The Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP), formerly known as the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ), is a nine-acre community for Black Lives Matter protestors and allies. It’s located in the Capitol Hill neighborhood in Seattle, Washington.
CHOP is currently police-free and has stirred up a lot of media buzz for its hippie and utopian vibes. But what is CHOP all about? And what is its fate?
How CHOP Was Born
Even before the current Black Lives Matter protests, the neighborhood was known as a safe space for artists, businesses and members of the LGBTQIA+ community. As a result of protests and social distancing, the community was boarded up and residents and customers remained home. In the wake of the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor and countless others, the community decided to take action.
The zone was established as a place of refuge from the Seattle Police Department, who have come under fire for pepper-spraying a young child. Protestors barricaded a few blocks in Capitol Hill, displaying the message, “YOU ARE ENTERING FREE CAP HILL.” Many of the protesters spray-painted over the word “police” with the word “people,” as CHOP is home to a Seattle precinct that has now been abandoned.
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I was sent to check out the vibe at the #CHOP earlier today, after an early Saturday morning shooting left one young man dead and another person in critical condition. It was quiet and somber when I went. A man I spoke with broke down into tears. #CHOP #CHAZ #chopseattle #seattle
As we can see from articles and accounts from demonstrators, CHOP is not the city of Seattle’s attempt at seceding from the United States. Contrary to popular rhetoric, the community is based on the foundations of “co-op, not cop,” and prides itself on being a police-free space.
The area was initially called CHAZ, but was renamed to CHOP to reflect the goal of the original Black Lives Matter protest. It has become a place of refuge for protestors as they exercise their rights.
Living in the Neighborhood
Capitol Hill businesses have adapted to accommodate the sea of people who walk through the Autonomous Zone every day. The area is lined with tents for Black Lives Matter protestors; some individuals provide free food, water and shelter for the protesters — Ben and Jerry’s ice cream trucks have even appeared. For CHOP residents who want to give back to the community and also have a green thumb, CHOP has a garden that is accessible to all community members.
However, many who live in the community have started to see CHOP as an annoyance, mainly due to the volume of organized protests. “It just feels like I’m next to the Eiffel Tower,” one resident said to a local reporter.
Additionally, a Capitol Hill resident posted on a public forum that she has been harassed for leaving her residence and feels trapped by the recent protests. The resident, who supports Black Lives Matter, has found the situation overwhelming and confusing.
Nevertheless, activists have turned CHOP into a home for Black Lives Matter supporters. But CHOP will not last forever. In actuality, the space and the demonstration itself have become incredibly fragile. Due to incidents ranging from robberies to a recent death, what has been known for being a peaceful space may soon become city property again.
Dismantling the Zone
Once a peaceful neighborhood, CHOP has become a hotspot for violence in the city of Seattle. On June 14, an individual was found breaking into an auto shop in the community, and there were two shootings over the weekend that resulted in one man dead. Since the space is cop-free, police were unable to respond to both attacks.
On June 22, the City of Seattle declared that the Seattle Police Department would be returning to their precinct. This change has resulted in many issues for CHOP — the space once frequented by Indigenous people singing and dancing is once again returning to the city government.
On June 23, at five in the morning, a third shooting occurred in the community, leaving many protestors and allies in distress. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan called the acts “unacceptable” and said the events distracted from the purpose of the organized protest.
This banner which was at the entrance to the #CHOP last time I saw it, was just drilled onto the plywood of SPD’s East Precinct: “We’re not leaving until our demands are met.” #seattleprotest pic.twitter.com/n8MQNRMJyG
— Jake Goldstein-Street (@GoldsteinStreet) June 23, 2020
President Trump has been very vocal about the protests and stated that the CHOP participants are “anarchists” and detrimental to society. He also called out Mayor Durkan for allowing this event to occur. At his rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Trump stated that this is what the “radical left Democrats will do to our country.”
No matter if you think CHOP is a haven for protestors or a ploy by the radical left, it’s clear that the zone and the movement have sparked conversations across the country. Is this the revolution that America has been looking for?
Other Cities Following Suit
In Washington D.C., masked protestors recently carried construction equipment to create “BHAZ,” the Black House Autonomous Zone, near Lafayette Square. The demands of the group are clear: abolish the police state and end systemic racism for good.
In response to the president’s photo op outside of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, protestors spray-painted “BHAZ” in white paint over a black background. Outside of the church, protestors erected tents and tarps and even began “Earl’s First Amendment Grill,” which provided free food to demonstrators.
On June 22, BHAZ community members attempted to tear down a statue of President Andrew Jackson, resulting in D.C. police invading the area with tear gas. The next day brought an unsatisfactory result for protestors, as police seized the area once again. Still, tents, tarps and barricades remain.
Many believe that this is not the end of BHAZ. Demonstrators are hopeful that other autonomous zones will appear across the country. One thing is certain — Black Lives Matter isn’t going anywhere, as people continue to fight for reform and a new America.