well be a matter of your word against the other person who is involved in the accident.

Hopefully, a compromise can soon be found between city officials, the police, and CHAZ occupiers. In the meantime, stay vigilant out there, Seattle.

Update: Since the publication of this article two shootings have occurred in the CHAZ, claiming the life of one young man. Police and local leaders are meeting to determine a safe path forward for the area and the surrounding neighborhood.

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