When protesters in Seattle established a “Cop Free Zone” in the East Precinct, taking over city blocks, setting up barricades, and calling on armed guards to secure their location, they declared themselves to be an independent, sovereign nation that rejected all U.S. laws.
We’ll see how long that lasts…
The takeover is the latest development in a string of protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Last weekend, the protests erupted into violence, as the police were forced to respond after being pelted with water bottles, rocks and projectiles.
Seattle @MayorJenny is allowing a dangerous situation to fester. #Antifa militants have taken over & created an “autonomous zone” in city w/their own rules. Police precinct abandoned. Antifa set up barricades to create a border. Calling for volunteers to provide armed guard. pic.twitter.com/ksQI4NI5kP
— Andy Ngô (@MrAndyNgo) June 9, 2020
The Black Lives Matter movement has since accused the police of using “unnecessary violence” against the protesters, filing a lawsuit on Tuesday that says the Seattle Police Department (SPD) has allegedly shown “overwhelming and unconstitutional use of force to discourage these protesters from exercising their constitutional rights.” (Related: Black Lives Matter declares war on police, mobilizing highly trained “military” arm to patrol cities.)
CHAZ – an imagined country
After the SPD and the National Guard boarded up and pulled out of the East Precinct, rioters descended upon the neighborhood and called it the “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone,” or CHAZ. The so-called autonomous region – neither a legal region nor an area recognized by any government – comprises a six-block area in Capitol Hill that has been blocked off by protesters, according to police.
The area is filled with hand-written messages, including “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone” and “You are now leaving the USA.” Other messages were scrawled across a plastic barrier were “Welcome to Free Cap Hill” and “No Cops Allowed.”
On Twitter, protesters praised the takeover, saying that it’s “a revolution” and that it was made “for the people.” Others have shifted blame to the police, insisting they instigated the riots and touting that their absence turned the zone into a “peaceful George Floyd memorial.” Some have even said that the absence of law enforcement in the area did not mean that it was a “lawless place,” as evidenced by the presence of a hotdog stand.
The SPD sent a memo to officers on Monday, instructing them to reopen the streets around the East Precinct and allow the demonstrators to march past the building to Capitol Hill.
In a press conference in the East Precinct the following day, SPD Chief Carmen Best talked with rioters to defuse the situation.
“How we can keep people safe, first of all, but also how we might find some resolution,” Best asked a protester.
Others, in particular, questioned Seattle’s first black police chief about the use of tear gas on Monday, three days after she announced a 30-day ban.
“The only time we react in any kind of way is when the officers are taking rocks and bottles,” she answered. “We had 25 people injured. I don’t want officers injured. I don’t want the community injured.”
For her part, Best said that she wants a peaceful dialogue between the police and protesters. City officials have removed the barricades but left some behind after protesters insisted.
“I think the minor things we disagree on [are] them blocking the street, the very thing people ask us not to do, they are doing,” she added.
Law enforcement battle with ongoing riots – and COVID-19
In Washington D.C., members of the National Guard who responded to the protests last week tested positive for COVID-19, further complicating the country’s efforts to reopen its economy amid the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic.
While the National Guard will not release the exact caseload, officials who have knowledge of the matter believe that it isn’t a large number.
D.C. officials say that last weekend’s protests were among the largest that the district has seen yet. However, many of the protesters did not observe social distancing and did not wear masks, which might have placed law enforcement units at risk of infection.
In a statement, Brooke Davis, spokesperson for the National Guard, reminded Guard troops to wear protective equipment and observe social distancing.
The U.S. still tops the global caseload for COVID-19, with 1,979,893 confirmed cases and 112,006 deaths as of Tuesday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.