Alright, so this blog was going to be about my 61 Movies in 61 Days adventure, where I watched a spooky/scary movie for every day in September and October, but something more important came up. Today, I’m actually going to talk to you about the CHAZ/CHOP that existed in Seattle during June/July 2020. I’m choosing this topic because, as of this writing, there is currently a similar situation stirring in our sister city, Portland, OR. I called Portland home for approximately 4 years after I graduated college and I loved that city. I still have plenty of friends who live in the area, so I’m still fairly invested in their protest scene. The situation is not exactly the same – CHAZ was created out of a vacuum that was formed when Seattle Police Department (SPD) abandoned their East Precinct after a long-lasting standoff with local protestors during 2020’s George Floyd/BLM protests.
The current situation in Portland exists because the Portland Police Bureau (PBB) are trying to evict a black family during a pandemic so the house can be torn down and replaced with luxury condos. Tale as old as time, right? So anyway, the community has come together to protect this family from being evicted and have chased off PPB once and built a barricade around the residence. Then, Portland mayor, Ted Wheeler, tweeted out a thread that felt very “Trump-esque” about how there “will be no tolerance for such behavior” and PPB will be making arrests, etc. He also said something about “Portland will not have an autonomous zone”, which kinda set me off. So I issued a response about how CHAZ was probably the safest the Seattle houseless community has felt in a long time, since they weren’t worried about being attacked or having their belongings destroyed by cops on a daily basis. As should be expected, I drew the ire of right wing extremists who pretended to know the full story of CHAZ jumping in my mentions and DMs correcting me and informing me of how stupid I was for even saying such a thing. This spurred me to further clarify my statement and provide statistics and context, though most of the people who came for me wouldn’t see it, as they have been blocked. So I started writing and researching and came out the other side with a 15 tweet long thread about the subject. For your convenience, and to provide a little more context, I have collected all of that information (with sources) here for you today. Enjoy!
I’m not an expert on CHAZ. I wasn’t there every day, but I was there more than a few times. I also helped deliver supplies, I followed the livestreams, I kept up with the news from the media & those on the ground. I’ve also done some cursory research this morning as a refresher, and will provide sources. With that in mind, I do not think CHAZ was perfect or wholly safe. But that doesn’t mean it was unsafe or any worse than areas that allowed police. In 2019, Seattle reported 332 shootings. That’s a rate of .91 shootings/day, or a shooting every 1.09 days. In comparison, CHAZ had 4 shootings over the span of 23 days. That’s a rate of .17 shootings/day, or a shooting every 5.75 days. Obviously it’s kinda silly to compare crime rates for a whole city to a 4 block area, but they brought it up & it’s the data I have at the moment.
Then there is the argument about police and ambulances not being allowed in. The cop part might be true – it was the “No Cop Co-op” – but I know for a fact the activists at CHOP were better at letting ambulances through than the police had been prior. There’s a video from the days of the east precinct barricade, where the whole protest crowd moved aside for an ambulance van while the police refused to budge. There’s also video from after the 1st shooting that showed medics refusing to enter CHAZ without police. There were reports that police refused, or at least took their sweet time, to respond to incidents in & around CHAZ, but I don’t know if those were ever entirely confirmed.
But honestly, none of that matters when it comes to my original point: houseless were safer in CHAZ. In January, Seattle had around 8,166 houseless individuals, most of whom were unsheltered. Of King County’s 11,571 houseless (yes, Seattle takes up 69% of that), 25% are black, despite only taking up 7% of the overall population. Even before the 2020 George Floyd protests, Seattle police were famous for their “sweeps” where they would not only further displace the displaced when they had nowhere else to go, but they would intimidate them, assault them, and destroy their belongings. Mayor Jenny Durkan and SPD purposely made the houselessness issue worse by addressing a symptom (the people living on the street) and refusing to acknowledge the cause (the systematic issues that cause houselessness). To me CHAZ represents a community coming together to help those in need when a city/state/nation’s politicians have failed them time and time again. No it was not perfect, no it was not 100% safe, but honestly what society is? It can also be argued that the violence that erupted came from outside agitators, not those within the community – one victim even said it might have been a Proud Boy. Bringing up gun violence without acknowledging the other factors that may have been at play, is ignorant. It’s like the police sweeps I mentioned earlier – worrying about the symptom, not the disease.
All that said, I still believe that CHAZ was a net-positive for Seattle’s forgotten houseless community. Much like with this pandemic and other crises in the past, the government failed – and continues to fail – its people. So the people have to come together to take care of each other, even when a pandemic keeps us (mostly) apart. To close out, please do not take what I say as gospel. I was able to gather a good amount of information but I definitely do not have the whole story. I’m just sharing my experience and regurgitating the facts I was able to find with some cursory research. If this is a discussion you would like to be a part of (or honestly, in any part of life), please do your own research and think about things critically. And if you do know more or have more information, please send it my way. I’m happy to be wrong and am always willing to update my thoughts and opinions when presented with new information. Also, if you have any thoughts, feelings, concerns, considerations – get in touch.
Thanks for reading.
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