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What Does CHAZ Stand For?

Photo: Diego G Diaz / Shutterstock
What Does CHAZ Stand For?

Seattle is the birthplace of pop culture touchstones: Amazon, Starbucks, Jimi Hendrix, and grunge music all got their start in the Emerald City. But now, a city-within-the-city is taking center stage thanks to increasing #BlackLivesMatter protests and increasing calls to defund the police. This city-within-a-city, which takes up only six city blocks, is becoming a political watershed and a social experiment all at once. 

What does CHAZ stand for?

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CHAZ stands for "Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone." 

It was established after Seattle police abandoned a precinct in the area. The Seattle police department had a building located in the East Precinct of the Capitol Hill district of the city. On June 9, 2020, the Seattle police abandoned the building, which was located north on East Denny Way, east to 13th Avenue, south to East Pike, and west to Broadway. Armed protestors began surrounding the building when it became clear that the hate group, The Proud Boys, was looking to infiltrate the area and cause issues. On that day, the CHAZ was born. 

It rose up in response to the George Floyd Reckoning.

On May 29, 2020, protests against the killing of George Floyd began rising up in the city of Seattle. Protestors clashed with the Seattle police and the National Guard. When the Seattle mayor declared a moratorium on the use of tear gas, the Seattle police responded by using other forms of force against the protestors, including blast balls, flashbangs, and pepper spray. By the time the Seattle police department had abandoned the East Precinct, more than 12,000 complaints of police brutality had been filed against the department. 

Capitol Hill has been a breeding ground for Seattle protests in the past. 

CHAZ is far from the first protest movement to spring up in the Capitol Hill district, and it certainly won't be the last. In 2011, the Occupy Seattle protest took place in the district, and once again, protestors and police clashed. Prior to that, in 1999, the counter-WTO protests took place in the district and prior to that, several pro-LGBTQIA protests took place in the area. 

What is the point of CHAZ?

Those who live in CHAZ claim that they want a police-free zone and want to be able to self-govern without the use of a police force or police brutality. They bill themselves as both anti-fascist and anti-racist and believe in the open-carry of firearms. Some members of the press have described CHAZ as a cross between a "student co-operative" and Occupy Wall Street. 

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Those on the political right are against CHAZ.

Raz Simone, the self-proclaimed "leader" of CHAZ — who is both a rapper and an activist — has been accused of being a "terrorist" and a "warlord" by members of the political right. Fox News, Ted Cruz, and Donald Trump have all accused both Simone and The CHAZ of various forms of "anti-American" activities but there's no evidence to suggest this.

CHAZ has inspired other similar locations to rise up in the U.S.

Inspired by the success of CHAZ, other areas have tried to establish their own cop-free zones. For example, Portland, Oregon tried to establish their own version of CHAZ but were unsuccessful in doing so. Even though they cordoned off the area with barbed wire and had a successful stand-off with police, they abandoned their CHAZ on June 11, 2020.

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Bernadette Giacomazzo is an editor, writer, publicist, and photographer whose work has appeared in Teen Vogue, People, Us Weekly, The Source, XXL, HipHopDX, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Post, BET.com, and more.