OPINION: CHOP Not the Beginning, and it’s Not the End

by Seattle Black Collective Voice

A man had been murdered by the police. A heartbreaking video of the killing had made it to the internet. Thousands watched as a policeman kneeled on George Floyd’s neck, while Mr. Floyd begged for his life in vain.  

Like protesters across the country, Seattle took a stand against police brutality only to experience more police brutality firsthand. Even non-protesters were harmed by the Seattle Police Department’s (SPD) negligence. On Capitol Hill, tear gas entered people’s homes and businesses, and the police did not care. 

SPD voluntarily abandoned Capitol Hill’s East Precinct, and the neighborhood tone changed to one of collaboration. In a city physically divided by wealth and class, people came together around a common goal: ending police violence against the Black community.

We are tired of individualized protests after each new murder. George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Tamir Rice, Charleena Lyles, Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor, Brayla Stone, Elijah McClain, Shaun Fuhr, Manuel Ellis and countless other names form a list too long to even grasp. And they are part of a long legacy of anti-Black violence.  We cannot let it continue. 

CHOP, the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (initially called CHAZ, the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone), became a space that fostered mutual aid, education, and direct action. CHOP emerged in response to the negligence of our elected officials and the entrenched culture of state-sanctioned violence against Black bodies. 

However, when officers vacated the East Precinct, we followed the social legacy of Black people throughout the diaspora and throughout our history. We channeled our righteous indignation into action. Our common experiences of police brutality and media misrepresentation brought us together as an empowered, defiant, and unified community.

The CHOP community had so much to offer. Facilitated by emerging leaders, daily People’s Assemblies provided a space for civil discourse that elevated community voices. Through murals and street art, our community broadcast a united message that Black Lives Matter. We provided meals free-of-charge at the No Cop Co-Op. We cultivated ecology and taught gardening skills with Black Star Farmers. We provided resources, shelter, and a safe place for some of the City’s unsheltered population. We provided spaces for discussion and education at the Decolonization Cafe and the Pay the Fee Library. Covid-19 Mutual id offered us a network of support. Our medic and security teams kept us safe and secure. 

We took care of one another and felt protected as thousands of Seattleites passed freely through CHOP each day, finding a positive space to protest — a space that offered an experience completely different from what the mainstream news media conveyed. At night, we had to stay vigilant due to constant threats of attack by white supremacist groups. CHOP was sometimes overwhelming and often unorganized, but everything fit together around a common goal: liberation. 

Then, in the early hours of June 20th, two young men fell victim to gun violence, a long-standing issue in King County. Most of King County’s shootings occur in South King County and South Seattle, and 83% of victims are male. Yet politicians seem to not care about these young men unless their deaths can be used for political theater. Although both men were shot outside CHOP, politicians and the SPD falsely blamed CHOP for the violence.  

Days later, Seattleites of conscience watched in horror as police chief Carmen Best falsely claimed that had officers been able to use tear gas in CHOP that night, they would’ve been able to save the life of Lorenzo Anderson, who sadly passed away before police arrived on the scene and furthermore, had already been transported to the hospital by CHOP medics. She bemoaned the fact that police could no longer use chemical weapons in a densely populated neighborhood. Chief Best seems unable to imagine a model of policing that doesn’t include police brutality as the first response. 

Tear gassing protesters would not have saved lives. The second shooting victim, DeJuan Anderson, was treated and saved by CHOP medics then transported to the hospital. Most CHOP medics have medical training and licenses and volunteered to protect protesters. Mr. Anderson has told several news outlets that he was shot by white males who called him a racial slur as he was leaving CHOP. Still, the narrative was spun to smear protesters.

Chief Best knows that there’s no evidence the shootings are related to the protest. She knows there is a long history of shootings in or near Cal Anderson Park. This is just one example of intentionally false narratives being pushed about CHOP.

Seattleites know that protesters inherited problems SPD had been unable to solve with a $400 million budget and decades worth of time. These problems include: predatory development in Black neighborhoods that displaced Black homeowners and decreased community wealth, policing and criminalization that put Black lives at risk, growing wealth inequality and homelessness, vastly underfunded services for people with drug and mental health problems, and ongoing violence. 

Mayor Durkan, for her part, attempted to pit the LGBTQ community against the Black community. Durkan said that protesters were painting homophobic slurs around Capitol Hill. Journalist Erica Barnett toured the protest zone and didn’t find any such slurs. Durkan also intimated that protesters ruined Pride. What Mayor Durkan clearly overlooked in these racist and despicable statements is that the LGBTQ community contains Black people, and vice versa. Many CHOP protesters identify as members of the LGBTQ community. Pride started at Stonewall as a riot against police brutality. The first brick thrown in the riot was thrown by a Black trans woman named Marsha P. Johnson.  We suggest Mayor Durkan look up the term “intersectionality” before she attempts to use her lesbian identity as a shield for racist sentiment.

We will no longer stand by while Durkan and Best use their own failures to smear protesters, nor while the media gives their lies an uncritical platform. These misrepresentations draw attention away from the important work of long standing community organizations such as King County Equity Now, Decriminalize Seattle, Africatown, The Blaq Elephant Party, Seattle Peoples Party, Creative Justice, Choose-180, and Socialist Alternative. 

Both Durkan and Best have cynically used Black elders to put down the protests and young Black protesters. Because we respect our elders, we will be brief on this point: we are not asking for permission. We are demanding:

  1. Defund SPD by at least 50%
  2. Reallocate equity for the reconstruction of BIPOC communities 
  3. Amnesty for protesters who were attacked by SPD and then arrested

Black Collective Voice is a Black-led organization that grew out of CHOP, and we are dedicated to pursuing these demands until their actualization. We are dedicated to cultivating a sustainable liberation movement through abolitionist education, community building, and informed action. 

We understand that our nation’s original twin sins are the colonization of Indigenous lands obtained through genocide and the systemic oppression of Black bodies and futures. We were born from a long tradition of protest and self-determination on Capitol Hill, as well as a long Seattle tradition of occupying space to demand change.

Our mission is to achieve a model of justice rooted in liberation through truth, reconciliation, and reparations.

We will not be silenced nor misrepresented. We will not be used to push a false narrative about community violence. And we will not be divided by manipulative tactics to pit communities against one another. 

Please join us on Friday, July 3rd at 6:30 p.m. at Jimi Hendrix Park for Black Collective Voice’s second installment of the Page Engage series! This week highlights Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s From #BLACKLIVESMATTER to Black Liberation. This text will help us understand our current moment within the larger context of the historic movement for Black liberation. The Black Collective Voice is dedicated to community education, mutual-aid, and taking action alongside our partners from the Seattle protest community.

The Seattle Black Collective was born from the Defund SPD movement in Seattle. We came together as protesters, activists, educators, and volunteers in the Capitol Hill Organized Protest. Our shared experiences of police brutality and systemic racism built the bond of an empowered, defiant community. We stand, prepared to educate, mobilize, and fight for racial and economic equity within Seattle.

Featured image by Carolyn Bick.