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Editorial

An Open Letter to CHOP

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Black lives matter.

I want to start this with the direct statement that Black lives matter.

The thoughts and observations here are my own. As an individual who is a BIPOC ally and motivated to take bold action after witnessing SPDs repeated treatment of peaceful protesters, I have spent long hours in CHOP.

I’ve had rubber bullets shot at me, teargas and pepper spray in my eyes and lungs, and dodge flash-bang grenades. I have carried the wounded from advancing SPD treating peaceful protesters as a free-fire zone. I have watched SPD repeatedly lie despite undeniable video evidence from every imaginable angle. I have been threatened online and in-person for documenting history.

I have received only a small taste of what the BIPOC community goes through daily and find it mentally exhausting. How can anyone live like this? The nation’s maltreatment of BIPOC peoples has gone on for four centuries, that is four centuries too long. We have to admit our past, to acknowledge our ugly history, and demand an end to institutional racism.  

Black lives matter.

Since May 31, 2020, CHOP’s (CHAZ) message is becoming lost due to the deteriorating security situation and the actions of some who are overtaking the space. Change is never a straight line, and change can be frightening and painful. There are people deeply invested in the current system, from all sides, who don’t want to see change. Others are looking at change as if it were a transaction, and preying on the opportunity to profit from it. Others want to see violent change, to serve as proof that the status quo must be maintained.

CHOP is a mustard seed trying to grow in a harsh desert. The fractures we see in our nation, and the support for Black lives matter around the world, are screaming in a loud voice, we need to change.

As I write this, I am well aware that Mayor Durkan has a press conference planned at 4 PM. We may well be seeing the end of CHOP. At the minimum, we will likely see the beginning of the political will to end CHOP. I appeal to the organizers that they should not let this happen, and have the message of Black lives matter fade with it. But clearly, there is a need for change within CHOP.

  1. End support for a homeless encampment within CHOP

    The Seattle Police Department has been actively rounding up some of the most troubled souls afflicted by drug addiction, alcoholism, and chronic homelessness and dropping them off at CHOP. As someone who was highly engaged in Occupy and an individual who visited multiple cities to help with their efforts, I saw this same tactic employed across the United States. Embracing the chronically homeless with addiction and or mental health issues is altruistic. It appeals to the aspiration of equality, hope, and is symbolic of the best of humanity. A tent encampment is not a valid replacement for the proper support services of the homeless.

    The Puget Sound Business Journal estimates King County spends $100K a year per homeless person in the county. This isn’t a failure of CHOP; this is a failure of Seattle and King County. Bluntly put, an outdoor park is no substitute for mental health beds, drug addiction treatment, social workers, and transitional housing. I appeal to the organizers to dissolve the homeless encampment within CHOP, and not allow SPD to make society’s failure, CHOP’s failure. Continued access to CHOP for shelter also perpetuates homelessness, by detaching those in need from available services.

    Organizers should meet with the city of Seattle and King County to create a transitional plan for the homeless there for shelter in cooperation. We did this in Everett, Washington, during Occupy and were able to negotiate and secure housing for every homeless person there. 

  2. Create a council of leaders with no appointed head, and a visible acknowledgment of who those people are

    History has taught us that leaders within a movement become targets for those who don’t want change. From Malcolm X to Robert Finicum, representing both ends of the political spectrum, our history cannot be denied. But CHOPs very loose organization creates confusion and different messages to the world. Having a “we are all leaders” policy is no longer benefiting the movement or the core message of Black lives matter.

    I appeal that CHOP creates a more formal leadership structure akin to a council, with no appointed leader, making it harder to discredit and eliminate. I am aware of the Occupy-style daily councils, but history has shown this can’t scale. Further, at Occupy Seattle, those with political agendas would bring their supporters to the council to vote in a block counter-productive measures. These actions pushed out many supporters, and the message became lost. Please learn from this history. 

  3. Improve security during nighttime hours

    The organizers of CHOP want to prove to the world against impossible odds that they can create change without militarized police interaction. The Seattle Police Department and Seattle Fire Department hide behind, “policy,” and, “protocol,” which only escalate situations. Not only is this happening in CHOP, but documented at Judkins Park on Juneteenth. The security situation at CHOP changes dramatically from 11 PM to 6 AM.

    The security situation needs to be addressed to assure safety not just for CHOP, but the residents who live within the boundaries. Remember, these people did not choose, and most represent peoples sympathetic to the cause (most, not all). The history of revolution and change carries the same message if you want to achieve your goals, “hearts and minds.” You have to win hearts and minds, and that starts with the residents and businesses within CHOP.

  4. Create quiet hours so everyone can get some proper sleep

    CHOP organizers should create quiet hours in alignment with the state of Seattle, King County, and Washington. Everyone, from those protecting CHOP, the medic teams, those maintaining the occupation, and the residents within not only deserve good sleep but also require it. Sleep-deprived individuals are more prone to anger, lower cognitive ability, and irritability. It is a volatile mix contributing to the issues. I repeat the words, “hearts and minds,” and I’ll echo the words I have heard repeated, “this isn’t Coachella.”

    At Occupy in Seattle, Seattle Police used sleep deprivation techniques of loud music, sirens, and running through the encampment to dissolve the will of those staying there. Please stop making SPD’s job easier. 

  5. Just like medical teams, armed security should be recognizable

    I appeal to the security team to adopt something that makes them recognizable as security. Some security volunteers wear shirts that say security; other’s don’t. For the community, it makes it impossible to determine when someone is open carrying if they are part of security, making a show of force, or have bad intentions. Designated security should be more recognizable, especially armed security.

  6. Move some barricades to improve safety, even if it is against the will of the city of Seattle

    The events of the last 72 hours have shown that moving the barricades back by 10th and East Pine created a serious security risk. I appeal to CHOP organizers to move the barriers whether the city supports this or not, and eliminate drive-through access from 10th to East Pine. 

  7. Stop censorship within CHOP

    There has been growing hostility toward the live stream, photography, blogger, and mainstream media community. When an organization tries to control the narrative, that organization’s reputation is tarnished. Citizens have every right to say I don’t want to be on video or photographed. Threatening and assaulting individuals, many who are there with the singular purpose of communicating the message Black Lives Matter goes against everything Black lives matter stands for.

    If you don’t allow the documentation of the real story, you become no better than the system you are fighting. You can’t say you have a right to protest and assembly, and then ignore the other parts of the First Amendment. The confiscation of camera equipment and the assault of those peacefully recording history should not be acceptable in any society and should have no place in CHOP.

  8. Focus energy on Black lives matter

    Finally, I ask that when a council is created, they focus on the real matters at hand—Black lives matter. Activities, actions, and people that aren’t committed to this movement should not be part of the movement. You can achieve this by having more structure and planning while not working to control every second. If an activity that doesn’t focus on equality, Black lives matter, justice, or police reform is planned, we should be asking, “why are we doing this?” There should be time for celebration, reflection, and to enjoy each other in brotherhood, but distractions from the core message need to be reduced. Please end the hijacking of CHOP and Black lives matter. As an example, no one should be profiting off of the misery of the Black community by selling $30 Black Lives Matter t-shirts within CHOP.

When George Floyd was a child, he wanted to be a supreme court justice. In Houston, he was known as a man of God, a man who learned from his past and trying to show others a better way. I am not a religious man and have my sincere doubts about Heaven and Hell. If there is a place after this, it is incumbent upon all BIPOC allies to not let this catalyst of change disappear in a cloud. We can continue on the path Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. started over 50 years ago. A journey rekindled in the American spirit through George’s Floyd’s dying words. Black lives matter. No one should ever again declare, “I can’t breathe,” as their essence is squeezed out by the very people who are supposed to protect and serve.

I believe that CHOP can survive the events of the last 72 hours, but all of us who are allies must take swift action. It is incumbent upon those who support equality, an end to institutional racism, and an end to police brutality to make the required adjustments to keep this movement going.  

Black lives matter.

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