Chopped: How Seattle Is Defining Leadership In Seattle And Washington

Jenny_Durkandonald_trump_president-elect_portrait_croppedBelow is my column in the Hill on the controversy over the creation of the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, better known as Chaz.  Well, it was Chaz. “The autonomous zone formerly known as CHAZ” is now the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP). As W.C. Fields said “It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to.” The problem is that Chief Best said no one is answering their calls.  Chief Carmen Best stated today that the name had apparently changed but that they have yet to identify people who will speak for CHAZ or CHOP. She also noted that there appears to be widely different demands. That presents a serious barrier to a resolution.

RIP CHAZ. All Hail CHOP, but the question of leadership remains.  Here is the column:

In Seattle, the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, better known as Chaz, seeks to create a communal experiment in governing free of cops. With raucous meetings in the Seattle People Department, formerly known as the Seattle Police Department in the East Precinct, Chaz is a work in progress covered in graffiti. Beyond its barricaded border, however, Chaz is already defining governance. In Seattle, Mayor Jenny Durkan is dismissing the concept for leadership. In Washington, President Trump is claiming authority he does not have to retake the district. It is a tale of two very different cities, with one official abdicating her authority and the other exaggerating his.

Officials struggled to ignore that people have taken control of one police precinct and six blocks of the largest city in Washington state. Governor Jay Inslee was ridiculed for denying he was aware of the takeover, which has been the focus of every major network and newspaper for days now. As Inslee struggled with denial, Durkan swiftly moved to acceptance.

Despite images of men walking around Chaz with weapons and extensive property damage, Durkan shrugged off suggestions that she might have a responsibility to regain control of the area. In an interview, she described the takeover as nothing more than a block party. Pressed about when she may act, Durkan said she may simply abandon the area and allow for what she called a summer of love. Nonetheless, both Durkan and Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best denied giving the order to abandon the precinct.

In a way, that is the greatest achievement of some of the anarchist and socialist groups in the movement: Government seems to have melted away, not just inside CHAZ but in Seattle.  Indeed, they are witnessing what Frederick Engels once envisioned: “The state is not ‘abolished’, it withers away.”

The support from Durkan for their “desire to build a better world” ignores that she was elected to govern the entire city of Seattle. Withdrawing the police and giving in to mob control of even one small area is antithetical to the most basic concepts of governance. Indeed, unwilling citizens of Chaz could sue over that decision to surrender control of their precinct. The city could also be sued for damages caused by abandonment.

The irony is that Durkan and the city can be protected by the very thing the denizens of Chaz, and Democratic leaders, have called to eliminate, which is immunity. Police have won lawsuits over the failure to prevent injuries or respond to calls as the discretionary decisions left for a city. Some of those cases turned on the “public duty doctrine” that shields governments from liability when it refuses to act to enforce laws.

In the 19th century, the Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit against a sheriff who allowed a gang of working men to basically hold a man hostage over unpaid money. The Supreme Court ruled that the sheriff owed his duty to the public rather than to individual citizens. Durkan can rely on the same antebellum precedent to excuse her own refusal to act with Chaz.

As Durkan abandons her duties, Trump is threatening to exceed his own. He tweeted that the “anarchist takeover” in Seattle is a case of domestic terrorism. Whatever Chaz is, it is certainly not terrorism. The mayhem is mostly peaceful, if also destructive, and the habit of Trump of calling his critics “traitors” is unnerving. But he went further, telling Seattle officials to take back the city or he would do it himself. This assertion of power is as radically overstated as that of Durkan is radically understated.

Under our federalist system, police powers mostly reside with the states. The Constitution gives Congress authority to overcome disturbances. It can “provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions.” Yet the disorder in Seattle is not an insurrection or a challenge to federal authority. It is rather a local protest that has now been allowed to continue by city officials.

With the Insurrection Act, Congress authorized presidents to use troops in response to rioting that “opposes or obstructs the execution of the laws of the United States or impedes the course of justice under those laws.” The president may intervene if requested by a state legislature to suppress an insurrection. In the case of Chaz, there is neither a rebellion nor a request. The Insurrection Act also allows for unilateral action for cases of unlawful obstruction, assemblies, or rebellion against the United States.

However, there is no challenge to federal authority when city officials have allowed the local protest to continue. Furthermore, the law grants federal authority on conditions that “make it impracticable to enforce the laws” in any state with “the ordinary course of judicial proceedings.” The reason is that, as long as the courts are operating, the rule of law can be enforced, and Chaz does not prevent the courts in Seattle from meeting.

While Trump has said he will seek “force with compassion” in Chaz, that would still exceed any design by the Constitution. As with his erroneous claims that he could order the opening of states in the pandemic, Trump is certainly exceeding his power as the president. By comparison, Chaz has been functioning as was intended by not functioning at all.

Activists demand abolition of the police, the criminal justice system, the gentrification of cities, and a growing line of other actions, notably calls for the resignation of Durkan and the jailing of Trump. It is the talk of the town where citizens are pushing for the free delivery of everything from lotion to cigarettes and basking in the relative clarity of anarchy.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can find his updates online @JonathanTurley.

136 thoughts on “Chopped: How Seattle Is Defining Leadership In Seattle And Washington”

    1. Strange that you ask…, most recently he was in the VP’s office coordinating the recovery from the Bush jr. economic crash and soon to be in charge of recovery from the Trump economic crash.

      Also, as the result of one of his off the cuff ‘gaffes’, the country jumped several hurdles all at once to legalize gay marriage, a sentiment that seemed to be upheld in yesterday’s discrimination ruling in the Supreme Court that Neil G. wrote.

      1. So from 2009 to 2017 he was for removing historical monuments and he was solidly backing BLM. Recently he has sided with the ” demonstrators” and then he says he says he doesn’t want to defund the police. I think Sleepy Joe says what is politically expedient at the moment.

      2. Hellvis, are you back again after peddling Clinton’s Steele Dossier so that you are going to claim Joe Biden was “coordinating the recovery”? Obama would never permit Biden in such a role Biden was incapable of handling. Instead Obama sent Biden to pasture where he and his family fed ( on big bucks) in the Ukraine and Russia and when he was home his family feasted on Maverick Schools (I think now defunct or mostly defunct), construction and a few other things. The entire family got in on the act. Hellvis, you like Biden’s touchy feely acts, just don’t follow suit or you may be arrested.

          1. Hellvis, I know how difficult it must be for you to have to deal with so many words greater than 1 syllable. I will provide you with an easier version of the most important thing I said. It goes for you and Biden. Keep hands off girls.

            1. I know how difficult it must be for you to have to deal with so many words greater than 1 syllable.
              Do you randomly pick them from the dictionary?

              1. It goes for you and Biden. Keep hands off girls.

                I think that quote pertains to you as well anonymous.

    2. “Just curious, where has Joe Biden been the past 40 years?”

      Bob, your question immediately made me think of Petula Clark and her famous song Downtown. It goes something like this for Biden.

      ‘When you’re alone and your intellect’s gone you can always go BASE-MENT’

  1. Fox News Has Taken Great Liberties In Reports From Seattle

    It seems I live in a city undergoing a “totalitarian takeover” that will lead to “fascist outcomes” and could “metastasize across the country.” Its government “has handed over an entire portion of the city to domestic terrorists.” This “group of rogue protesters” is attempting “to get a stranglehold on the city.” This radical “army” of “conquistadors” has “rolled over the police like Cortez rolling over the Aztecs.”

    Welcome to our world, out here in Seattle—at least according to the hosts and commentators of Fox News. Lesser voices on the digital right have announced even more dire supposed developments: “Rapper-turned-warlord rules commune streets with the iron fist of a privatized police force.” But it’s Fox that has been all over the story of the so-called Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone or CHAZ ): four-plus blocks of street and sidewalk in Seattle’s traditional gay and bohemian nightlife district, surrounding a boarded-up police precinct headquarters that the mayor ordered vacated last Monday to dampen a week-and-a-half of escalating confrontations between police and protesters.

    What’s going on in these four blocks that shook the world is indeed an occupation, but it looks nothing like the conquista touted on Fox. It’s also the “block party” that Mayor Jenny Durkan has compared it to, to gleeful jeers from Fox commentators. And it’s other things as well—a protean, issue-focused but conceptually sprawling formative community, at once silly and serious, spontaneous and disciplined.

    You’d hardly guess all that from the breathless attention Fox has lavished from Day One on this tiny strip of Seattle—while ignoring, among other peaceful protests, a 60,000-strong BLM march that proceeded in solemn silence through chilly rain and nearly no police presence on Saturday. The litany of elisions, misconceptions and misrepresentations that have spread from Fox’s coverage across social media and in the public and presidential minds may still surprise even those with diminished expectations of the network.

    The most brazen have been visual. On Friday the Seattle Times revealed three sleights of the photo-editing hand on the Fox site, two of which it managed to preserve before the channel took them down. In one, Fox led a package of stories headlined “Crazy Town: Seattle helpless as armed guards patrol ‘autonomous zone’” with an incendiary photo of a man running between a burning car and building. That photo was actually taken May 30 in St. Paul, Minnesota. Seattle’s protests have produced no such blazes.

    Fox also undertook two cut-and-pastes of a photo of a young sentinel standing calmly with a semiautomatic rifle on a quiet nighttime street in the zone, which it had already published intact. In one altered image, it set him in front of shattered storefront windows that had been photographed a week before CHAZ/CHOP was set up, more than a mile away. (Storefronts and windows have been spared in the autonomous/organized zone—even those in the vacated police station.) In the other, he stands by a street barrier and a hand-lettered sign reading, “You Are Now Entering Free Capitol Hill.” An editor’s note acknowledging the removal of the storefront mashup called it a “collage,” suggesting it was not intended to look like a single photo.

    Fox is also slippery in its verbal attributions. It has hammered at the idea that the CHOP has made neighbors alarmed and fearful. But the only purported “resident of this part of the city” it has presented is a “former Seattle City Council candidate” named Ari Hoffman, who said nothing about the neighborhood but inveighed against “domestic terrorists.” One problem: Hoffman, a familiar face on Fox, isn’t from Capitol Hill. He lives in Seward Park, an affluent neighborhood 4 miles away. And when a member of the Police Department’s African American Community Advisory Council told protesters they had “hijacked” the movement and “taken the meaning away,” a Fox headline, echoed in later coverage, blared something very different: “Black Lives Matter protesters say Seattle’s autonomous zone has hijacked message.”

    Such misrepresentations reverberate in subsequent reports and commentaries, painting a dark picture of the “organized protest” as illegitimate, divided, armed and violent. Many of these tropes derive from an on-camera statement Wednesday by Police Assistant Chief Deanna Nollette. “We’ve been hearing from community members that they have been subjected to barricades set up by the protesters with some armed individuals running them as checkpoints,” Nollette said, adding, “we have heard anecdotally of citizens and businesses being asked to pay a fee to operate within this area. This is the crime of extortion.” Nollette urged “anyone who feels threatened to call 911.”

    The next day, Police Chief Carmen Best walked back that statement, saying that only “rumors” and social media claimed extortion. At least one such claim is an evident fake. The Greater Seattle Business Association, which is based on Capitol Hill, checked with local businesses and “found no evidence of this occurring.” Detective Patrick Michaud, a Seattle Police spokesman, says the department has received no 911 calls or other complaints about extortion, intimidation, guns or checkpoint barriers in the CHAZ/CHOP.

    Edited from: “Don’t Listen To Fox. Here’s What’s Really Going On In Seattle’s Protest Zone”

    Politico, 6/15/20

      1. Take note whomever permitted that to be done should be fired, but take note how both the left and the right have articles in their respective sites about this bad behavior. Take note how quickly the corrections were made. The Washington Post continued lying long after they knew the truth so the doltish today still think there is merit to the Clinton created Steele Dossier. Listen to earlier postings where Hellvis hugs the Steele Dossier though it is dirtier than sin.

        From this incident the Paint Chips of the world will assume prime time on Fox was involved. They weren’t. They are so closely observed that they cannot afford to make factual errors and they very rarely do. When they make a mistake unlike the Washington Post that will keep the lie going for more than a year they will correct it immediately. Just to make Paint Chips more comfortable with those shows the admitted mistake made by Fox was on its web page NOT on one of its TV shows. Not all of FOX News is on the right. Some of Fox News unfortuantely has some of the bad characteristics of the MSM.

    1. Yeah, it’s a peach. Southside Chicago is a weekend wonderland too. Epstein’s island was a tropical getaway for teen’s aspiring to earn a decent living. Of course you need to ignore the fact that murder, rape, arson, looting, etc. is effing illegal.

      More on the CHOP utopia:

      CHOP is not a peaceful, social justice utopia where Antifa, anarchists, and community organizers come together for meaningful discussions on policy. It’s a cop-free zone of fringe ideologues, well-intended activists, and tourists looking to be part of something that unfortunately is becoming a something to parody.

      It’s peaceful, until it’s not. Suggesting otherwise is willful ignorance.

      Some media outlets spin yarn about CHOP, the Capitol Hill Occupying Protest. They’ll have you believe it’s “a homeland for racial justice” and that businesses simply adore being in the CHOP zone so they can take part in the activism. Indeed, it’s just like a street fair or block party..

      That the CHOP is wholly peaceful is demonstrably false. So why are some claiming that?

      The peaceful CHOP lie.

  2. The future of law enforcement should be interesting. Cops retiring as soon as possible, some are leaving and choose another profession. Recruiting new officers to say the least will be challenging. We could be entering a new world run by street mobs and spineless politicians. To say the least it should be very interesting.

  3. I thought I had heard the dumbest of dumb ideas in the last few weeks but NYPD is not to be outdone. Effective immediately, NYPD is disbanding all undercover police operations working major crimes. If I had not heard an NYPD high ranking official proudly making the announcement, I would have thought it was a joke. I don’t yet know the scope of this policy. Undercover officers working major crimes presumably would include those who have infiltrated criminal organizations. Surely that is not intended. It sounds like it would include undercover officers working the streets or parks to catch muggers, rapists, robbers, etc. in the act. Would it also include undercover officers blending in with a protest to prevent a riot? Presumably it would also include a fugitive task force if the fugitive is wanted for a major crime. I look forward to hearing them explain what this is all about. I hope I misunderstood what was said. If not, it sounds as dumb and possibly as deadly as Gov. Cuomo’s nursing home rule on Covid-19 patients.

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