OPINION | How the City of Seattle Used Raz Simone to Undermine 2020 Protests

by Gennette Cordova

At the height of the 2020 racial justice demonstrations following the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other victims of police violence, Seattle and its short-lived Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP) was put under a microscope. A self-proclaimed leader of CHOP, local rapper Raz Simone quickly gained visibility as national media outlets made him a figurehead of the movement despite vocal opposition mainly from women. As more specifics emerge about both his sex trafficking and his involvement with Seattle police, the argument becomes stronger to support what many of us already knew: Raz’s rise to prominence was part of a larger strategic effort to discredit racial justice protests in 2020. 

As Raz positioned himself as a liberation leader, allegations began swirling of his violent abuse and cult-like trafficking operation. Many activists and community members who spoke out against Raz had concerns about how his affiliation with the anti-police brutality movement would tarnish its goals and message when the details of his treatment of women inevitably surfaced. Predictably, that’s exactly what’s happening right now. Despite a chorus of on-the-record objections to his label as a leader of CHOP from people on the ground, we’re still being made to answer for his behavior. 

For those who understand the nature of anti-police brutality protests, many of Raz’s actions were red flags, causing onlookers to question his agenda early on. They’d seen him draw unnecessary attention to himself, sometimes with cameras in tow. He’d weakened the frontlines at the East Precinct by pulling people away to march aimlessly around Capitol Hill. At least once, he openly discussed creating his own police force that he’d be the chief of. He constantly solicited Cash App donations from protestors with no one reporting that he was contributing to mutual aid, which is expected in activist spaces.

Most alarming was that he seemed chummy with law enforcement. There were rumblings that he was working with the police and in contact with City leadership — which we now know to be true to some extent. According to reporting by KUOW, text messages reveal that he was coordinating with the mayor’s office during the protests. Public records show that City officials discussed being in communication with him in message threads which include our current Chief of Police Adrian Diaz. Furthermore, we now know that at least eight people reported Raz’s sex trafficking to the Seattle police as early as 2017. 

Seattle, it appears, has somewhat of a history with using traffickers and sexual predators in their counterprotest strategy. In 2020, it was widely publicized that Andre “Gorgeous Dre” Taylor, who was convicted of trafficking a minor in 1999, was paid $150K by the City to act as a “street czar.” Like Raz, Gorgeous Dre’s City-approved, elevated position created more blowback against the movement than it did against people with decision-making power like then-Mayor Jenny Durkan.

In 2011, before she was Seattle’s mayor, Jenny Durkan was the U.S. attorney who prosecuted a highly questionable case that resulted in a mentally ill Muslim man getting 18 years in prison for a “terrorism plot.” To secure the guilty verdict, convicted pedophile Robert Childs was employed as an informant for the FBI and SPD, with the promise of $90,000 and having his record expunged. Commenting on their use of a convicted child rapist to catch a suspect, Durkan said, “It’s not the saints who can bring us the sinners.”

City leaders like Durkan watched as the media made Raz the leader of the movement they hoped to trample, all while staying silent about the fact that they were coordinating with him behind the scenes. At that time, Donald Trump, Fox News, and local right-wing platforms were waging war against all anti-police brutality protestors, labeling them “terrorists” and “thugs.” But this wasn’t just right-leaning rhetoric. 

I recently discussed this situation online, noting that the news, from CNN to the local networks, continuously amplified Raz, whether to undermine the efforts or for page views, despite callouts about him being a possible plant and a trafficker. In response to this discussion, organizer Ashley Yates directed her followers to pay attention to what I’d said, adding, “think about Ferguson, Chicago, Baltimore, Minneapolis, LA etc. This has been a common tactic for the past 8 [years] at least.” Yates was one of the early on-the-ground organizers in Ferguson following the 2014 police murder of Mike Brown.

It was horrifying but not surprising when Raz was painted as the “warlord of CHOP.” According to the news, protestors at CHOP stormed the East Precinct, ran police out of the area, contributed to the death of two Black youth in the vicinity, and had shaken down small business owners. None of which was true. According to an independent study, over 90% of Black Lives Matter demonstrations that summer were peaceful, with violence typically coming from law enforcement, who used force more often than not. The situation in Seattle did not deviate from these findings. 

For over a century in the U.S., there’s been a well-documented effort to rewrite the history of peaceful movements, weakening legitimate protests with the accusations of violence and corruption. This strategy was incredibly effective in 2020. 

On the subject of Raz, I’m relieved to see survivors of violence getting the platform they deserve to tell their stories and move closer to some semblance of resolution. They deserve accountability from him. As for the rest of us, we also deserve accountability — from City leaders, from police, and from the media. Protestors should not have to answer for the crimes of people elevated by the mayor’s office and SPD. The public shouldn’t have to worry that people in positions of power are knowingly using people with violent histories to pick apart the legitimacy of civil rights movements. Elected officials should not be able to intentionally destroy evidence of their dubious dealings without consequence. As the story of the 2020 protests continues to unfold, there are even more questions than answers and the people of Seattle are owed those answers. 

The South Seattle Emerald is committed to holding space for a variety of viewpoints within our community, with the understanding that differing perspectives do not negate mutual respect amongst community members.

The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the contributors on this website do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the Emerald or official policies of the Emerald.

Gennette Cordova is a writer, organizer, and social impact manager. She contributes to publications like Teen Vogue and Revolt TV and runs an organization, Lorraine House, which seeks to build and uplift radical communities through art and activism.

📸 Featured Image: (Photo: Susan Fried)

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