My visit to CHAZ (Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone)

Thanks for visiting my blog. It is basically dead but I did not have another place to really write up this long brain dump. Feel free to ignore any all of the rest of the posts, mostly from another time and mostly when I was working on Microsoft’s Live writer.  This post was written with the open source Open Live Writer which I would recommend for any blog writing from Windows. – Aaron

On Saturday, June 13th I visited what at the time was called the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone in Seattle, Washington. I live close enough to walk there but it was a long walk. When the protests and clashes with police were happening I would have not idea they were going on from my house other than hearing helicopters all night long but I was watching live streams or the news almost 24/7 while this was going on so I was aware what was going on many blocks away during the pandemic. I had intended to make this post the next day but life gets in the way at times. As such many things are changing. The next day the leaders in the zone renamed it to Capitol Hill Protest Zone (CHOP). Daily news stories since then report just how dynamic things are changing. In the last 24 hours the city has installed new barriers after negotiating with CHOP leadership to open up the streets, one way, so businesses could have better access to early morning deliveries, increase response time for social services, and more access for residents in the area. This means some of my images and observations are out of date only a few days later. I should also note that I self edited my images to blur out faces. I tried a few on-line options to do pixilation of faces and none worked well and I did not have any good imaging software on hand to do a quality job. I tried to blur the faces of people in images in the zone but I did not do it for the public parks or when I explicitly got permission from a person in the photo. Since this is all in public area I really did not have to do anything but I choose to blur, none the less.


This is a map I took from the Seattle Times. I hope I can use it without their direct permission and as I said is how things were on 6/13/20. My goal was to first and foremost see for myself what CHAZ was all about and second to see if there

  • was any substance to assertions that had been made that it was a fenced or walled in area
  • identification was checked to enter
  • you would be charged to enter
  • businesses could not operate within the zone
  • it was hard for residents living in buildings in the zone
  • and I was interested to see what, if any, damages they were doing to Cal Anderson Park because they were planting things there.


I first entered at 13th and E. Pine St.  As you can see there was no big gate to prevent anyone from entering the area. No one stopped me or anyone else. There was no bag check and I had a backpack on with my camera out. There was a person there basically greeting people as they came in and that was it. I believe these fences are repurposed from the fences used to divide the protesters from the police in the first days of protesting.


The SPD East Precinct is the location of those that protect and serve my neighborhood. When my house was broken into and robbed years ago this was the location they responded from. When they stormed a drug den in a rental house a few houses away it was from here. When teenage kids threw a party a block away from my the police that broke up the party and stopped the two kids having sex against the back of my house it was from this location. That all being said I am OK with the prescient current being closed down. I do not feel less safe because of it. From my observations the police were the escalators against the protesters on many nights and times. And yes I did seem the images and claims of officers getting hurt but in many case the timeline does not add up and the explosive device end up just being a candle. I’m home the majority of the time so I can take care of my property and it is important to drive home the fact that Black Lives Matter. I also think funding social services, something that is clearly underfunded in Seattle, could be done from defunding part of the police budget. I may have family members in some form of law enforcement in other cities and when they tell me that some people they interact with should not be going to jail but to mental health facilities and they really regret taking them to jail then you know overall we have the wrong set of people trying to help these people out.    


The main stage that speakers were speaking from was at 12th and E. Pine. There was a lot of call and response going on with the speakers when I was there. The messaging was about either BLM or defund the police. About the time I was leaving there was a specific topic with women and BLM. I saw in the paper that the next day that the indigenous people of Northwest had a celebration at the stage. So they are being inclusive. This was a little West of the main clash point.


This is looking South down 12th towards Pine St. In the distance you can see the fencing there and of course you can see there are a lot of Honey Buckets available for anyone in the zone to use.

IMG_5200IMG_5201- blurIMG_5212

There were lots of tents with resources and food which all was free. I tried to honor the signs at most tents that said no video or pictures so that is why you do not see many but there were many like the two shown on the North side of 12th. I saw boxes of donuts and fresh pizza, as an example. I also saw many people bringing anything and everything in the way of supplies to be dropped off. At one tent they actually were declining supply donations because they were very well stocked. As you can see man’s best friend was also being taken care of. Also note the guy in with the long hair, white robe and red sash. He was walking around as a Jesus lookalike.


This is what I saw at 11th. On the North side there was a “Conversation Cafe” where you could talk and be education on BLM and there was a basketball hoop in the middle of the street. There are residences North of that hoop and while the street is blocked off there was still access to that building and the parking garage there. You can also see another entry point and just how easy it is to enter and exit.


The “Black Lives Matters” slogan was painted on the street in white down the street and within a day or so each letter was painted in a different style. One thing I wanted to point out is the tent on the right. The people trying to get signatures to put an Amazon tax on the ballot were out in force within the zone.  I saw them in at least three different locations gathering signatures.


There was also a table registering people to vote. Voting of course is one of the most important things that can be done to support issues surrounding what is happening in the zone.


Along the streets you would find memorials and points of educations such as these,


When I got down close to the entrance at 10th and E. Pine St I witness the closest thing to organizers trying to block people from entering the zone. As I was walking toward that entrance point I heard blaring Christian music playing and then I heard screens of “form a wall” and it was all because what I am calling was the “Jesus saves” group showed up. I can appreciate evangelizing for what you believe in but I also think that there is a time and place and I do not think this was it. Additionally, this group has not done itself any favors by using a megaphone and talking next to groups of people waiting to have their tickets scanned to enter sporting events for years. I am not sure that is the place for them either but their approach to sharing their message really seems to rub people the wrong way. People did form a human wall and this group just crawled through on their hands and knees to force themselves through. The wall did not push back and during a time of a pandemic it just seem like something far from social distancing. I took this photo when they were fighting their way through a second set of people. It looked like they were able to negotiate because given free reign to walk within the zone. That being said they never turned down their music or anything they said over their PA. I could still clearly hear it playing when I was over in Cal Anderson Park, blocks away, whereas I could not hear what was happing at the zone stage. This group was not stopped at the zone fencing and it was only when the were about 20 yards in when they were first confronted. Later I saw the Jesus lookalike walking by this group and apologizing to anyone around and saying jokingly that they were not with him.







The BLM message painted on the street is almost a block long. I hope it stays because it is just a work of art. I do not know if it was done in a way to survive the elements or if it will be some sort of a safety risk once cars on web pavement try and stop on it. I could be misremembering but I seem to remember there being an issue with the painted crosswalks done for BLM and LGBTQ a couple of blocks away and also on MLK where they might to have been repainted??


If you look in this photo you can see someone with a broom and dust pan. I saw 4-5 different people with cleaning equipment and trash bags in my time moving around the zone. I really do not recall seeing much in the way of liter and it really seemed fairly clean, That being said all of the messaging that many would say is graffiti and others may say art made it feel a bit more dirty that it actually was. This is clearly some internal bias on my part.


These three are from 10th and E Pine looking into the zone from this entrance. The white tent at Rancho Bravo Tacos (many years ago with was a KFC if you might have lived in Seattle at some point) parking lot is a medic tent. They were one of the places that had “no pictures or video” so I did not get a close up of that area. I know they had medics during the clashes with police where you could go to get your eyes flushed or treatment for when the rubber bullets were misused by being fired directly instead of indirectly but do not know if this was the location of the tent then. You can also see the designated media area for reporters.


On the topic of business like Rancho Bravo all of the business that thought could be open while King County is in Phase 1.5 seem to be open within the zone. There were lines outside of every restaurant I saw like Elanta (line is behind the U-Haul). There was a hotdog vendor near the Conversation Cafe that was doing great sales. The gentleman selling the BLM tee-shirts out in the middle of the street was accepting cash or Apple pay! That being said I wanted to visit a used music store that is across the street from Elliott Bay books during my visit to the zone and while just outside of the zone it looked all boarded up. I was not sure if they could be open in 1.5. When I got home I checked their website and they had a note that they were staying closed because of the zone and they did not feel they had the resources to keep the store or customers safe. Perhaps businesses in the zone are not that impacted but there is at least one business that is zone adjacent that feels some impact from it being there. In retrospect I should have checked to see if that liquor store at 12th was open but I did not do so.


You can see tents and supply tents around the perimeter Bobby Morris Playfield. This is a Astroturf field and shows nothing in the way of damage. It looked like many people were just hanging out and not involved in what was going on in the zone. I guess indirectly this could be considered part of the zone. I did see one person walking through and tell the people there what we be happing at the protest stage in the next half hour or so. The building with the mural is adjacent to the playfield


Early on in the pandemic the city had mowed “crop circles” into the grass at Cal Anderson Park. The intent was to make areas where people could sit or hangout but keep socially distant from others doing the same. Most Seattle parks had a requirements of while enjoying the parks you need to keep moving. One of the first raising of restrictions with this accommodation. When I read that those in the zone had dug up the crop circles to start gardens I pictured something very destructive to the park and I can honestly say I was a bit grumpy about that. From the pictures you can see it really is not destructive at all. Also I am not sure when the city stopped mowing the lawn in the park but it has been a few weeks and clearly before the protesting started.


This is a bathroom building in Cal Anderson. It is the closest I would say is damage to tax payer property.


Inside the zone and just outside you could find people playing music for money. Some people stopped and watched but people were more interested in the speakers on the stage.


On my way out I saw this guy working on this sign. My thought was that he was trying to take it down. I had seen a photo on line of it saying Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone but you can see it was painted over. I wonder if it was being swapped out for a new CHOP sign?

A saw this sign as I was walking out of the zone at 13th. I’ll leave it here for you to think about.

Honestly I came away a little underwhelmed with the whole zone. It was not what I expected as I had it pictured more grand in my head. I liked the messaging and the education that was happening. This is needed even in Seattle. It seemed very self-sufficient, clean, and safe. There was never any sign of people harassing others and other than the Jesus saves people and there was no attempt to restrict movement or messaging. I did not see anyone armed. That being said, on Monday there were photos of people in the zone with arms. They were attributed to the “proud boys” and one photo even showed that on his jacket. Those people are not part of the movement happening in the zone and just there to cause trouble, which from a video posted on twitter it looked like they may have just a few blocks West of the zone behind Seattle Central. I did not directly see business nor residents suffering but based off of negotiations for the streets opening up a bit on Tuesday there was a need to change and adapt which happened without people getting hurt or rioting.

What follows is a bunch of photos I took of what I saw on the street. There was a lot more than this. One thing I guess I should have called out was umbrellas. Umbrellas that many Seattle do not use despite the rain because a symbol of these protests. What I assume was taking something out of the protests in Hong Kong the umbrellas were used to deflect projectiles, or canisters, shot by the police as a first line of defense. You can see umbrellas on a few of the pictures within this blog post and then on the street. In the protest on stream you could see many umbrellas that a local tech company gives out to their employees to move between buildings.

Update (6/17/2020)
There are a couple of things I should have also mentioned One I realized that I wanted to comment on and one a source link I have used to stay updated.

  • An old co-worker of mine, Michael McCormack, wrote up his visit on facebook He had a lot more pictures from inside of Cal Anderson Park which I just visited the edge of. There is a lot more art (or graffiti depending on your viewpoint) on other structures in the park. Maybe I will make another trip to try and capture that. He also mentioned that everyone there was smoking pot. I never saw anyone smoking pot but I did smell it strongly a few times as i walked around. I will remind you that it is legal in Washington State and can be enjoyed in private, if that is your thing. I did not see any overt nor excessive drug use.
  • One source that I have used for a visual update as to what is going on in CHOP is Lindsey Wasson’s twitter feed. I started to follow her because she was taking photos at Sounders matches for at the time, the Seattle Times. It looks like now she is taking photos for Reuters. She has been in CHOP through it all and she has a good eye to visually capture the changes that are happening there.

About Aaron Bregel

Just trying to get by
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