Seattle “autonomous zone” has armed guards, local businesses being threatened with extortion, police say

Fox News reports Seattle police say they have received reports of armed guards and potential extortion in a self-declared autonomous zone that spans several blocks and includes a now-closed precinct.

“We’ve heard, anecdotally, reports of citizens and businesses being asked to pay a fee to operate within this area. This is the crime of extortion. If anyone has been subjected to this, we need them to call 911,” Assistant Chief of Police Deanna Nollette said on Wednesday.

Protesters calling to defund the police and make sweeping reforms to law enforcement tactics have declared a six-block region — spanning 13th Avenue past 11th Avenue, near Cal Anderson Park, and from East Olive Street to East Pike Street — the “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone” (CHAZ).

The region encompasses the SPD’s East Precinct, which was abandoned by cops on Monday following days of violent clashes between law enforcement and protesters in the wake of George Floyd’s death, as well as parts of Capitol Hill.

Officers retreated from the area in an effort to quell the violence– which included multiple shootings, one that was sparked after a man rammed his vehicle into a crowd of protesters. Police officers have deployed tear gas and pepper spray to disperse large groups of people.

“We wanted to be able to facilitate and support peaceful demonstrations,” Nollette said.

Demonstrations within the autonomous zone have been mostly peaceful, with no reports of violence, but police say armed guards have been surrounding the perimeter of the region and residents who live within the boundaries are “forced to show ID to prove you “belong” there,” a law enforcement official told Fox News.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the unfolding situation, the official told Fox News some people living in the area — which includes numerous bars, restaurants, businesses and private residences — have been “begging for help because they are not being allowed into their homes without ID.”

Police have been told to stay away from the region unless there is a call to 911 for help.

The official also added that leaders in the anti-cop zone are “starting to extort money from the local businesses within the border for ‘protection.'”

Mckenzie Diamond, who lives in the “Autonomous Zone,” told Kiro 7 the experience has been “a bit stressful.”

“It’s like checking in with somebody to get into your own home,” Diamond told the news outlet. “Just making it so people can get into their buildings. Keep the zone however they want, and move the fencing so people can go home.”

“No one at these checkpoints has the legal authority to demand identification from anyone. We ask if anyone is subjected to these demands to call 911 and report the incident,” Nollette said.

“While Washington is an open-carry state, there is no legal right for those arms to be used to intimidate community members,” she told Komo News.

Nollette also added that they are aware of threats to burn down the East Precinct, which she said “would endanger residents, firefighters and businesses.”

The police department is looking to start negotiations with the leaders of the protest movement to gain access to the police precinct but are unsure of who is leading the demonstrations.

“It’s just a matter of establishing this dialogue. We’d love nothing more than to be able to open our precinct buildings,” Nollette said. “What we want to do is give an opportunity for everyone’s tempers to calm, and for us to approach the table with a view towards equality.”

Per the DailyDot, the “autonomous zone” set up by protesters in Seattle’s Capitol Hill district has released a list of demands.

In a blog post on Medium published Tuesday, the protesters—which overtook and barricaded several city blocks on Monday—outlined the necessary “policy changes for the cultural and historic advancement of the City of Seattle.”

A reporter for KIRO, a local radio station, described the zone as “very peaceful” with demonstrators giving out free food and medical aid.

Representing the views of the “Collective Black Voices” from what has been dubbed Free Capitol Hill, the demands focus on issues like the justice system, economics, education, and health and human services.

In regards to the justice system, the group is demanding the outright abolition of both the Seattle Police Department as well as the court system.

“This means 100% of funding, including existing pensions for Seattle Police,” the post reads. “At an equal level of priority we also demand that the city disallow the operations of ICE in the city of Seattle.”

The protesters are also demanding that prior to their abolition, all police must be barred from using firearms, batons, riot shields, and chemical agents.

Any and all allegations of police brutality must be investigated by the federal government, the post continues, while those determined to have suffered police brutality must also receive reparations “in a form to be determined.”

The post goes on to call for “imprisonment” to be phased out entirely, and for those arrested for marijuana and resisting arrest offenses to be released immediately.

The protesters argue that all funding previously used for Seattle police should be redirected to socialized medicine, public housing and education, and naturalization services for undocumented immigrants.

In terms of economics, the post calls for “de-gentrification of Seattle” through methods such as rent control, free college, and a “decentralized election process” that allows working-class residents to run for office.

Changes to the health and human services listed in the demands include hospitals hiring Black nurses and doctors to specifically aid Black patients, and having a staff of mental health experts to respond to 911 calls.

Demands regarding education include mandatory anti-bias training for all educators, a greater focus on Black and Native American history, and the removal of any Confederate statues throughout the state.

The demands come not long after the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct was more or less abandoned, allowing protesters to claim the surrounding area as their own.

The full list of demands can be viewed here. 

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