by Erica C. Barnett
(This article was previously published at PubliCola and has been reprinted with permission.)
UPDATE: On Thursday afternoon, the ACLU of Washington and Public Defender Association sent a letter to the city attorney’s office, along with several City department leaders, calling the decision to deny CHOP Art’s permit “unconstitutional” and saying “we may need to take emergency legal action” if the city doesn’t act. They say the denial was clearly based on the content of the event itself rather than any legitimate “safety” concerns.
The City, as we reported this morning, has claimed that community members have said that any event commemorating CHOP, including an event celebrating the art of the protest, “would be disturbing or even traumatic” and that they applied a higher-than-usual safety standard because of violence that occurred during last year’s protests.
Original story follows . . .
Mark Anthony doesn’t know why the City declined his permit for an event in Cal Anderson Park after working with his group, CHOP Art, for the last eight months, but he has a theory: “I think that it got up to the mayor’s office, and I think they’re trying to say that CHOP itself is something that’s violent or negative, which isn’t true,” he said.
Capitol Hill Seattle was first to report on the city’s last-minute decision to deny a permit for a long-planned street fair this coming weekend commemorating the one-year anniversary of last year’s Capitol Hill Organized Protest. CHOP turned into a longstanding, entrenched protest area after Mayor Jenny Durkan and her police chief, Carmen Best, responded to protests against anti-Black police brutality by indiscriminately tear-gassing protesters and targeting them with blast balls, pepper spray, and other “less-lethal” weapons.
CHOP Art was formed to store and steward the art created at the event, which the city removed but promised to display at some later date. The location of the art is now unknown after a dispute between the organization’s founders that is still ongoing.
Anthony said his intent was to have a kind of “Black renaissance fair” on the site of the protest, with the blessing of the city’s Arts in the Parks program. “They’re the ones that reached out to me,” Anthony said, adding that he’s been meeting with Randy Wiger from the Parks and Recreation department regularly for at least six months to discuss the event. When the City told him they wouldn’t support “anything in relation to CHOP,” Anthony said, he changed the name of the event, “removed every reference to CHOP,” and reframed it as a Juneteenth celebration.
“They completely didn’t respond to me for over a week and a half, and then [Tuesday], three days before the event, they finally got back to me saying that due to the violence that has gone on in Seattle and the violent groups [at CHOP], they said that it was not going to be a safe environment,” Anthony said.
The Parks Department responded to PubliCola’s questions by providing a brief statement saying that they denied the permit because of community concerns. “We have heard from community members expressing concerns that any events celebrating or commemorating the events that occurred at Cal Anderson in summer of 2020 would be disturbing or even traumatic to the community,” the statement said.
In response to a followup question about which community members had opposed the event, a Parks spokeswoman said, “We heard from neighbors, artists who had previously worked with the CHOP Art group, and other members of the general public that the proposed event would be traumatic considering both the destruction to the park and the acts of violence that took place last summer.”
Charlotte LeFevre, an organizer of the Capitol Hill Pride March and Rally, said she was disappointed but not surprised that the City denied Anthony’s permit. “It’s infuriating that the city did the same thing they’re doing to Anthony they did that to us in 2017,” she said, when “the city yanked our permit before our scheduled National Pride march.” (The controversy over that event got wide coverage at the time.)
“The city does not have the right to deny a person or an organization the right to schedule a community public event in a public park based on so-called perceived security risks,” LeFevre said.
This year’s Capitol Hill Pride is scheduled to take place in Cal Anderson Park, on June 26 and 27. The organizers of the event, which is not affiliated with the Seattle Pride organization, announced last month that they will not allow uniformed police officers to attend their event. Anthony said that not only were police going to be allowed at CHOP Art’s event, he personally invited several captains from the East Precinct, which SPD abandoned during the protests last year.
The City’s Special Events handbook does allow the City to deny a permit to use a park if an event presents “an unreasonable risk of injury, to the public, the participants, or City employees; or . . . an unreasonable risk of damage to property.”
However, in a June 8 email to Anthony denying the permit, Parks Event Service Representative Carl Bergquist did not cite any example of a specific risk, saying only that the department had decided to adopt a “higher-than usual safety and security standards” because of “the extensive protest activity and the acts of violence that occurred at the park and the surrounding area last summer and fall, as well as the significant restoration and cleanup efforts that were needed to restore the park.”
The denial also cited “concerns” from “community members … that any events celebrating or commemorating the protests that occurred at Cal Anderson in the summer of 2020 would be disturbing or even traumatic to the community.”
The Parks spokeswoman told PubliCola the department “recognizes that when a permit is denied the group may still show up to the park. If “a response is needed,” she said, the City’s Office of Emergency Management would decide, in collaboration with other city departments, “if police presence or intervention is needed.”
Anthony said his arts event has nothing to do with violent or destructive events that took place a year ago.“We definitely had people that came into the CHOP area to do bad things, damage buildings, attack people, or whatever, but we can’t control everyone who comes into the Cal Anderson Park area, into Capitol Hill,” Anthony said.
Originally, he anticipated a small event—about 400 people at a time, following COVID social-distancing guidelines. Now, he said, he has no idea how many people might show up. “Since we don’t have the permit and the word has gotten around because of this whole fiasco, I don’t know,” he said. “I’m not going to pretend that I have a permit, and I can’t control who shows up at Cal Anderson Park.”
Erica C. Barnett has covered local politics for more than two decades. You can read her latest at PubliCola.com.
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