The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement isn’t looking promising. It’s no secret that the United States has facilitated a great deal of racial inequality throughout previous generations, and only as of late are we beginning to stand up, speak out, and work toward a more equal environment for those being mistreated. Spearheads of the BLM organization have been working tirelessly to fight against violence and anti-black racism for years, but their methods of enactment have proven to be rather questionable.
One of the movement’s most recent and controversial tactics was the development of the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest zone, otherwise known as CHOP. Formerly coined as CHAZ (Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone), the self-organized zone formed after a series of violent, destructive riots in the streets of Seattle, Washington following the death of George Floyd. On June 8th, protesters had claimed roughly six blocks of the East Precinct within Capitol Hill in solidarity of their cause.
What started as a harmonious stand-alone quickly began to deteriorate and was eventually taken back by local police just weeks after its initial formation. Although this was supposedly a grand demonstration of kindness and justice, it was quickly condemned within the eyes of the public. Unfortunately, the protesters of CHOP were unable to uphold any form of respectable behaviour despite their ‘exemplary’ values, and so the zone’s dismantlement was bound to happen.
Through this behaviour, the Black Lives Matter movement has failed Black Americans by enacting what they claim to fight against. This blatant display of hypocrisy by activists during the short lifespan of CHOP has revealed serious issues with how the movement is being pursued along with lessons that can be learned from it.
Taking the East Precinct
The partial taking of Capitol Hill’s East Precinct was nothing short of terrorizing. The efforts required to overrun and subsequently assume control over such a large area is anything but peaceful, and the emergence of CHOP was no exception. The issue here is that an organized group who claim to fight against oppression partook in actions similar to that of colonization; this, in no way, aligns with what BLM supposedly stands for.
Local buildings and property were littered with graffiti and subject to damages. Store owners were unable to continue with their businesses, leaving them jobless and in the dark. Nearby residents no longer felt comfortable or safe in their own homes as chaos pursued daily within the zone. Cal Anderson Park was no longer used for sport, but rather to preach the occupants’ messages of peace and unity – messages that they, themselves, could not even commit to. Capitol Hill was largely appropriated to become a state of total equality, yet the exact opposite soon followed. Once protesters had established their dominant presence over the area, borders were quickly erected along its perimeter. Orange barricades, cement blocks, and other makeshift defenses halted vehicles from passing through and prevented potential threats from infiltrating the space.
Oddly enough, BLM supporters were fond of having these boundaries to protect themselves despite their stern demands to remove national borders, as if they didn’t serve the same purpose. Borders, in any scenario, are extremely important for establishing boundaries, conveying independence, developing synergistic relationships, and protecting those within them – the Black Lives Matter movement has openly disputed these factors when arguing for policy regarding immigration, climate change, and economic opportunity. I admire the initiative to protect those within the zone from threats amid such a controversial event, but it’s strange that these protesters openly refute the same methods in which they decided to implement themselves for security.
Activity Within the Zone
The opportunity for open discussion within the zone itself was great, unless your ideas conflicted at all with the mass ideology of BLM supporters, that is. It wasn’t unusual to see reporters, outsiders, or even other residents of the CHOP zone being harassed or physically assaulted for having a difference in opinion or expression.
The desire to suppress opposing views was extremely prevalent within the area from start to finish, not allowing for any sort of challenging dialogue or critical discussion. Fascism is often associated with far-right ideology, but the occupants of CHOP may have proved that it’s beginning to emerge within the left as well. Opinions were only accepted if it fit the overarching agenda of the political left: Is that any viable way to make progress?
Segregation, for whatever reason, was also utilized within the CHOP zone; this seems counterproductive to what BLM stands for. Some resources were exclusively available to people based on race, but typically only for Black individuals. One of the more comical examples of this happening is CHOP’s very own vegetable gardens based in what looks to be a mixture of cardboard and plywood.
These displays of segregation appeared to become more frequent, though, as race-exclusive resources quickly escalated into Black-only areas and events including the “Blackout”, a large space in Cal Anderson Park solely reserved for those of Black lineage. These segregated events were often held for public speaking and did not serve as a genuine public sphere in any way, defeating the entire purpose of a protest. Had this demonstration facilitated open dialogue rather than shutting it down, the messages of their cause could’ve been greatly amplified and would likely be transformed into a favourable public opinion.
Participating in these proceedings was akin to being in an echo chamber where discussions occurred not for the sake of learning and progress, but to fuel ego, reinforce beliefs, and reignite fires that can never be fixed in such a manner. It still leaves me wondering how promoting and indulging in acts of segregation could ever lead to a better state of racial equality.
Defund the Police…Unless We Need Them
Standing out from all the hypocrisy taking place within CHOP itself was its one main goal: to defund the Seattle Police Department (SPD) by 50%.
In the meantime, occupants ensured that the zone remained completely police-free and assembled a ‘CHOP militia’ to deal with any instances of extreme violence and disorder. This improvised taskforce composed of ordinary civilians equipped with various assault rifles and sidearms quickly proved to be ineffective in its ability to upkeep order within the zone, ultimately struggling to prevent crimes from occurring amongst their own people. Reports of rape, robbery, and arson, among other violent crimes surged during the zone’s attempt to remain police-free. Additionally, whenever the SPD sought to intervene and aid the victims of these crimes, response times were tripled due to occupants’ unrest and hostility toward officers.
It was all too soon before protesters began fearing for their safety, particularly after a shooting occurred on June 20th among the outskirts of the zone’s own borders. 19-year-old Horace Lorenzo Anderson was the first victim, suffering multiple gunshot wounds and later declared dead at Harborview Medical Centre. Another unnamed 33-year-old male was also left in critical condition.
Footage of one of four shootings that had taken place in CHOP
The events escalated to a total of four different shootings within just ten days, leaving six victims directly affected whilst the others left petrified. It became blatantly obvious that CHOP’s attempt at self-policing failed miserably which, ironically, led to occupants pleading for the assistance of SPD officers and the protest coming to an end shortly thereafter. The one thing that BLM supporters had fought so hard against within the CHOP zone was, in fact, the only force that could keep them safe after all.
Hypocrisies Leave Us Lessons
We need police. In the time that CHOP was up and running, Seattle saw a 525% spike in crime which has been attributed to the hypocritical functions and behaviour displayed within the police-free zone. The long-lasting impact and damages caused by BLM protesters in Capitol Hill were unlawful, unjustified, and unforgivable.
Let’s get one thing straight: Black lives matter. At the end of the day, the vast majority of Americans would like to be living in a country where justice is the standard and racial inequalities are few to none – Black Lives Matter, as a movement and organization, only facilitates racial divide, violence, and problematic behaviour on a multitude of levels. For these reasons, the movement has completely failed in uplifting Black individuals in America, only adding fuel to an already-blazing fire.
Despite what BLM pushes for, defunding the police is most certainly not the solution to combating police brutality and other forms of police misconduct, but a plan of action for reformation is likely due.
Among the necessity for more extensive training, educational requirements to become a police officer need to be heightened, and the education in which officers receive should be relevant and practical to the job (Psychology, Criminology, etc.). Being a police officer should be a prestigious position, so let’s start treating it like one. Positions of power attract those who are willing to abuse it, and so lengthening the process of entry should improve the quality of officers entering into the force, thus improving the quality of policing as a whole. Of course, much more than this can be done, but proper education is a necessity for both police and the public when these sorts of issues arise.
To the supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement: Think critically, carefully, and wholeheartedly, as cooperation over division is the only way in which racial equality will ever be attained. There’s only one message of value that was taken from the hypocrisies of CHOP: The atrocities we once fought against will eagerly resurface if we don’t condemn this type of behaviour.
The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author, and do not reflect the views of Conversationally Speaking Magazine.
Steven is a centrist thinker that heavily values independence, critical reasoning, and open dialogue more than anything. He is currently studying Rhetoric, Media, and Professional Communication at the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ontario. His work generally focuses on social change and the effects that media have on North American society.
Categories: Society & Culture