Requiem for CHAZ
We are not supposed to speak ill of the dead, but as far as I know this injunction is applied only to persons, not countries. This is especially true of those nations like the Confederate States of America that emerge from brief, ill-fated attempts at secession. So I am not going to pretend to have anything especially good to say about the late Capitol Hill Autonomous (later, according to some, Occupied) Zone, which was forcibly reintegrated into the city of Seattle, Washington, and, presumably, the United States on Wednesday after 24 days of well-publicized stupidity.
This is not because I have no sympathy with the former micro-state's citizens or their founding ideals. We know what Mencken said about the desire of every normal man to hoist the black flag. But CHAZ's brief history reads like a Tea Party grandpa's Facebook rant about the pitfalls of socialism. It turns out that when the mayor of a city decides to abandon a downtown police precinct in the face of widespread protest and allow six blocks to be given over to a mob, the result is not the scenario envisioned in John Lennon's "Imagine." Borders, private property, hunger, lack of access to health care, racial tension, shootings, murders: these things have a funny way of somehow not disappearing just because you have woke slogans about how they are bad and academic theories about how they are perpetuated by the rule of Jenny Durkan, Seattle's progressive mayor.
From the beginning there were concerns about the supply of food, an apparently unforeseeable consequence of giving it away for free to all comers. (It was unclear how soon those who began planting racially segregated vegetable gardens in the zone thought that they would be able to enjoy the fruits of their labor.) The necessity of securing food and other scarce resources led almost immediately to the establishment of borders, which were maintained by armed guards and an actual wall. Unlike the United States' own admittedly somewhat larger border, CHAZ's was effectively secure, indeed so secure that ambulances were sometimes prevented from entering. Some journalists were denied entry to the young nation; others were deported. The Los Angeles-based reporter Kalen D'Ameida was caught attempting to record the dorm-room struggle sessions that passed for attempts at governance in CHAZ; he was assaulted and only avoided being detained in a so-called “security tent” by fleeing the zone and taking refuge in a construction site. Who would have guessed that radical leftists and President Trump had so much in common?
Whatever CHAZ was, it was not the "block party" initially described by Durkan herself in response to critics of her decision to cede a portion of her city’s downtown to protesters. (The autonomy did not extend to businesses and other residents, who had no say in the matter.) Durkan’s tone policing was typical of how CHAZ was discussed in liberal circles. At one point we were told that we should not refer to Raz Simone, the erstwhile Soundcloud rapper and Airbnber who quickly became a fixture of CHAZ media coverage, as a "warlord." Is there a politer politically correct term for someone who uses guns to establish authority over an area in which sovereignty is disputed?
In America we always make everything about everything. Supposedly this is called "intersectionality," and it is a good thing. But when protests over the killing of an unarmed black man by police metamorphose into an inchoate revolutionary movement, the original object of righteous indignation has a curious way of fading from view. Which is why the most serious indictment of CHAZ is the gun violence that wounded at least four people and killed two, including a 16-year-old boy. All of the victims were black.
When police finally reclaimed CHAZ on Wednesday, they made some 44 arrests following reports of assault, theft, and rape. In the space of only a few weeks the neighborhood's crime rate had nearly doubled. Pointing this out is not an attempt at gotcha. It is a reminder that the pursuit of justice is something we should take seriously. Racism and police brutality are real problems, ones that will not be solved by sleeping in tents or imposing a caste-like "reverse hierarchy of oppression" in which people's moral authority comes from the color of their skin. Pressing for reform of actual specific abuses by those in power is harder than saying no one actually needs to be in charge.
What the last three weeks in Seattle have shown us is that someone always has to be.
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