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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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China Imposes Retaliatory Sanctions on US Officials Over Xinjiang Criticisms

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  • The U.S. imposed sanctions on Chinese officials last week over the treatment of Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region.
  • The decision was the latest escalation during a time of heightened tensions between the two nations over policies in Hong Kong, the trade war, and questions about sovereignty in the South China Sea, among other matters.
  • In response, China announced retaliatory sanctions against U.S. officials, including Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
  • However, what exactly the Chinese sanctions will do is currently unclear as officials haven’t given specifics yet.

Sanctions and Counter Sanctions

Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) were sanctioned by China on Monday over their involvement in criticizing the nation’s actions in Xinjiang. Two other American officials faced sanctions as well for interfering in “China’s internal affairs,” as characterized by the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

The Chinese sanctions were in retaliation over earlier sanctions the U.S. placed on Chinese officials last Thursday. The U.S. was able to do this following the passage of the Uighur Human Rights Policy Act last month. That law allows the U.S. to place sanctions, in line with the Global Magnitsky Act, on officials who are involved in the ongoing repression of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.

When the law was passed in mid-June, China warned that if the U.S. actually imposed any sanctions they would do the same in retaliation. after Thursday’s announcement, the Chinese Foreign Ministry stated, “We urge the US to immediately rescind its wrong decision and stop making any remarks or moves that interfere in China’s internal affairs and undermine China’s interests. The Chinese side will firmly fight back if the US obstinately pursues such agenda.”

Zhao Lijian, Spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry speaking to reporters about US-imposed Sanctions. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China)

Despite China’s threat, the U.S. imposed sanctions on certain Chinese officials and organizations involved in Xinjiang on July 9. The sanctions include freezing the assets these officials hold in the U.S., as well as restricting the ability of the officials and their immediate family members’ to enter the U.S.

In a statement on July 9, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrote, “The United States will not stand idly by as the CCP carries out human rights abuses targeting Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and members of other minority groups in Xinjiang, to include forced labor, arbitrary mass detention, and forced population control, and attempts to erase their culture and Muslim faith.”

Out of the four named individuals in the sanctions, one stands out: Chen Quanguo. Chen is the Communist Party secretary for Xinjiang and part of the Politburo and the highest-ranking Chinese official to ever be sanctioned under the Global Magnitsky Act. He first received infamy for his actions while doing the same job in Tibet from 2011-2016.

The Treasury Department named three other individuals who would have their assets frozen for helping Chen set up the surveillance and detention families in Xinjiang.

Additionally, the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau (XPSB) was also sanctioned by the Treasury Department, and the State Department added that officials who worked with the XPSB were also liable to have themselves and their families denied entry into the U.S.

When speaking about the sanctions, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said, “The United States is committed to using the full breadth of its financial powers to hold human rights abusers accountable in Xinjiang and across the world.”

Tit-for-Tat Hostilities

However, these sanctions will likely end up being largely symbolic because these officials don’t travel to the U.S. in the first place. It’s also believed that their assets aren’t based in America but in China.

Even as a symbolic act, it still made China upset. On Monday, the country imposed its own sanctions against the four U.S. officials in retaliation, including the aforementioned Senators Cruz and Rubio.

Cruz was likely placed on this list for his work as part of the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China. Two other officials part of that committee were also named, including Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), and Sam Brownback, a lawyer who also serves as the US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom.,

Rubio was likely named over his co-sponsorship of the Uighur Human Rights Policy Act. Interestingly though, China avoided issuing sanctions on the other co-sponsor, Sen. Robert Menedez (D-NJ).

As far as what these sanctions will actually do, that’s a little unclear. So far, China hasn’t given any specifics as to what the penalties would be.

These recent sanctions are just the next step in ongoing tit-for-tats between the two countries. There’s an ongoing trade war, tensions over how Hong Kong is being treated by the mainland Chinese, issues over the sovereignty of the South China Sea, and major problems with how the Chinese are treating ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region.

The problems in Xinjiang are so bad, that there are pundits and experts calling it a cultural genocide.

Even outside of the US, China has increasingly been pressured to change course over Xinjiang and Hong Kong.

See what others are saying: (NBC News) (Al Jazeera) (NPR)

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San Francisco Lawmaker Proposes CAREN Act to Make False, Racist 911 Calls Illegal

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  • San Francisco City Supervisor Shamann Walton introduced an ordinance this week called the CAREN Act, which would make false, racially discriminatory 911 calls illegal.
  • The acronym stands for Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies. It is named after “Karens,” a nickname for white women who throw unwarranted fits in public.
  • These fits often appear racially motivated and have led to “Karens” calling the police on people of color.
  • California Assemblyman Rob Bonta has also introduced a similar piece of legislation that would outlaw these calls throughout the state.

Why the “CAREN” Act?

A lawmaker in San Francisco has introduced an ordinance that would outlaw making false, racially discriminatory 911 calls, dubbed the CAREN Act.

City Supervisor Shamann Walton introduced the ordinance. In a tweet announcing the act on Tuesday, he called racist 911 calls “unacceptable.”

The CAREN Act stands for Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies, but its name bears much more weight. A “Karen” is an Internet nickname for white women whose privilege and entitlement leads to loud complaints, threats of legal action, calling supervisors, and often, calling the police. The unjustified outrage of Karens has been documented in countless viral incidents, and in many cases, they show a clear prejudice against people of color. 

One video that went viral in May has been pointed to as a prime example of this. In that clip, Amy Cooper, a white woman in New York, called the police on a Black man named Christian Cooper. Both were in Central park at the time when the man asked her to put her dog on a leash, as she was required to do in that area.

However, that confrontation escalated when she desperately told a 911 operator that she was being threatened when she was not. Many felt her instinct to weaponize her white privilege and make a false claim could have had serious consequences considering the fact that Black Americans are more likely to face police brutality and die in police custody. She has since been charged with filing a false report after much public outrage.

While videos of this nature have often gone viral, this incident came at a cultural tipping point. Not long after it made its way across the Internet, another story received national attention: a video of George Floyd being killed by police officers in Minneapolis. This sparked a movement of people confronting systemic racism and police brutality, and since then, more “Karen” videos have spread online in an effort to hold people accountable for their racist behavior.

What the Ordinance Does

While filing a false police report is already illegal, Walton is pushing for more to be done to stop people from calling the authorities on people of color for no real reason. The CAREN Act would make it illegal to fabricate a report based on racial and other kinds of discrimination. 

“Within the last month and a half in the Bay Area, an individual called the police on a Black man who was dancing and exercising on the street in his Alameda neighborhood and a couple called the police on a Filipino man stenciling ‘Black Lives Matter’ in chalk in front of his own residence in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights,” he said in a statement. 

This is not the only proposal of its kind. California Assemblyman Rob Bonta has introduced a similar ordinance. His proposed legislation, AB 1150, would make state that “discriminatory 911 calls qualify as a hate crime, and further establish civil liability for the person who discriminatorily called 911.”

“AB 1550, when amended, will impose serious consequences on those who make 911 calls that are motivated by hate and bigotry; actions that inherently cause harm and pain to others,” Bonta said in a statement. “This bill is incredibly important to upholding our values and ensuring the safety of all Californians.”

See what others are saying: (SFist) (The Hill) (CNN)

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Catholic Church Granted at Least $1.4 Billion in PPP Loans

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  • An analysis from the Associated Press found that the Catholic Church received at least between $1.4 and $3.5 billion in federal coronavirus relief aid.
  • The report identified 3,500 loans the Church received from the Paycheck Protection Program, but leaders have previously stated that as many as 9,000 bodies of the Church received funding.
  • However, government data only shared who received loans over $150,000. Smaller churches that received under that amount were not on the list, meaning the Catholic Church could have collected even more than records show.
  • Usually, religious groups would not be eligible for funding from the Small Business Administration, but the Church allegedly spent a good chunk of money lobbying so that there would be an exception for the PPP.

Catholic Church Receives Billions in PPP Funds

The Catholic Church received between $1.4 and $3.5 billion in federal coronavirus relief aid, according to a Friday analysis from the Associated Press.

While houses of worship and religious organizations are usually ineligible for federal aid from the Small Business Administration, an exception was made for the Paycheck Protection Program, which was designed to keep American businesses afloat as the pandemic shut the country down.

The AP found records of 3,500 forgivable loans for Catholic dioceses, parishes, schools, and other ministries. That number, however, is likely higher.

The Diocesan Fiscal Management Conference has claimed that 9,000 Catholic bodies received loans. Government data only shared loans over $150,000, so smaller churches who got less were not on the list, meaning the Church may have pocketed even more than $3.5 billion. 

“The government grants special dispensation, and that creates a kind of structural favoritism,” Micah Schwartzman, a University of Virginia law professor told the AP. “And that favoritism was worth billions of dollars.”

According to the AP, the Archdiocese of New York received $28 million just for executive offices. St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City received $1 million. Diocesan officials in Orange County, California received four loans worth $3 million. The AP’s analysis suggests that the Catholic Church and its entities were able to retain 407,900 jobs with this loan money.

“These loans are an essential lifeline to help faith-based organizations to stay afloat and continue serving those in need during this crisis,” spokesperson Chieko Noguchi told the AP.

How Did the Church Get Aid?

Like many businesses throughout the country, churches had to shut their doors as large gatherings became unsafe as the coronavirus’ spread continued. Masses were canceled or moved online and celebrations for the Easter holidays were dropped, causing the Church to to fall behind financially. 

While its global net worth is not known, the Catholic Church is considered the wealthiest religious organization in the world. It is also one of the most powerful groups of any kind, with an estimated 1.2 billion followers all over the planet. According to the AP, its deep pockets and far-reaching influence helped it receive federal aid. 

The Catholic Church lobbied heavily to make sure religious groups were allowed to receive money from the PPP, the AP says. Their report found that the Los Angeles archdiocese spent $20,000 lobbying Congress to include “eligibility for non-profits” in the CARES Act, the legislation that formed the PPP. Records also show that Catholic Charities USA spent another $30,000 in CARES Act lobbying.

With its wealth and power, the Catholic Church is also plagued with controversy and scandal. For years, there have been reports that the Church has covered up for priests and other leaders who have been accused of sexual abuse. Many entities of the church have had to shell out large sums of money in legal fees and settlements. 

The AP found that around 40 of the dioceses that have paid out “hundreds of millions of dollars” to related compensation funds or bankruptcy proceedings received loans. These loans totaled at least $200 million.

See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Business Insider) (Market Watch)

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