The destructive behavior characterizing Seattle’s “autonomous zone” – otherwise known as the CHOP and formerly known as the CHAZ – is surely viewed through different lenses by the people occupying and doing the damage and those that legally live in the area and have been inconvenienced and menaced over the last month. That distinction has been highlighted recently by lawsuits filed against city leaders who, residents say, have failed to protect the lives, liberty, and property of the people living near the CHAZ/CHOP. As a result of that, and the mendacity of Mayor Jenny Durkan, things seem to have turned a positive corner for law-abiding residents in Seattle. And the kids wielding paint and rage should really take the lesson.
Those lawsuits, one filed by business and property owners and the other a class action suit on behalf of residents in and around the occupied zone, should, in a perfect world, prove instructive to occupiers as they are forcibly removed from the area (31 people have been arrested thus far) and seeking an outlet to continue raging against the machine. In this country, protected as we are by the Constitution, one can legally and forcefully fight the power through the courts without destroying property, erasing the past, or committing murders.
The first lawsuit, filed roughly a week ago, represents more than a dozen business and property owners with interests in and around the Seattle autonomous zone, which takes up several blocks of the city’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. They say their rights have been “overrun by the city of Seattle’s unprecedented decision to abandon and close off an entire city neighborhood.”
The second, filed by attorney Jacob Bozeman against Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and Washington State Governor Jay Inslee, is a class action lawsuit by residents arguing the zone “violated the Constitutional rights of everyone who lives, works, or passes through the area.”
Bozeman, who hasn’t revealed the number of plaintiffs in his case, says the city and state leaders didn’t just look the other way at the occupied zone – they helped create and sustain it.
"To abdicate the authority to an unelected, unauthorized and armed group of people to decide who can come and go, who can be searched and seized, and under what portions of the city you can come and go from, for fear of physical retaliation against you, is unconstitutional," said Jacob Bozeman, the attorney who filed the lawsuit…"This area, the police could not get to you and if you were in any kind of trouble your rights were not going to be able to be protected."
Of course it would be silly to suggest lawsuits are all it took to make Mayor Durkan see the light after she infamously disregarded the violence at the outset of the occupation by likening it to a potential “summer of love” (her order outlining unlawful assembly in the area is here).
While the mayor did announce plans to disassemble the zone before protestors encircled her house Sunday, her official statements about the occupation as a free-spirited summer festival has certainly changed, now leaning on language that speaks to the protestors’ disregard for her safety and the safety of her family.
Seattle City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant joined a group of dozens of demonstrators gathered at Durkan's home who were holding signs, chanting, and demanding she leave the area alone or meet protesters' demands.
"Mayor Durkan and her family are in the state program to keep their address confidential because of the death threats mostly related to her work as Seattle's U.S. Attorney under President Obama," a statement from the mayor's office issued Sunday read. "Instead of working to make true change, Councilmember Sawant continues to choose political stunts. Tonight she did so without regard for the safety of the Mayor and her family. The Mayor was not even home — she was working at City Hall. Seattle can and should peacefully demonstrate but should not put families and children at risk."
Oh, and Durkan wants socialist city council member Sawant investigated and possibly removed from her position.
It’s certainly not lost on Seattle residents that Durkan could have been as forthcoming in consideration of their safety as she was of her own. And she’s not likely to win back their support for shifting her support over the threat of legal action -- not the deaths of two teenagers, or the rampant lawlessness, or the abdication of responsibility for her residents’ lives and livelihoods, or the vengeance from the protestors – but legal consequence in a federal lawsuit challenging her behavior as an elected official as unconstitutional.
And she’ll face political repercussions for that. And that’s how you really speak truth to power, kids.
Sarah Lee is a freelance writer and policy wonk living and working in Washington, D.C.