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Policeless in Seattle: Residents share their feelings about the police-free zone at Capitol Hill following protests

In Seattle, Washington, police pulled out of the Capitol Hill precinct on 7-8 June following protests. The protesters set up the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ now CHOP) demanding to defund of the police. Pro, anti or neutral, Seattle residents share their experiences and opinions with RTD.

The activist: Kelsey Yale, social worker

I have been in Seattle since 2016. I'm a social worker. I work for  a King county based mental health organisation. 

I enjoy the city and its proximity to the wondrous nature of the water and mountains. It is often a place where liberal ideas can flourish, but that hurts the poor. We have one of the most regressive tax systems in the United States.

Watching people dying on your cellphone is not easy

I believe in democratic socialism and the worth of every person. Although I believe that fascism must be stopped in the United States, I do not identify as Antifa, which simply stands for anti-fascist. I have never met someone who does identify as Antifa, and as far as I can tell, it is mostly something the Republican party uses to invalidate protests.

CHOP is the preferred name for the Capitol Hill area as it is an occupied protest zone, similar to the former Standing Rock Protest or the Mauna Kea protest camps. As I am a white woman and not a part of the organising community, I am a guest when I enter this zone.

Seattle Capitol Hill Protest
Capitol Hill Organsed Portest (CHOP) is an experiment in living wihout a police force. / Credit Kirill Golubnichii

Today I've been just fine. Living under Covid-19 is stressful. Everyone is trying to be safe, but nothing is easy at this time.

Watching people dying on your cellphone is not easy; it is devastating and so painful. It's important we see these things, know these things, but the trauma is very real. Processing the pain takes time, but making progress and hoping for better help, the street art and community of protests around the country help.

Police officers don't have access to CHOP, it is a police-free zone, but everyone is working together to make it safe. I don't notice the zone being less safe at night time. There are non-armed security making sure there aren't violent outsiders breaking windows or hurting others. There are medics volunteering their time to make people more safe.

If you live in a suburb in the United States, you rarely see the police. We hope this for the rest of our country.

I don't know what's next for CHOP. I think cooperation between the city and the protest camp will come up with something. I could see making the precinct into a community centre, people have requested this.

If you live in a suburb in the United States, you rarely see the police. We hope this for the rest of our country. Where people have access to good food, housing, jobs, and education, there is lower crime.

Seattle Capitol Hill Protest
CHOP activists have high ideals. / Credit Kirill Golubnichii

Most states where people are killed do not have the death penalty. We cannot allow police officers to act as judge and jury. No person deserves to die for being suspected of simple small crimes.

We all must support one another; our freedom and lives are intertwined.

 

The observer: Kirill Golubnichii, graduate student

I've been in Seattle since 2015, I study and teach mathematics. I live just a couple of train stops away.

I have friends from all categories. I listen to all points of view. I don't support either side.

I'm in the autonomous zone right now. I've been there once before, because Seattle university is right there, right in the epicentre, where some of my collaborators work, so I was interested to see what was going on.

There are barricades. It's like a youth festival.

There's a concert now. There are tents, people smoking marijuana, people arguing with one another. There are couples, parents with children in strollers.

Seattle Capitol Hill Protest
Beyond denouncing police brutality, activists in Seattle's autonomous zone believe capitalism is the root of all evil. / Credit Kirill Golubnichii

I don't see any panic or aggressiveness. I feel pretty safe. No one is beating up anyone else. They aren't criminals. I've heard they're planting vegetables. Hippies are very peaceful people.

No one is observing any social distancing, but the majority are wearing masks.

It stinks, because people are living there full time, they sweat.

It's anarchy there, to put it mildly. I don't think it's quite right, because there are people living there, and it's certain they don't like it.

Hippies are very peaceful people.

Seattle is liberal, and Capitol Hill was already famous for being the most liberal area in Seattle. There are bars, clubs there, nightlife. It was pretty safe. Seattle is a mostly White city, so it's mostly White people here. There's also a lot of Asians because Seattle airport is a Pacific hub.

It's not clear what's going on now. I don't understand how long it can last.

I've heard of Antifa. I don't understand what they are. I've never met them, never seen them.

I don't understand what they are fighting for. I suppose it's an opportunity to prove themselves. The guy who killed Floyd has already been arrested. Now they're demanding the disbanding of the police. It's like saying "Let's build communism!" it's utopian from the start.

It's a collection of maximalists. They're trying to recreate 1917.

I'd say it's a collection of maximalists. I think with time they will realise it isn't possible. They're trying to recreate 1917 with the ideas that one, a dairymaid can govern the country and two, let's destroy the old and build the new on its ruins.

It's mostly the young generation; maybe within ten years, they will change their minds. I was also like that, six years ago, a radical. But my son was born, and I became more grounded.

Seattle Capitol Hill Protest
During the day-time, Seattle's CHOP is very peaceful. / Credit Kirill Golubnichii

Both sides are in the wrong. That policeman went beyond the limits. When he didn't let up when the guy said he couldn't breathe, of course, that's wrong.

However, I believe the authorities are legitimate and should be respected because people honestly voted for the president, who won honestly, whatever you feel about him. And the instruments of power, including the police, should also be respected. Reform is one thing, but revolution is something else.

Police in America are great, I've never met a police officer who didn't care.

You should also understand the police. Police in America are great, I've never met a police officer who didn't care, not like in Russia where they can just take your statement and do nothing. You can't judge all people in a group by just one person.

How will it finish? I think they'll sit, they'll play, and then they'll leave. Now, it's summer, the weather is good, but soon, it will start to rain non-stop every day. It won't be so much fun to sit outside. Young people will stop meeting up.

 

The police supporter: Sevillia Magomedova, small business owner

We arrived in the US 15 years ago on a refugee programme. We spent the first two years in Oklahoma, and then in Seattle. We have a son.

We love it here. We live in Auburn, King County, Washington. Capitol Hill is a 30-minute drive away.

Seattle Capitol Hill Protest
Many Americans have had very positive experiences with the police. / Credit Sevillia Magomedova

I have a cleaning business. First, I worked for two years in a shop. I've always supported the police because I used to work the night shift, and there were many people who stole things, who would threaten us. The only people who supported and protected us were the police.

I haven't been to the zone; it's such a mess, you don't know who you'll run into. To protect my family, I try to avoid it.

I've always supported the police because I used to work the night shift. The only people who supported and protected us were the police.

I don't believe that if one person did something bad, then everyone from the same group should be punished. So I want to support the police by giving them the assurance that they are needed. Should they just be put in the trash? That won't work, guys!

I know many people who are in the police, my brother in Russia is a policeman. It's something inside of me. I want to protect them, to give them support. And there are very many people who support me in this.

Tomorrow, we want to go to our police department in Auburn and say thank you for what you're doing! Thank you for protecting us, for protecting our country! We're always with you, we love you, and we respect you! We, that's people from the Russian-speaking community and Americans.

Seattle Capitol Hill Protest
These members of the Russian-speaking community want to make sure police officers feel supported during the wave of protests against police brutality. / Credit Sevillia Magomedova

We need to take pretty harsh measures. I'm satisfied with what our president is doing, He's doing a good job, but I want him to be harsher: they need to disperse everyone.

You know, they want to stop paying the police anything, They don't want to work, although there are many many jobs available around here. We work, we pay taxes, but they get benefits. No! Go get a job. You don't need to protest.

So it happened, it happened, the man is no more. But how many other ethnicities are killed worldwide, how many Whites are killed? I think they have to ban this, close this down, and send everyone home.

I'm satisfied with what our president is doing, He's doing a good job, but I want him to be harsher.

People say Trump isn't doing anything, but he's trying to avoid offending a community. So he is acting, but little by little, he's trying to talk.

We're very grateful for the help we've received with COVID-19. He's helped a lot of people. We got the unemployment benefit, the $1200 stimulus check. My family, we're extremely grateful for what he's doing for our country.

My business was closed during the lockdown, but now we're beginning to work again. I'm very glad.

I don't know what will happen next, I'm hoping it will all end well.

 

The former Police Reserve Officer: Yuri Antonov, gun holster maker

I arrived in the US in 1994. I have a company that makes holsters for guns. I've been living in Seattle since 2000, before that I was in the South, then in Portland, Oregon. I used to work in the police reserve. I haven't been called for almost a year. It's not my job; it's my community service.

I've been in the zone, once. There are a lot of people with weapons.

I've been in the zone, once. At first, it was confusing and, to be honest, scary. There are a lot of people with weapons. There's no police. We don't know who gave the order for the police to withdraw from the zone. They don't call in the police, only if there are serious crimes such as murder.

They don't have leadership, the city tried to make an agreement, but because there are several groups, anarchists, Antifa, and BLM, it didn't stick.

Seattle Capitol Hill Protest
Will Seattle's CHOP turn into a bloodbath or a tourist attraction? / Credit Kirill Golubnichii

Today, things are different. It's turning into a tourist attraction. I saw a Russian TV crew there. Yesterday, I got talking with a homeless man. I asked what he was doing in this area. He said: "they kicked me out of there" [CHOP]. He was dirty and not presentable. There are 18,000 homeless people in Seattle because people hand out food for free, but in the zone, there are few homeless people.

It's mostly white people in the zone. 60% of protesters are white. The state used to be very white, after the floodings [Hurricane Katrina], many African Americans moved here.

I wouldn't say the police are racist here. Maybe some individuals are prejudiced. I remember once; I went to an African-American garage to get my car serviced. When I explained where I was from, they said: "Hey, dude, he's not White, he's Russian!" They thought that all White people have negative views about them. If we're talking about reparations, maybe we could make college education free for African Americans, so they can get out of the ghetto.

In America, there are big problems. I've seen hungry children.

In America, there are big problems. I've seen hungry children. There are children here that don't see meat for years.

Yes, there's work, but here, rent for the smallest apartment has gone up from $1,600 to $2,700. No one can afford that. A normal home for a family that used to cost $500,000 now sells for $1 million. That's because there are many highly paid workers at Amazon, Microsoft, Boeing, that push house prices up. We have an entire tent city of homeless people.

Here, you can't go on vacation. No one will give you holiday pay, and if they do, it's just one week in a year, and that's not enough to rest.

The death of George Floyd was just the spark. Black Lives Matter is a popular slogan. It was a good theme for people who are socially active. In our state, most people are liberal and hate Trump. The Russians, most of them are Christian families with a mom and dad, they're for traditional values.

The police told us: "You don't realise what this means to us! Does anyone even need us anymore?"

We - that's people from the Russian-speaking community, from Russia Ukraine, Belarus, Uzbekistan - we've just been to the Auburn Justice Centre, to meet the police there. They told us: "You don't realise what this means to us! We live as if we're barricaded. Does anyone even need us anymore?" We brought doughnuts, pirozhki, food, and flowers, but it's the thought that counts.

Seattle Capitol Hill Protest
The wave of protest against the police also highlights the difficulties officers face in doing their job without ""going a bit weird". / Credit Sevillia Magomedova

They want to defund the police, to remove pensions. Police officers' pensions are based on their final two years of work, so many of them do a lot of overtime.

I would put an end to police stopping people randomly. If you have a description, a suspicion of a crime that's one thing. Otherwise, you shouldn't stop them.

So many times, during a police intervention, you have the desire to hit someone, when you see what they've done to their kids, to their wife. You want to take them and punish them. Not everyone holds their nerve. If you work in the police for ten years, then you become a bit weird.

You mustn't remove police immunity; otherwise, no one will work.

Recently, they shot someone because they had a knife. Someone shouted, "There's a knife!" Once again, his nerves didn't hold. You have your hand on your belt and half a second to make a life-or-death decision.

You mustn't remove police immunity; otherwise, no one will work. They will turn up after 15-20 minutes when it's all over.

Before the elections, it's going to be even worse. Their aim is to get rid of the president before the elections. If he brings in the army and people die, it will end badly both for the president and for the country.

I can't remember people ever having bought as many guns as they're doing right now. The shops are empty, and those who are buying are those who are against weapons. The queues aren't for bread but for guns. If in the first act of a play, there's a gun on the wall, then during the play, that gun will fire.