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Seattle Moves to Dismantle Police Free Protest Zone After Shootings

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  • After two shootings over the weekend in the Capitol Hill Organized/Occupied Protest (CHOP), Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said the city would begin reclaiming and sending police back to the six-block area that has been occupied since June 8.
  • CHOP was first established after police abandoned a precinct in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle, making way for protesters to take over the area.
  • Since then, organizers have set up a free food coop, a community garden, and medic stations, among other resources, in the area which has remained almost entirely police-free.
  • While the protests have largely been peaceful, violence has escalated in recent days, prompting Durkan to call for the area to be dismantled because it’s creating difficult circumstances for local businesses and residents.

Shootings in CHOP

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced Monday that the city would begin the process of reclaiming the Capitol Hill Organized/Occupied Protest (CHOP) zone and sending police back in after two shootings took place in the area over the weekend.

CHOP, also known as the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ), is a 24/7 protest that has occupied roughly six blocks around a currently abandoned police precinct in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle since June 8.

The first shooting was on Saturday morning and resulted in the death and killing of Horace Lorenzo Anderson, a 19-year-old Black man who had just graduated high school, according to the Seattle Times

Anderson was transported to a hospital before being pronounced dead. Another 33-year-old man was also shot and taken to a nearby hospital.

According to reports, the victims were cared for by medics in the camp, but fire department medics did not come. Fire Department officials said they were following procedure which required them to wait for the police to secure the area first. Seattle Police Department (SPD) officials said officers tried to go into the zone, they were blocked by protesters who said the victim had already been moved.

The second incident took place on Sunday when a 17-year-old boy was shot in CHOP. He was treated at a nearby hospital and released, according to a hospital spokesperson. No suspects have been identified in either shooting.

Durkan addressed the shootings in a press conference on Monday. In it, she said that the city had started community-led efforts to have protesters leave voluntarily, as well as efforts to move folks experiencing homeless to services as needed.

“The cumulative impacts of the gatherings and protests and the nighttime atmosphere and violence has lead to increasingly difficult circumstances for our businesses and residents,” she said. 

“It’s time for people to go home. It is time for us to restore Cal Anderson [Park] and Capitol Hill so it can be a vibrant part of the community,” she continued. “We can still accommodate people who want to protest peacefully, come there and gather. But the impacts on the businesses and residents and community are now too much.”

While Durkan did not specify exactly how or when this would happen, she did say the city was working with community leaders and Black-led organizations. Durkan also did not confirm when police would return to the precinct, but said officers will do so “peacefully and in the near future.” 

Despite the uncertainty, it is likely that city and police officials will want to move quickly. On Tuesday morning, SPD reported that they responded to a third shooting near CHOP— though not in CHOP— and that one man was injured.

During Monday’s press conference, Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best also claimed that, in addition to the shootings, there have been reports of rape, assault, burglary, arson, and property destruction in or around the area.

CHOP Background

Despite these recent incidents, the events inside CHOP have been largely peaceful by most accounts, contrary to right-wing narratives dominating the discussion.

CHOP first came to be after nine days of massive protests rocked Seattle following the killing of George Floyd. Much protesting had been happening in Capitol Hill, and specifically near the SPD’s East Precinct, where police set up barricades and repeatedly clashed with protesters using tear gas, flashbangs, and pepper spray.

SPD has claimed that their use of force was a response to protesters throwing bottles, rocks, and other projectiles at them, but numerous protesters and local politicians have said that the use of force was not proportionate. The Office of Police Accountability is now investigating over 12,000 complaints about police actions during the protests.

Then, on June 8, Chief Best announced that barricades would be removed from the precinct and that the department’s footprint in the area would be reduced. Police boarded up the building and left, basically leaving the protesters to demonstrate freely.

The protesters, with the help of city officials, set up barricades, blocking off traffic from the area, and declared it an autonomous zone free from police. They placed signs on some of the barriers that said “You Are Entering Free Capitol Hill,” and “You are now leaving the USA.”

Very quickly, CHOP grew to become a community. Organizers have pitched tents and established a free food co-op, started a community garden, and set up medical stations— which are often utilized to serve homeless people and sex workers.

The area is covered in art, and there is a candlelit memorial for George Floyd and other Black people killed by police. Organizers also set up a speaker stage where discussions and teach-ins are held, as well as an outdoor projector system where occupants have screened movies. 

But CHOP also has round-the-clock security patrols, and according to some reports, some of the volunteer security guards openly carry guns despite a firearms ban within Capitol Hill imposed by Mayor Durkan.

The movement is largely leaderless, and the occupants make decisions by holding group votes. They have issued a series of demands that are quite expansive, but the main ones are centered around defunding the police and reinvesting in the community.

The demonstrators see CHOP as an example and a prototype of a police-free neighborhood, and for the most part, there has largely been almost no police presence in the area since the precinct was abandoned.

Although last week, Police Chief Best pushed back on that idea and noted that officers will go into the zone if there are threats to public safety.

“There is no cop-free zone in the city of Seattle,” she said. “I think that the picture has been painted in many areas that shows the city is under siege. That is not the case.”

Relationship With City

However, until now, the people of CHOP have largely worked and gotten along with city officials. In general, there has been peaceful dialogue and give and take from both parties.

Last week, city workers removed the makeshift barriers and replaced them with concrete blocks to open access for local traffic, sanitation trucks, and emergency workers. The move angered activists, who said it was shrinking their protest space and endangering the lives of people by creating what one demonstrator called “a drive-by shooting lane.”

Black activists in the zone agreed to honor the road during the day, but not overnight when the site was more vulnerable.

The city, for its part, has largely respected the zone and even provided them with resources. The Department of Transportation has given them portable toilets, and the Fire Department has worked as intermediaries between them and the police.

Mayor Jenny Durkan even seemed to defend CHOP after President Donald Trump attacked both it and her in a now-deleted tweet.

“Radical Left Governor @JayInslee and the Mayor of Seattle are being taunted and played at a level that our great Country has never seen before,” Trump wrote. “Take back your city NOW. If you don’t do it, I will. This is not a game. These ugly Anarchists must be stooped IMMEDIATELY. MOVE FAST!” 

Durkan hit back, tweeting, “Make us all safe. Go back to your bunker. #BlackLivesMatter”

During an interview with CNN last week, Durkan also pushed back on claims that CHOP was violent.

“We have four blocks in Seattle 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 will restore this but we have block parties and the like in this part of Seattle all the time,” she said.“There is no threat right now to the public.” 

Protesters have criticized the narrative that CHOP is just a block party or a festival, arguing that it undermines the fact that it is a serious movement.

Currently, it remains unclear how the relationship between the protesters and government officials will change. 

While there has not yet been a unified response from CHOP, some members did write an open letter proposing changes including setting up a safe use area, creating signs encouraging intoxicated people to stay away from the protest zone, and imposing a curfew at night.

But numerous demonstrators have also said they will not leave until their demands are met.

According to NPR, last week, activists said it is too early to give up the space, writing, “only a few demands have been met — a ban on police chokeholds, for example — and talks are still going on for the bigger asks, namely slashing the Seattle Police Department’s budget and redirecting funds to health and social services,” 

See what others are saying: (Seattle PI) (The New York Times) (ABC News)

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Ohio Will Give 5 People $1 Million for Getting Vaccinated

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  • Ohio is launching a lottery program that will give five people ages 18 or older $1 million each if they receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Five vaccinated people between 12 and 17 years old will win full four-year scholarships to one of the state’s public universities under a similar giveaway program. 
  • Some have criticized the move as a waste and misuse of federal coronavirus relief funds, but others applauded it as a strong effort to boost slumping vaccination rates.
  • Gov. Mike DeWine (R) addressed critics on Twitter, writing, “The real waste at this point in the pandemic — when the vaccine is readily available to anyone who wants it — is a life lost to COVID-19.”

Ohio Announces Vaccine Lottery

Several states and cities across the country have been rolling out different incentives to help boost COVID-19 vaccination rates. Some are offering $100 savings bonds, $50 prepaid cards, and even free alcohol, but Ohio’s Republican Gov. Mike DeWine took it a step further Wednesday, saying that five people in his state will each win $1 million for getting vaccinated.

DeWine said that the lottery program, named “Ohio Vax-a-Million,” will be open to residents 18 and older who receive at least one dose. Drawings start May 26 and winners will be pulled from the state’s voter registration database.

The Ohio Lottery will conduct the drawings, but the money will come from existing federal coronavirus relief funds.

Younger people will also have a chance to win something. That’s because DeWine said five vaccinated people between 12 and 17 years old will be eligible to win a full four-year scholarship to one of the state’s public universities under a similar lottery program. The portal to sign up for that opens May 18.

DeWine Defends Lottery

Reactions to the giveaway have been mixed. Some echoed statements from State Rep. Emilia Sykes, the top House Democrat, who said, “Using millions of dollars in relief funds in a drawing is a grave misuse of money that could be going to respond to this ongoing crisis.”

DeWine, however, seems to have anticipated pushback like this.

“I know that some may say, ‘DeWine, you’re crazy! This million-dollar drawing idea of yours is a waste of money,'” he tweeted. “But truly, the real waste at this point in the pandemic — when the vaccine is readily available to anyone who wants it — is a life lost to COVID-19.”

Despite some backlash, a ton of other people have applauded the plan as a smart way to encourage vaccinations across all age groups. So far, about 36%of Ohio’s population has been fully vaccinated — compared with 35% nationally. 

Still, the number of people seeking vaccines has dropped in recent weeks, with an average of about 16,500 starting the process last week, which is down from figures above 80,000 in April. 

See what others are saying: (AP News) (NPR)(The New York Times)

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Derek Chauvin Qualifies for Longer Sentence Over George Floyd’s Murder, Judge Rules

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  • A judge overseeing the trial of Derek Chauvin ruled Wednesday that there were enough aggravating factors in the former officer’s murder of George Floyd that could qualify him for a longer prison sentence.
  • While Chauvin was found guilty on all three charges he faced, Minnesota state law only allows him to receive prison time for the most serious charge of second-degree homicide, which has a max sentence of 40 years but a recommended sentence of 12.5 years for people with no criminal history.
  • The judge ultimately agreed that Chauvin qualifies for longer sentencing because prosecutors had proven that he abused his power as a police officer, acted “particularly cruel” to Floyd, and committed the crime in front of children with at least three other people.
  • Chauvin is currently scheduled to be sentenced on June 25.

Judge Cahill Rules on Aggravating Factors

Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill, who oversaw the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, has ruled that there were aggravating factors in the former Minneapolis police officer’s murder of George Floyd, thus qualifying him for a longer sentence.

While the jury found Chauvin guilty on all three charges he was facing, Minnesota law says that he will only face sentencing for the most serious charge, which in this case is second-degree murder.

That charge carries a maximum sentence of 40 years, but state sentencing guidelines recommend 12 and a half years for someone with no criminal history. Prosecutors asked Judge Cahill for what’s called an “upward sentencing departure,” arguing that there were five factors that should open Chauvin up to a maximum sentence.

In a ruling made public Wednesday, Cahill wrote that prosecutors had proved beyond a reasonable doubt four of those five factors.

In his decision, Cahill agreed with the prosecutor’s claim that Chauvin had “abused his position of trust and authority” as a police officer and that he “knew from his training and experience” that the neck restraint he used Floyd in “danger of positional asphyxia.” 

Cahill also supported the argument that the former officer had been “particularly cruel” to Floyd, who he wrote “was begging for his life and obviously terrified by the knowledge he was likely to die,” adding that Chauvin “remained indifferent to Mr. Floyd’s pleas.”

The third and fourth aggravating factors that the judge sided with prosecutors on were that Chauvin had committed the crime as part of a group of three or more people and that he perpetrated that crime in front of children.

Notably, Cahill did reject the fifth aggravating factor brought by prosecutors, who argued Floyd was “particularly vulnerable” because he was handcuffed and held facedown on the street. The judge said that prosecutors did not prove that argument, writing that Floyd had been able to resist arrest before he was put on the ground.

Additional Charges

The ruling comes just a few days after Chauvin and the three other officers were indicted on federal civil rights charges by a grand jury.

Chauvin was also indicted on a second, separate federal charge related to the arrest of a 14-year-old boy in September 2017, during which he allegedly held the boy by the neck and hit him with a flashlight repeatedly.

According to reports, if he is convicted, he would likely serve the federal sentence at the same time as his state one. However, the federal charges may impact the pending August trial of the three other officers, who have been charged with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.

Separately, last week, Chauvin’s defense attorney filed a motion for a new trial, alleging misconduct by the judge, prosecutors, and jurors, signaling additional continued litigation.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (CNN)

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Teens Attack and Rob 80-Year-Old Asian Man in Northern California

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  • Viral surveillance footage shows an 80-year-old Asian man in the San Francisco Bay area being assaulted and robbed on Saturday by suspects who police say are teenagers.
  • Police believe the suspects are as young as 16, and at one point, one can be heard in the video giggling from the getaway car as the victim cries for help. 
  • The news comes after the nonprofit Stop AAPI Hate released data showing that reports of anti-Asian hate incidents in the U.S. jumped by almost 74% year-over-year in March.

Suspect Laughs at Victim During Attack

Surveillance video going viral on social media captured an 80-year-old Asian man in the San Francisco Bay area getting assaulted and robbed on Saturday by suspects who police believe are teenagers.

The full video is extremely distressing. It shows the man getting knocked to the ground, trying to fight off his attackers as he cries for help. To make matters worse, at one point, high-pitched giggles can be heard coming from another teen in the background. That person appears to be inside a getaway car nearby.

The victim was robbed of a watch and sustained minor injuries. Police have also said that a vehicle similar to the one used in this case was spotted at a strong-armed robbery in a nearby San Leandro area less than two hours later, where another victim was robbed of her purse.

Police believe the suspects are as young as 16.

Surge of Crimes Against Asians in U.S.

This is just the latest violent attack against an Asian person making headlines since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Last week, reports emerged regarding two Asian women who were attacked with a hammer in Times Square by someone demanding they remove their masks. Two other Asian women were recently stabbed while waiting for the bus in downtown San Francisco.

The San Francisco-based nonprofit Stop AAPI Hate released data Thursday saying that reports of anti-Asian hate incidents in the U.S. jumped by almost 74% year-over-year in March — with Chinese people as victims in 44% of these acts.

Vancouver Sees Massive Influx of Anti-Asian Hate

While anti-Asian hate crimes have surged in the U.S., the situation may be worse in Canada, specifically in Vancouver. Around 42% of people in Vancouver are of Asian descent and at least 25% speak Chinese — making it the most heavily Asian city in North America.

Still, it witnessed a 717% year-over-year surge in anti-Asian hate crimes in 2020, according to the Vancouver Police Department. Bloomberg even dubbed it the Anti-Asian hate crime capital of North America, saying more anti-Asian hate crimes were reported in the city of 700,000 people last year than in the 10 largest U.S. cities combined.

That’s part of why people all across the city are participating in more organized action to speak out against anti-Asian hate. For instance, several rallies took place in Vancouver Monday to mark the National Day of Action Against Anti-Asian Racism.

See what others are saying: (ABC 7) (Bloomberg) (Forbes)

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