The Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ) is once again in the national news, after a shooting late Friday night left one person dead and another in critical condition. For both hardline supporters and detractors of the movement this incident served as further proof of the necessity of the positions they are advocating – some CHAZ activists blamed the police for failing to protect them from what some alleged was a Juneteenth retaliatory attack from White Supremacists. Others, including many national Republicans, claimed that the attack was proof of the continued Leftist lawlessness and that Seattle PD needed to come in armed.
Both of the extreme reactions are, in fact, extreme – the police haven’t been permitted to enter the CHAZ, even after gunshots were reported. There is also no evidence suggesting the CHAZ Leftists as responsible for the violence. To the many angry conservatives pointing at CHAZ as the end of society as we know it – the most violent thing happening as part of the planned activities is the conversion of park green space into a garden.
For protesters, it is now time for the CHAZ occupants took a moment to figure out if their movement is accomplishing what really they want it to. Seattle as a city had been very quick to rally behind Black Lives Matter, and reform proposals are being kicked around at the highest level of city leadership. Those holed up on Capitol Hill have not been very focused with their demands, and their very presence in the park stands in contrast to at least some of their goals regarding socioeconomic and racial justice. The most stark example of this is how the protest has been at times hostile towards the homeless community that relies on the programs and park space available on Capitol Hill.
Hours before the shooting on Friday I spoke with guests of the program Community Lunch, an institution in Seattle that’s been providing free meals for over 35 years. Michael X, an elderly white male who’s been coming to the service for over two years spoke to me while polishing a string-less electric guitar.
“In the beginning [of the CHAZ movement] it was great” he explained. “There was free food everywhere, it was really easy to find a meal.” At this point, however, he feels uneasy in the area, saying that as a white guy he doesn’t feel particularly welcome in the protest. Other guests echoed this sentiment, reporting protestors had chased them out of the area for one reason or another.
With part of Seattle’s homeless and food insecure community uncomfortable in a park they normally rely on – and critical support systems moving out of the area out of safety concerns, the CHAZ protestors must now reconcile fighting for justice for marginalized communities while directly harming one of the city’s least powerful groups.