We are grateful for the many perspectives we hear from RVers around the world. Croix Boston, an Associate on our Higher Education team in Seattle, recently shared his experience at the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP), which made national headlines last month.
In the week following the May 25th murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, the Seattle Police Department (SPD) repeatedly used tear gas, flashbangs, and pepper spray against peaceful protesters in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle, Washington.
After the ACLU and the Seattle University School of Law filed a lawsuit against the city on behalf of Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County, the police eventually ceded the area around their precinct and the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP) was born.
The CHOP was a variety of things depending on who you ask: a police free zone, a place for radical self-governance, an Antifa-run domestic terrorist training camp. For me, it was a striking example of the power of community and shared experience.
This is not to say the CHOP was a “summer of love” utopia. It eventually fell into a volatile, even violent scene. But for a time, it provided the space for a reckoning of our history, our community, and of ourselves. As the late James Baldwin wrote, “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
And for us here in Seattle, and for many across the country, we are way past due for some change. The time for ending deep-rooted systems of oppression including the disproportionate incarceration and murder of Black Americans is now.
We cannot forget that this protest began in response to Derek Chauvin, a police officer, slowly suffocating George Floyd to death over 8 minutes and 46 seconds. We cannot forget that we marched those streets day in and day out to bring awareness to the killing of Breonna Taylor who was shot eight times while she slept. We will not forget Ahmaud Arbery, Botham Jean, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Samuel Dubose, Sandra Bland, Walter Scott, Jordan Davis, and the countless other Black Americans whose lives were ended by unnecessary police violence fostered by systemic racism.
So when I say the CHOP was a wonderful, glorious, city-on-the-hill example of the power and beauty that lies at the heart of Community, what I’m really saying is that for the first time in my 25 years of life, living as a Black bi-racial man, I felt true care for my brothers and sisters on a grand scale. I felt it when I crossed the graffitied barricades into the occupied zone where everyone, regardless of skin color, was ready to put their lives down before my own. We were in it together and change was no longer an aspiration. It was happening, and more importantly, felt.
As I’m writing this, the CHOP is slowly being dismantled. On July 1st, Mayor Jenny Durkan declared CHOP an “unlawful assembly” and ordered SPD to disassemble the occupation and reclaim the precinct using any means necessary. Using pepper spray and batons, SPD literally beat out the remaining protesters, arresting 13 for various offenses.
In the last week, cleaning crews have worked diligently to remove any and all remnants of CHOP — leaving only a few pieces of art, fully intact.
For some, this marks the end of CHOP. Aside from Twitter whispers, there is no formal plan for its revival. For most, it was just a blip on the timeline of recent reactions to our societies’ deep-rooted flaws. For others, the occupied protest zone was only an experiment in radical self-governance and community policing.
But I think for a minority, myself included, the CHOP was a symbol of hope and possibility, both so radical and common-sense at the same time. This was a true manifestation of our right to freedom of assembly, association, and speech.
And I am both honored and deeply saddened that I experienced something like CHOP in my lifetime.