Activism, BLM, Top Stories

Seattle’s Summer of Love

The bluest skies you’ve ever seen in Seattle
And the hills the greenest green in Seattle
Like a beautiful child growing up free and wild
Full of hopes and full of fears
Full of laughter full of tears
Full of dreams to last the years in Seattle
In Seattle

So Perry Como sang in the late ’60s. Now it seems the days of beautiful children growing up free and wild are returning to Seattle. Like other American cities over the last three weeks, Seattle saw protests rapidly become violent clashes with police. This ugliness waxed and waned for a fortnight until police withdrew from their East Precinct Building, effectively ceding the surrounding area to the protestors. Barriers were erected around it by activists who initially christened the new territory the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ), and later renamed it the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP). As their quasi-manifesto of June 9th put it, they had “liberated Free Capitol Hill in the name of the people of Seattle.”

Now a tense and potentially dangerous stand-off has developed. What does the city administration intend to do? On June 11th, the Democratic mayor of the city, Jennifer Durkan, was interviewed on CNN by a sympathetic Chris Cuomo. Cuomo began by asking if Durkan had lost control of her own city’s streets.

Durkan: We’ve got four blocks in Seattle that you just saw pictures of that is more like a block party atmosphere. It’s not an armed takeover, it’s not a military junta. We will make sure that we can restore this. But we have block parties and the like in this part of Seattle all the time… There is no threat right now to the public and we’re looking, we’re taking that very seriously, we’re meeting with businesses and residents…

Cuomo: The counter will be block parties don’t take over a municipal building, let alone a police station and destroy it, basically thumbing their nose at any sense of civic control. Do you believe that you have control of your city, and that you would be able to clear those streets? Because you haven’t.

Durkan: We do and the chief of police was in that precinct today with her command staff looking and assessing on operational plans. But we saw that it was a point of conflict night after night between the police department and protestors and we wanted to de-escalate that and what we decided was the best way to do that was to re-open the streets, and that in itself ended up with some ramifications for the precinct, to remove anything that was valuable out of that building. But we will make sure that all of Seattle is safe. We take public safety seriously… We have to acknowledge and know that we have a system that is built on systemic racism and we have to dismantle that system piece by piece.

Durkan went on to add:

During this time a number one priority every American city has is to protect the First Amendment right. Our country was born out of protest. The right to gather, the right to protest, the right to challenge government when it is wrong, is our most fundamental constitutional right. It’s a reason it’s the First Amendment. And as a mayor of this city I will do everything to protect that right and balance the public safety. I think not only can we do both, I think we have to do both.

With those words, Durkan, who is an experienced lawyer, endorsed an unusual school of American constitutional jurisprudence. The First Amendment says that Congress shall make no law that abridges “the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” There is no mention of the right to fight street battles with police, to annex and occupy city blocks, and to vandalize buildings including a police station, effectively suspending law enforcement. This is not protecting free speech, still less “balancing” the public safety. And, apropos the signs on the barricades that surround the CHAZ which declare “you are now leaving the United States,” the First Amendment also does not protect secession from the union. Last time that was attempted things did not go too well.

Durkan did say that she will “restore” the status quo ante, but her description of the occupation as a block party rather undermined any intended resolve. Asked how long the CHAZ might last, she blithely replied, “I don’t know. We could have a summer of love.” The American citizens who reside or work there may not share their mayor’s breezy insouciance, and might be rather less willing to share the love—especially given summer hasn’t even begun yet and doesn’t end until late September. Even if they are able to enter and leave the autonomous zone unmolested, it remains an affront to their citizenship that they do so only at the sufferance of a regime imposed without their consent.

If the occupiers dig in and have to be forced out, things could get out of hand. It need not take some rash and belligerent action from President Trump. There is a risk that residents and workers may decide to recover the public and private property taken from them. This would be a very bad idea, and hopefully they will, unlike the occupiers, heed police instructions and hold back. The best—and I hope most likely—outcome is that most of the rank-and-file occupiers will weary of the block party, there will be negotiations, and the authorities will at least pretend to capitulate to the demands or a watered down version of them. (There have been reports that talks of some sort are already happening although they don’t appear to be making much progress.) Alternatively, the tiring of the protestors will diminish resistance to the point where police can re-take the area without serious violence. In any event, this situation cannot be allowed to drag on—the Seattle police chief Carmen Best (a black woman, by the way) has already reported a significant increase in violent crimes in the occupied precinct to which her officers are not able to respond.

Although I am not in a position to prove it, I suspect that this situation has come about because of a years-long history of leniency to far-left protestors in cities like Seattle, where mayors often share the protestors’ ideology, or are duped into thinking the protestors are moderate. Public speech and assembly can sometimes be legitimately angry and rowdy, and it can be best, and indeed in conformity with the spirit of the First Amendment, for policing to avoid being too high-handed and officious. But what we see in Seattle goes well beyond that reasonable liberality. It is the difference between the occasional symbolic act of civil disobedience and the lawless rule of a Jacobin mob. The incendiary situation that now exists might well have been avoided had the city administration—like others across the country—enforced the law consistently before now. It is perhaps pertinent here to note that Best has said it was not her decision to withdraw from the precinct, adding “ultimately the city had other plans for the building and relented to severe public pressure.” She bluntly called the decision an insult to her officers and the community.

In the meantime, the occupiers have issued a series of demands (they always demand, a red flag for the authoritarian nature of their politics). These include things one can warmly support such as increased resources for public education and public health, especially for the poor. Others, however, betray childishly utopian thinking:

  • Abolition of the Seattle police force (including, just to add a sting of malice, existing police pensions) and the “attached court system.”
  • Abolition of imprisonment. (The authors are at pains to make clear that “abolition” in these demands really does mean “100 percent of funding.”)
  • Retrials for people of colour (no mention of others) currently serving a prison sentence for violent crime.
  • Replacement (presumably wholesale) of the current criminal justice system by restorative/transformative accountability programs.

Nothing here has been thought through. A measure of the activists’ recklessness is that the first and fourth demands I’ve quoted above from their list would appear to annihilate the entirety of the criminal law, an institution that can be traced through its English origins as far back as the Norman conquest. There is not any detailed analysis of the sources of police misbehaviour and of how it might be reduced. There is no detailed examination of the actual results of actual policies to try and find out what works and what does not. It’s as if a builder were to set about erecting a house by bellowing “I demand a house,” but without bothering to design a floor plan, or to work out where the walls should go, how the bricks and the beams will hold up the ceiling, where the electrical wires and sewage pipes will be laid, and so on.

I suspect that the bad actors who are inevitably attracted to leadership roles in such movements—which officially have no leaders, but of course always do—are perfectly aware of the unrealistic nature of their demands. They are not serious and are not intended to be. By confronting authorities with ultimatums which cannot possibly be met, they entrench the revolutionary posture indefinitely. At the same time, by maintaining that the demands are the only way of correcting pervasive and systemic racism, they assume an air of high and urgent idealism. This attracts the support of the young and the liberal-minded, and makes the authorities, even those most sympathetic to the cause, appear to be the intransigent representatives of a corrupt and racist establishment. By contrast, the appeal for careful analysis and policy-making can be painted, at best, as cavilling or delay, or worse.

The causes of police and prison reform are noble ones. Most of the Black Lives Matter protestors are well-meaning and decent people. They are caught up in the visceral anger felt by African Americans at the aggressive and sometimes brutal over-policing which is felt particularly in impoverished communities by people of colour. But as with most political movements, the leadership is more radical—often substantially so—than the troops. At the leadership level the ideology (and perhaps personnel) of BLM starts to blur into that of groups like Antifa, whose extremism can only put the cause of racial justice backwards. If their demands seem to say, in effect, that society should be torn down—well, that is indeed the stated aim of movements like these. Their goals are not reformist, they are revolutionary—they seek conflict not peace, and they have given scant thought about what they wish to build from the rubble of what they destroy. Since they are quite open and vehement about all this, we should probably take them at their word. Summer in Seattle this year may not be so loving.

 

Andrew Gleeson is a writer who lives in Australia.

Feature image: A person walks past an inverted American flag inside the ‘Capitol Hill Organized Protest’ formerly known as the ‘Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone’ in Seattle, Washington on June 14, 2020. (Photo by Noah Riffe/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Comments

  1. After more than fourteen consecutive days of George Floyd Memorial Lootings, in Seattle for the first time we see something constructive emerging: The realization of the social utopia of CHOP.

    Finally, these progressive people have the opportunity to live and implement their ideals together. The first emergency calls for food supplies already sounded very promising, and even the appearance of warlords could already be observed, earlier than expected. Furthermore, the demand for the dissolution of all prisons seems only logical and consequential so that the population of the newly founded state can continue to grow and prosper.

    If one did not have to feel sorry for the normal people living in the affected area, it would surely be best to regard the whole project as one great open-air experiment in applied anarcho-socialism, the further development of which one could watch from the outside in peace and quiet and with a sufficient supply of popcorn. The knowledge gained from this observation could amuse those who have seen it coming and serve as a warning to all others.

  2. While a good article, intelligently written and well argued, there are some points I would contest.
    First, the notion that “Most of the Black Lives Matter protestors are well-meaning and decent people.” No, most are not. For example, I am sure there were military conscripts who were “Nazis” but who didn’t in their hearts believe in or even like Hitler. They probably tried to do as little harm as possible. The rioters are freely joining the movement, and taking part in the destruction.
    Second, while their demands are unreasonable, they are not unattainable. The mayor of Seattle has already given the rioters carte blanche. They know they can walk over her. How many civil liberties has social justice already stripped us of? What stands in the way of stopping it? These guys started by asking for safe spaces on universities then they turned entire cities into very unsafe spaces for everybody else. BLM is a gangster movement. It doesn’t want to end police brutality, it wants to be the muscle. It’s not just about chaos, it’s about seizing power from the chaos.
    Finally, Durkan was right on one point. There is a reason the first amendment is the first amendment. The idea is that you can avoid violence if you can have an open debate. Unfortunately, now, we can’t debate because words are violence but sticks and stones are “protest”. And that is why the second amendment comes after the first. If a government won’t protect it’s people, the people have the right to protect themselves. I would rather have less violence than more, but if no one is going to draw a line, that violence will occur. According to the writer: “There is a risk that residents and workers may decide to recover the public and private property taken from them. This would be a very bad idea, and hopefully they will, unlike the occupiers, heed police instructions and hold back.” Well, yes, but if the police say, sorry, you won’t get your stuff back, and we won’t protect you, ever, then is it a very “good” idea to give in perpetually?

  3. I understand this stuff east of the Mississippi. There are indeed large black populations in most eastern cities. But the radicalism of the west coast and especially the Seattle/Portland area is bizarre. We’ve all seen Portlandia, but its just crazy that these white people want to cosplay so bad. At least the rioters in Baltimore have a clear mission…loot the Target.

  4. I live in a city that is far less trendy than Seattle, a place no one wants to visit. My neighbour, a high school teacher, tells me that Black Lives Matter is actively trying to foment racial discord among the disparate immigrant groups. The result is gangs and open conflict split along racial lines. Only the police can intervene because the administration is helpless and the immigrants come from failed states and have no culture of institutional respect, only fear.

    Stop trying to impute benevolent motives to this group. They are evil.

  5. The protestors demand the “abolition of the court system” – but also demand – “retrials for persons of color.”

    These are not the brightest bulbs in the Alt-left chandelier – which already has a tendency to burn somewhat dimly by default – but this is just bat-shit dumb.

  6. “Most of the Black Lives Matter protestors are well-meaning and decent people.”

    This is comically ridiculous.

    “They are caught up in the visceral anger felt by African Americans…”

    It’s about feelings, regardless of how misguided they are.

    “…at the aggressive and sometimes brutal over-policing which is felt particularly in impoverished communities by people of colour.”

    Right, I can’t imagine why police would pay extra attention to the most criminal demographic in America. Guess which demographic is also the most victimized by these criminals? You guessed it, people of colour in poor communities. How dare the police provide increased support to the people most likely to be victimized by the most criminal demographic in America.

  7. The people of Seattle elected this mayor and this city council.

    The people of Seattle are getting what they deserve.

  8. I suspect that the bad actors who are inevitably attracted to leadership roles in such movements—which officially have no leaders, but of course always do—are perfectly aware of the unrealistic nature of their demands. They are not serious and are not intended to be

    I wouldn’t give them that much credit. I think they truly believe a lot of the nonsense they spout and are incapable of seeing the hypocrisy in their creating walls and checking ids while demanding amnesty for 11mm+ illegals. They engage in the same magical thinking as Greta-heads who think we can convert to all clean energy overnight.

  9. That experiment was carried out in Africa. Out went the horrible white men, in came the horrible black men. By the way, in Kenya and South Africa they are protesting police brutality that is taking place under the Covid lockdowns. Includes a couple of outright murders that never capture international attention. Also can’t blame whitey because it’s black people brutalized by black cops. Lives, black or otherwise, don’t matter there. And that’s the thing these BLM twats don’t understand, if you get rid of Western precepts about law, lives stop mattering.

  10. I live near Seattle and commute into downtown Seattle daily for work. Even before the protests/riots started, the downtown core had been ceded to the homeless population as most downtown workers have been working from home and most businesses have closed temporarily. The cops stopped arresting people so as not to fill the jail and expose more to COVID.
    Then came the protests, which quickly devolved into riots. Now we have the CHAZ or CHOP.
    The downtown core is beginning to look like a shit hole. And the lunatics are running the asylum.

  11. I just don’t understand how there can be so much systemic racism in so many cities that have been run by Democrats for decades.

  12. Answered your own question there.

  13. They will fight against the evil racist system until it collapses under the dead weight of late capitalism’s crimes.

    Or dad stops sending them money.

    Whichever comes first.

  14. Good article, but you missed a key point. What we have is a mass failure to grow up.

    Millennials and Gen X-ers have attained power and they simply aren’t willing to back the system that put them there.

    The entire political and legal systems of the UK and US are based upon classical liberalism and yhere is no tenable alternative. If we abandon legal rights and legal enforcement, backed by due process, society rapidly falls apart. Violence soon breaks out.

    Yet many of our own leaders aren’t willing to back it. Why? Because they are still living their teenage dreams.

  15. Try last few months. Democrat cities in Democrat states outperformed in producing coronavirus deaths. New York being the prime example. Now these same cities have descended into insane violence.

    The ironic part is that all these terrible things are happening in Democrat cities/states yet we’re told the solution is to vote Democrat. It’s extremely puzzling.

    My friend, who is extremely woke, travelled to San Francisco a few years ago and came back shocked at the homelessness, disgusting streets and general poor governance. She declared it was Trump’s fault. In other words she travelled to the most progressive city in the most progressive state, saw it was a shit hole, and decided the problem is republicans. It seems to me that the far left only ever have one solution to every problem: project blame towards the right.

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