An experiment in community self-policing recently took place in Seattle. It failed so badly that any municipality considering defunding its police force in a way that leaves a law enforcement vacuum had better take notice.
On the night of June 8, after clashes with activists protesting the killing of George Floyd, the Seattle City Police Department withdrew from its East Precinct building in the Capitol Hill district. Protesters took control of a six-block area, which they named the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest zone (CHOP). Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan suggested the coming of a “summer of love.” The leftist The Nation declared that CHOP was “an anti-capitalist vision of community sovereignty without police.”
But for those who live and work in the zone, there was far more fear than love, and the “vision” turned out to be a nightmare. Last week, businesses and residents in CHOP filed a lawsuit in federal court against the city of Seattle alleging that the city’s “unprecedented decision” to abandon an entire city neighborhood has caused damage to their property and threatened their safety.
The complaint stresses the plaintiffs’ support for free speech rights and the work of Black Lives Matter but reveals urban dystopia in CHOP much closer to the movie “Escape from New York” than the communal days of Woodstock. According to the complaint, the CHOP activists used concrete barriers left behind by the police to blockade the neighborhood to police cars, garbage and recycling pickup trucks and other vehicles. Armed activists sometimes decided who could enter CHOP. The police stopped responding to emergency calls except those involving the most serious safety threats, and even then the responses were slow. Incidents of arson and assault went without a police response.