On May 28th, protesters in Minneapolis, Minnesota, took over a police precinct and burned it to the ground after days of intense demonstrations against racism and police brutality. Similar protests have erupted across the United States in recent weeks as people show solidarity with the struggle in Minneapolis and air their own grievances about their experiences with police in their neighborhoods. Seattle, Washington, a city with a tradition of radical activism, has quickly become another hotspot for protests in recent weeks. Protesters were gathered outside of a police precinct in one of the town’s most politically radical communities for several days, until police finally left and abandoned their post on Monday night.
However, instead of breaking the windows to the precinct and burning it to the ground, the protesters gathered outside of the building for hours and debated on how to handle the situation. The protesters ultimately decided to leave the police station standing, which was likely a surprise to the officers, who had left behind pallets and wood, almost as if they were inviting the protesters to burn the building down. Although, some pranksters did put the building up for rent on Craigslist, noting in the listing that the former tenants were bad neighbors.
Instead of burning the police department down, the activists began dismantling the barricades around the building and repurposed them for their own encampment in the capitol hill neighborhood, which has traditionally been a gathering place for the activist and LGBTQ community. They declared the region a cop-free autonomous zone, and have taken on a public service role in the community, giving away food and water to homeless people and establishing community patrols to replace the police. All of the residents and businesses in the area, most of whom are on the same page politically anyway, have agreed to the new arrangement.
Six blocks of downtown Seattle have now been declared the ‘Free Capitol Hill Zone’ or ‘Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone’ (CHAZ).
I’m outside of the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct for @townhallcom. Police have pulled out of the area and protesters have set up barricades in the streets. They have declared it a “Cop Free Zone.” pic.twitter.com/iYFQ9B4jhz
— Julio Rosas (@Julio_Rosas11) June 9, 2020
Protesters have put on the barricades that those coming into the area are “now leaving the USA” and entering the “Cap Hill autonomous zone” or “Free Capitol Hill.” pic.twitter.com/zGNBYAyLOg
— Julio Rosas (@Julio_Rosas11) June 9, 2020
— FERAL ASSWOLF (@SluttyPuppyTown) June 9, 2020
Visited the autonomous Capitol Hill in #Seattle this morning
Absolutely unreal energy there- organizers are protecting the barricades by sitting peacefully.
Food, water, ponchos, and medical supplies everywhere. People listening to music and talking. It’s wonderful. pic.twitter.com/uEvoB9A0r2
— Peachy Keen (@CreamPeachesand) June 9, 2020
After days of violent clashes between police and protesters in Capitol Hill, the streets are now peaceful and filled with people engaged in various activities, from serving food for the homeless to screening documentaries.
— Ava DuVernay (@ava) June 10, 2020
There is no doubt that the actions of the Seattle activists shocked the police, who were expecting, and probably hoping for them to cause destruction and chaos. Before leaving, the police had removed all of the essential equipment from the building and abandoned it as a sacrifice, but they weren’t expecting this level of restraint on the part of the protesters.
Pay attention to Seattle.
After days of protest the police abandoned the center of town.
What happened next? People set up barricades, bathrooms, handed out food + water.
Police want you to think that without them there will be chaos. But what if without them there was peace?
— Joshua Potash (@JoshuaPotash) June 9, 2020
Later, Mayor Jenny Durkan called for the barricades to be removed from the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, and activists responded by protesting at city hall and calling for her resignation.
— Jake Goldstein-Street (@GoldsteinStreet) June 10, 2020
The protesters have the support of Seattle Councilwoman Kshama Sawant, who was involved in the discussions outside of the precinct after it was liberated on Monday night. It’s unclear how long it will be before the government attempts to reclaim the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, but for now, everyone has their eyes on what could be one of the most interesting social experiments of our generation.