Monday, August 10, 2020

Spoon Man

Ah Seattle, home to Grunge. This is the music but the city has always been just that way until the new money arrived and wanted that all gone away.  I knew the CHOP/CHAZ in Seattle was a poor man's occupier.  Having grown up in the Northwest it is not a friendly warm place.  I have written extensively about the Seattle Freeze, the arrogance and the suppressed racism and well overall assholism that dominates the vibe.  It is a city that you speak the dogma, the message and in the manner of a passive aggressive individual with several monikers to identify your gender, your personage and political belief.   There is Liberal, there is Progressive, there is now apparently Social Democrat, and there are the supposed other angrier anarchists along with the white nationalists and other far right groups that have equal divisions.   The more labels the better to ostracize, segregate and demean you. The difference between Seattle and Nashville is the vocabulary level in which to insult.

I have first hand witnessed one elected Official after another fuck up Seattle.  From Paul Schell at the WTO to Jenny Durkan and CHOP, this is just a long line of Mayors who simply are elected as they fit a type, check a box and have the current talking points down to a point of no return. Once elected and not re-elected by choice or not, they fade into the background to never be heard of again. Seattle is like Nashville in ways I never thought I would imagine nor believe but as I sit here far away from both, I cannot say anything good about either, so I won't.

Now as for Portland the violence and protests about black lives is raging. Is it really still about black lives?  I am not seeing anything here on this coast or in any other major metropolis at this point about the subject which again, not surprising.  But we have had major primaries and it appears that many Black Women are bringing votes to the the box and the same with some other candidates who are Gay, Black, Hispanic and are all voices of change.  Ah there is where it matters.

Portland at this point has descended into chaos and stupidity.  The Wall of Moms became infamous for being white, the color of the population there, ignoring that the faces of Mothers have long been forefront of activism going back decades. But when the Moms are white we give a shit until we don't.  Moms Demand Action?  They came AFTER a group of Black Mothers began a similar movement.  Yes we have been here before folks and we will go there again.  And that chaos and protest is not new and like the south, racism and dissent is built into the DNA.

 Seattle is now trying to clean up the mess made and the area of town now has the scars and the bodies of the kids who in the best of moments meant well, in the worst of moments did worse. Shootings, murders, deaths of a protestor by a young black man driving into them (and now buried in the media as it doesn't fit the narrative) are now all marks of the Summer of Loathe.  This was not about change, this was about anger, the rising homelessness, the issue of work, jobs and of course drugs and money were really the issues and black lives were the shields in which to hide behind.  I know Seattle and Portland and black is a color of the goth gear not of their friends, co-workers, neighbors or anyone who matters.  Just like Nashville, I cannot recall any face of color in the front of the house of coffee shops, yoga studios, gyms or businesses I frequented. Not one, or well one or two but they never stayed long.  My personal favorite was the woman I knew in Nashville who had a General Store, proclaimed to be an activist and never had a face of color work for her, claimed to know many Black individuals, never saw her in the company of one, quoted and cited endless tropes about racial issues, but when it came down to it, was just like the rest of those in Nashville, all talk no walk when it came to actually acting upon the narrative.

I know the street of CHOP and I know the business, I know the park, the block and some of those in the story below.  I know their neighboring businesses, the people that did live and work there and went to school there and I recall dancing at the bars when the district was a large Gay community now gentrified to meet the flow of the river of Amazon.   When I was still there in 2016 on the very corner CHOP burned, I watched a woman Cop stop a Black man with a Golf Club a Cane and haul him into jail for allegedly hiding her car.  It was noon and I was on my way to a Barre class and I did not see that, and when I mentioned it to someone, they said it happens all the time, really?  But the area was full of homeless youth, drug addicts and others who prey upon those individuals.  One morning I was walking to the same class only early and stumbled upon a man injecting himself with drugs. The bars there are notorious for drugging drinks with date rape drugs and little to nothing was done then.  Or how about thousands of untested rape kits.  Again, no protests, no hysteria, no nothing and it was already a pattern well established by Seattle Police,  the King County Sheriff, the District Attorney's of both the City and County.  So tell me again what you are wanting to accomplish?

Nothing will change for good or bad and the lawsuit will be shut down in the Courts of Seattle as the Judges are elected, as is the Sheriff, the Prosecuting and City Attorney and all of them will talk the talking points, say the script and they will protect the quo and the status of a city in decline.  As long as Amazon is served that is all that they have on the menu.

Abolish the Police? Those Who Survived the Chaos in Seattle Aren’t So Sure

What is it like when a city abandons a neighborhood and the police vanish? Business owners describe a harrowing experience of calling for help and being left all alone.

The New York Times
By Nellie Bowles
Aug. 7, 2020

SEATTLE — Faizel Khan was being told by the news media and his own mayor that the protests in his hometown were peaceful, with “a block party atmosphere.”

But that was not what he saw through the windows of his Seattle coffee shop. He saw encampments overtaking the sidewalks. He saw roving bands of masked protesters smashing windows and looting.

Young white men wielding guns would harangue customers as well as Mr. Khan, a gay man of Middle Eastern descent who moved here from Texas so he could more comfortably be out. To get into his coffee shop, he sometimes had to seek the permission of self-appointed armed guards to cross a border they had erected.

“They barricaded us all in here,” Mr. Khan said. “And they were sitting in lawn chairs with guns.”

For 23 days in June, about six blocks in the city’s Capitol Hill neighborhood were claimed by left-wing demonstrators and declared police-free. Protesters hailed it as liberation — from police oppression, from white supremacy — and a catalyst for a national movement.

In the wake of the killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police, the Black Lives Matter movement is calling to defund the police, arguing that the criminal justice system is inherently racist.

Leaders in many progressive cities are listening. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced a plan to shift $1 billion out of the police budget. The Minneapolis City Council is pitching a major reduction, and the Seattle City Council is pushing for a 50 percent cut to Police Department funding. (The mayor said that plan goes too far.)

Some even call for “abolishing the police” altogether and closing down precincts, which is what happened in Seattle.

That has left small-business owners as lonely voices in progressive areas, arguing that police officers are necessary and that cities cannot function without a robust public safety presence. In Minneapolis, Seattle and Portland, Ore., many of those business owners consider themselves progressive, and in interviews they express support for the Black Lives Matter movement. But they also worry that their businesses, already debilitated by the coronavirus pandemic, will struggle to survive if police departments and city governments cannot protect them.

On Capitol Hill, business crashed as the Seattle police refused to respond to calls to the area. Officers did not retake the region until July 1, after four shootings, including two fatal ones.

Now a group of local businesses owners — including a locksmith, the owner of a tattoo parlor, a mechanic, the owners of a Mexican restaurant and Mr. Khan — is suing the city. The lawsuit claims that “Seattle’s unprecedented decision to abandon and close off an entire city neighborhood, leaving it unchecked by the police, unserved by fire and emergency health services, and inaccessible to the public” resulted in enormous property damage and lost revenue.

The Seattle lawsuit — and interviews with shop owners in cities like Portland and Minneapolis — underscores a key question: Can businesses still rely on local governments, which are now rethinking the role of the police, to keep them safe? The issue is especially tense in Seattle, where the city government not only permitted the establishment of a police-free zone, but provided infrastructure like concrete barriers and portable toilets to sustain it.

The economic losses that businesses suffered during the recent tumult are significant: One community relief fund in Minneapolis, where early protests included vandalism and arson, has raised $9 million for businesses along the Lake Street corridor, a largely Latino and East African business district. “We asked the small businesses what they needed to cover the damage that insurance wasn’t paying, and the gap was around $200 million,” said Allison Sharkey, the executive director of the Lake Street Council, which is organizing the fund. Her own office, between a crafts market and a Native American support center, was burned down in the protests.

Some small businesses have resorted to posting GoFundMe pleas for donations online.

Many are nervous about speaking out lest they lend ammunition to a conservative critique of the Black Lives Matter movement. In Portland, Elizabeth Snow McDougall, the owner of Stevens-Ness legal printers, emphasized her support for the cause before describing the damage done to her business.

“One window broken, then another, then another, then another. Garbage to clean off the sidewalk in front of the store every morning. Urine to wash out of our doorway alcove. Graffiti to remove,” Ms. McDougall wrote in an email. “Costs to board up and later we’ll have costs to repair.”

The impact of the occupation on Cafe Argento, Mr. Khan’s coffee shop on Capitol Hill, has been devastating. Very few people braved the barricades set up by the armed occupiers to come in for his coffee and breakfast sandwiches. Cars coming to pick up food orders would turn around. At two points, he and his workers felt scared and called 911. “They said they would not come into CHOP,” said Mr. Khan, referring to one of the names that protesters gave to the occupied Capitol Hill area. “It was lawless.”

He had to start chipping in for private security, a hard thing to do when his business had already been hurt by the coronavirus.

But he considers himself lucky — and he was. Even weeks after the protests, blocks of his previously bustling neighborhood remained boarded up and covered in shattered glass. Many business owners are scared to speak out, Mr. Khan said, because of worries that they would be targeted further.

One mid-July morning in the neighborhood, workers in orange vests were mopping off the sidewalks and power-spraying graffiti off the sides of buildings. Two window repair guys said they had their hands full for weeks. Shattered street lamps were being unscrewed and replaced.

A confusing array of security teams wandered around, armed with handguns and rifles. Some wore official-looking private security uniforms. Others wore casual clothes and lanyards identifying their affiliation with Black Lives Matter. A third group wore all black with no identifying labels and declined to name their group affiliation.

When a tall man in a trench coat and hiking boots walked over to question Mr. Khan, the man spread his coat open, revealing several pistols on harnesses around his chest and waist. He presented a badge on a lanyard that read “Black Lives Matter Community Patrol.”

His name is Rick Hearns and he identified himself as a longtime security guard and mover who is now a Black Lives Matter community guard, in charge of several others. Local merchants pay for his protection, he said as he handed out his business card. (Mr. Khan said he and his neighbors are now paying thousands of dollars a month for protection from Iconic Global, a Washington State-based private security contractor.)

Mr. Hearns has had bad experiences with the police in his own life. He says he wants police reform, but he was appalled by the violent tactics and rhetoric he witnessed during the occupation.

He blamed the destruction and looting on “opportunists,” but also said that much of the damage on Capitol Hill came from a distinct contingent of violent, armed white activists. “It’s antifa,” he said. “They don’t want to see the progress we’ve made. They want chaos.”

Many of the business owners on Capitol Hill agreed: Much of the violence they saw and the intimidation of their patrons came from a group these business owners identified as antifa, which they distinguished from the Black Lives Matter movement. “The idea of taking up the Black movement and turning it into a white occupation, it’s white privilege in its finest definition,” Mr. Khan said. “And that’s what they did.”

Antifa, which stands for anti-fascist, is a radical, leaderless leftist political movement that uses armed, violent protest as a method to create what supporters say is a more just and equitable country. They have a strong presence in the Pacific Northwest, including the current protests in Portland.

When the occupation in Seattle started in early June, Mayor Jenny Durkan seemed almost amused. “We could have the Summer of Love,” she said.

After President Trump took aim at the governor of Washington State and Seattle’s mayor on June 11, Ms. Durkan defended the occupation on Twitter as “a peaceful expression of our community’s collective grief and their desire to build a better world,” she wrote, pointing to the “food trucks, spaghetti potlucks, teach-ins, and movies.”

The lawsuit by the small-business owners, filed by the firm Calfo Eakes on June 24, seizes on such language, pointing out that the city knew what was happening and provided material support for the occupation.

Matthew Ploszaj, a Capitol Hill resident, is one of the complainants. He said his apartment building, blocks from Mr. Khan’s shop, was broken into four times during the occupation. The Seattle Police were called each time and never came to his apartment, according to Mr. Ploszaj. When he and another resident called the police after one burglary, they told him to meet them outside the occupation zone, about eight blocks away. He and other residents spent nights at a friend’s house outside the area during the height of the protests.

The employees of Bergman’s Lock and Key say they were followed by demonstrators with baseball bats. Cure Cocktail, a local bar and charcuterie, said its workers were asked by protesters to pledge loyalty to the movement: “Are you for the CHOP or are you for the police?” they were asked, according to the lawsuit.

The business owners also found that trying to get help from the Seattle Police, who declined to comment for this article, made them targets of activists.

Across from Cafe Argento is a funky old auto repair shop called Car Tender run by John McDermott, a big soft-spoken man. On June 14, Mr. McDermott was driving his wife home from their anniversary dinner when he received a call from a neighbor who saw someone trying to break into his shop.

Mr. McDermott and his 27-year-old son, Mason, raced over. A man who was inside the shop, Mr. McDermott said, had emptied the cash drawer and was in the midst of setting the building on fire. Mr. McDermott said he and his son wrestled the man down and planned to hold him until the police arrived. But officers never showed up. A group of several hundred protesters did, according to Mr. McDermott, breaking down the chain-link fence around his shop and claiming that Mr. McDermott had kidnapped the man.

“They started coming across the fence — you see all these beautiful kids, a mob but kids — and they have guns and are pointing them at you and telling you they’re going to kill you,” Mr. McDermott said. “Telling me I’m the K.K.K. I’m not the K.K.K.”

The demonstrators were livestreaming the confrontation. Mr. McDermott’s wife watched, frantically calling anyone she could think of to go help him.

Later, Mr. McDermott’s photo and shop address appeared on a website called Cop Blaster, whose stated aim is to track police brutality but also has galleries of what it calls “Snitches” and “Cop Callers.” The McDermotts were categorized as both of those things on the website, which warned they should “keep their mouths shut.”

Many of the listings include names and addresses of people who are said to have called the police. Since the Cop Blaster post went up, Mr. McDermott’s shop has received so many harassing phone calls and messages that some employees have had to take time off.

A block away is Bill Donner, the owner of Richmark Label, who let police officers use the roof of his factory to monitor the demonstration. Inside, his company had spent 50 years making labels for products like whiskey, soaps and natural beef jerky. Many days during the occupation, Mr. Donner, who said he was in favor of police reform, had to negotiate with the occupiers of the zone for access to his factory.

Twice, he called 911 and was told that the police would not be coming into the area.

The experience of the small-business owners seems a universe away from the rhetoric of Seattle’s politicians. As the violence turned deadly, Councilwoman Kshama Sawant, who represents Capitol Hill, defended the protesters’ use of their own armed guards instead of the police.

“Elected committees of self defense have historically played vital roles during general strikes, occupations and in mass movements, in order for the working class and marginalized people to defend themselves and carry out necessary functions in place of the forces of the state,” she wrote. She has called for the local police precinct to be permanently placed under “community control.”

When the mayor did send in police officers to end the occupation after the shootings, Ms. Sawant wrote on Twitter, “Shame on Mayor Jenny Durkan for deploying Seattle police yesterday in a brutal attack against peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters & homeless neighbors at the Capitol Hill Organized Protest.”

Many protesters who remained in early July were milling around a small tent encampment on a lawn at Seattle Central College, some with rifles slung over their shoulders. The smell of weed drifted through. The streets were full of moving trucks.

The crowds were gone, but every now and then, the demonstrators gave speeches about the importance of disbanding the police. Sometimes the activists spoke about what went wrong with the occupation. One young woman on a bullhorn argued to passers-by that the police left too quickly and that a sustainable police-free region would have to be built more slowly.

These days, storefronts in the neighborhood remain boarded up, covered in Black Lives Matter signs and graffiti. Demonstrators still hold evening protests, albeit smaller and quieter than before. But the businesses remain on edge.

“This is an ongoing crisis,” Mr. Donner said on Tuesday. “Protesters are apparently staying until they get some of what they want. No one knows what level of city cooperation will be enough for them.”

But the area is slowly going back to its old normal. The park and playing fields have been cleared, and police officers have returned to the streets. An apartment building that opened earlier this summer is finally attracting prospective tenants.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Durkan did not comment on the lawsuit but acknowledged frustrations from small businesses.

“Many who live and work in Capitol Hill and other parts of the city continue to witness daily protests that are rightly demanding an end to systemic racism,” she wrote. “In some circumstances, businesses and residents have faced property destruction in the last two months.”

She encouraged the businesses to file claims.

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