After a month of “autonomy,” the CHOP (Capitol Hill Organized Protest) has been dismantled by Seattle police. Formerly known as CHAZ (Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone), the area was made up of protesters who had declared their independence from Seattle’s local government in early June.
CHOP got its start during the protests and riots after the death of George Floyd in May. Seattle police abandoned their East Precinct headquarters on East Pine St. on June 8. Protesters occupied the building and the area surrounding it shortly after. Seattle PI reports that the area controlled by the demonstrators eventually expanded to about six blocks.
CHOP survived this long with the support of the mayor’s office. Last month, Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office posted in a blog, “The City is committed to maintaining space for community to come together, protest and exercise their first amendment rights,” adding that “all plans have been crafted with the goal of allowing access for emergency personnel including fire trucks.”
The fragile peace between the demonstrators and the city lasted about three weeks. Mayor Durkan issued an emergency order on Tuesday in response to “reported life safety, public health, and property issues” in the CHOP after several shootings and violent crimes. Police announced that they would move in on Wednesday. A chilling video compilation posted by Seattle police shows examples of violence in the CHOP that includes numerous gunshots and screams and depicts unknown individuals stalking the streets with rifles.
A tweet by the Seattle Police Department this morning reported that 23 protesters were arrested in the clearing operation. Another tweet shows “improvised spike strips” were apparently intended to defend against police vehicles. There were no reported injuries but police tweets also contained reports of individuals with arms and body armor in the vicinity of the operation in vehicles with no license plates.
Even though “Defund Police” has become the rallying cry of the Black Lives Matter movement and the left in general, Seattle’s experiment with the CHOP shows the folly of abolishing police forces. In fact, as I wrote last month, most of the people who are saying “Defund Police” don’t even favor the elimination of law enforcement.
The CHOP is reminiscent of “Lord of the Flies,” the famous novel by William Golding which depicts how an isolated group of boys devolve into savagery. The same is true of the naive demonstrators in the CHOP. Without a strong presence to uphold the law and protect the weak and the innocent, the area quickly slipped into anarchy and violence.
Jesus taught that “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders” (Matthew 15:19). That is no less true of modern, “civilized” man that it was of the ancients. Without the prospect of punishment, many of us would (and do) give in to our evil desires.
While I wholeheartedly agree with the majority of Americans on the need for police reform, very few of us want our towns and neighborhoods to become police-free zones like the CHOP. Mayor Durkan should have taken action to retake the rebellious parts of the city weeks ago, but her delay gave the rest of the country a valuable lesson on why we need police.
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