City of Seattle slapped with class action suit as CHOP zone reportedly implodes

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Residents and business owners who have essentially been trapped inside the lawless “Capitol Hill Occupied Protest,” or CHOP, zone in Seattle have filed suit against the city, while many who have occupied it for weeks have begun to abandon the site.

As reported by The Associated Press, the residents, business and property owners alleged in a court filing Wednesday that city officials have been complicit with CHOP protesters in depriving them of their rights to their property.

Plaintiffs, which include a tattoo parlor, a property management firm, and an auto repair business, made clear in their suit they were not attempting to undermine the stated anti-police brutality sentiment or the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Rather, this lawsuit is about the constitutional and other legal rights of plaintiffs – businesses, employees, and residents in and around CHOP – which have been overrun by the city of Seattle’s unprecedented decision to abandon and close off an entire city neighborhood, leaving it unchecked by the police, unserved by fire and emergency health services, and inaccessible to the public at large,” the lawsuit said, the AP reported.

Demonstrators and anarchists established the area on June 8, initially calling it the “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone,” but later changing the name. At the time, the occupiers delivered a list of demands that included complete disbanding of the Seattle Police Department, free college, retrials for all convicted murderers in the state, and segregated healthcare whereby the city would “employ black doctors and nurses specifically to help care for black patients.”

The Seattle PD’s East Precinct station, which is located inside the zone, was abandoned and boarded up as demonstrators attacked officers and National Guard troops with bricks, bottles, and improvised explosive devices.

At the time, Police Chief Carmen Best said the decision to surrender the station was not hers.

Also, Mayor Jenny Durkan, a Democrat, voiced support for the anarchists early on, claiming it is “a peaceful expression of our community’s collective grief and their desire to build a better world.” The AP noted that Durkan’s administration has even provided barriers to the anarchists to protect them against vehicles.

But over time, the police-free CHOP zone became increasingly dangerous. Durkan announced this week that it would be dismantled following at least three shootings, sexual assaults, and other violent criminal activity.

“The cumulative impacts of the gatherings and protests and the nighttime atmosphere and violence has led to increasingly difficult circumstances for our businesses and residents,” Durkan said at a press conference Tuesday. “The impacts have increased and the safety has decreased.”

An attorney for the plaintiffs, Patty Eakes, said she has asked the mayor’s office for a timeline regarding the dismantling of the zone and a return of police by Friday, or her clients will seek a court order requiring it to be reopened immediately.

“City leadership have been on the ground daily having discussions with demonstrators, residents and businesses and trusted community-based, Black-led organizations to determine a path forward that protects the right to peacefully protest and keeps people safe,” Durkan’s office said in a statement.

The suit, involving about a dozen residents, businesses, and property owners, claims that some plaintiffs have been threatened with violence for photographing protesters and for cleaning off graffiti from storefronts.

The owner of auto repair shop Car Tender said that someone broke into the business June 14 and started a fire using hand sanitizer as an accelerant, then threatened his son with a knife after being confronted.

The owner and the son extinguished the fire and detained the burglar, then called 911. However, they said, police refused to respond.

The suit comes as the titular leader of the zone, hip-hop artist Raz Simone, said Wednesday that “a lot” of demonstrators have already left CHOP.

“The protesters of CHAZ [Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone] have targets on their backs, and that is an issue,” Simone told CNN. “A lot of peaceful protesters are being harmed, so it’s sad that’s where we’re at in America.”

As such, “a lot of people are going to leave,” he added, without acknowledging that the violence was coming from people within the zone itself.

According to a statement put out by the official CHOP Twitter account, the zone was officially disbanded on June 24. It remains to be seen whether this is the end of the concept of an autonomous zone in American cities, or if this emboldens protestors around the nation.

Jon Dougherty

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