Seattle Businesses, Residents Sue After Violence in CHOP Autonomous Zone

Seattle businesses sued the city Wednesday over the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP), claiming the occupation led to unsafe conditions and violence in the neighborhood.

The class action lawsuit stated that the city's decision to "abandon and close off an entire city neighborhood" to police, fire and medical services "subjected businesses, employees and residents of that neighborhood to extensive property damage, public safety dangers and an inability to use and access their properties."

"The City has enacted a policy under which police will not enter the CHOP area except during life-and-death emergencies, and, even in those situations, the response is, at best, muted and late," according to the suit. It specifically cited the June 20 shooting in the CHOP zone that left one person dead and stating that police arrived 20 minutes after the shooting due to the occupation.

The Seattle Police Department abandoned the East Precinct in the Capitol Hill neighborhood on June 8 following protests for police reform, which kicked off the occupation by protesters who closed off a six-by-six-block section of the neighborhood, establishing the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ), which later became CHOP. Protesters blocked off sections of the neighborhood using barricades left behind by the police.

The lawsuit stated that the city chose not to restore order to the neighborhood that was occupied "at all hours of the day and night," but instead endorsed and participated in the occupation, including the provision of a nearby park as the center of CHOP and concrete barriers for protesters to post around its borders.

"These borders have, at times, been guarded by armed CHOP participants who oversee who can or cannot enter CHOP. As a result, the streets are barred to most all vehicular traffic, making it virtually impossible for residents and businesses to access their buildings," the lawsuit said.

Businesses and residents within CHOP were also threatened after painting over graffiti on their buildings by protesters, who said the buildings would be "more severely vandalized or even burned to the ground" if local residents continued their attempts to keep their buildings clean, according to the lawsuit.

"The city has done nothing to prevent this conduct, but instead has actively endorsed and supported the ongoing occupation of the CHOP area and the destruction of property that accompanies it," it said.

Mayor Jenny Durkan said in a CNN interview June 11 that the autonomous zone had a "block party atmosphere" and was not "an armed takeover." When asked how long she expected the occupation to last, she said: "We could have the Summer of Love."

Newsweek reached out to the mayor's office for comment, but they did not respond back in time for publication.

Since the occupation started, there have been multiple shootings, including one fatal; an attempt to burn down a building; and violent assaults occurring within the area. Durkan announced Monday the city would begin moving to dismantle CHOP, citing the impact on local residents and businesses after two weeks of occupation.

"The cumulative impacts of the gatherings and protests and the nighttime atmosphere and violence has led to increasingly difficult circumstances for our businesses and residents. The impacts have increased and the safety has decreased," Durkan said.

CHOP Entrance
A person holds a firearm while at an entrance to the so-called "Capitol Hill Organized Protest" on June 10, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. Businesses and residents sued the city over their support of the occupiers. David Ryder/Getty