The Rise and Fall of the “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone”

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Ethan Lopez, Staff Writer

Mass protests and movements standing up for social justice have taken America by storm this past year as more and more cases of alleged police brutality and injustice sweep the nation. Nearly every recent death of an African American  by an officer is met with thousands of protestors, with this trend beginning this year with the death of George Floyd. His name rang across the country as a symbol against law enforcement , which led to subsequent protests and riots in major cities.

One of the biggest examples of this movement was the self-establishment of the ‘Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone,’ six blocks of Seattle  including the Cal Anderson public park claimed by protestors and anarchists vying for an “oppression-free community,” rid of a justice system and established government. Rather than having laws, the protesters would participate in a daily meeting to make communal decisions. They also based their community on a “reverse hierarchy,” putting African American and indigenous people as ‘higher-class,’ while labeling white people as the ‘lower-class,’ an extreme form of affirmative action in this zone. Although there was no defining system of justice, armed militia groups would bind together for the purpose of preventing violent crimes and forcefully removing any sign of right-wing and police force activity. The Seattle Police Department rarely responded to 911 calls in the zone, respecting their “secession” from the United States and police abolition beliefs, although there were a few life-threatening cases that they had to diffuse. 

This wasn’t enough, however, as several injuries and a couple of deaths occurred in this zone, forcing the police to take back the area and disperse the protestors to prevent any more casualties. Several residents in the area felt extremely unsafe, feeling forced to either move out or install expensive security systems, despite many of them actually supporting their movement. Many shop owners reported being threatened by occupants, being forced to align with the protest or face punishment. On top of the in-zone conflict, far-right groups would harass and throw things at the protesters from outside the zone, fueling tension. The entire organized protest lasted from June 8th to July 1st, although borders of the zone constantly changed, shrinking more and more until the SPD claimed back the area. 

The Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone was a very small and ephemeral demonstration of anarcho-communism, police abolition, and secession, and whether it was a success or not depends on who you ask. During and following the protest, several police reforms for Seattle were put into place, including restrictions to badge covering, banning the purchase of crowd control weapons, and prohibiting choke holds. Although this is a very small step for what the protestors were fighting for, it is progress nonetheless, progress only stained by the blood of two African American teenagers that died from the shootings that occurred in the zone.