Monday, June 29, 2020

The Seattle CHOP Demonstrates Exactly Why Our Justice System Must Be Abolished

Welp, it took the stress of both a global pandemic and a national uprising to bring me to a stress level that caused me to finally stop blogging regularly for, what, nine years? Depending on how things go, I might pick it up again or might not. I have mostly given up trying to predict the future and am pretty much taking things week by week, if not day by day.

But I still have many thoughts and will write them down whenever I can squeeze out the energy.

As a life-long Seattle-area resident, I've been watching the events of the area around the Capitol Hill east precinct, the CHAZ or the CHOP or whatever you want to call it, unfold for a couple weeks now. I think. Did this all really start over a month ago? Anyway.

I've watched as Mayor Jenny Durkan tried to undermine the protest zone as a "summer of love" block party while pretending to support its existence and watched Chief of Police Carmen Best lie about extortion, rape, ID checks and other things that never happened in the area. I've watched both use the shootings that have happened in and near the zone to try and justify ending it so the SPD can re-take their precinct.

Shootings in and near the CHOP, two of which have ended in the deaths of Black individuals, have been sensationalized by national news media, in particular the first one. "Fatal shooting in Seattle Autonomous Zone" was at the top of trending headlines on Twitter for days after the first one happened. Floods of right-wing trolls pushed the idea that the zone is some kind of lawless wasteland contained in an area of about six blocks where no one is allowed in or out without special permission of a "warlord" or whatever such racist nonsense they could come up with.

Here's the truth. Yes, there have been a total of four shooting events in or near the CHOP. The victim from one believes the men who shot him were white supremacists of some variety and says they called him the n-word. Based on reports from people on the ground, including volunteer medics and security, strongly suggest the rest were from fights and were possibly gang-related.

The reality is that Seattle has been the home of gang-related gun violence for many years. Gentrification, segregation, and increasing poverty in and around Seattle have worsened this to the point that shootings are a nightly occurrence and have been since long before the CHOP existed. It's just that no one cared because the victims are largely BIPOC and/or poor/homeless. The only time they're brought up is to push increased policing or to distract from police brutality with racist "black on black crime" talking points.

This problem has not improved as the SPD's portion of the city budget has increased by many millions of dollars. That's what makes all those tweets sneering at the shootings in and near the CHOP so darkly absurd. There must be hundreds of tweets from accounts with followers in the double digits at best and American flags in their name claiming that the entire movement behind the CHOP and what it represents is completely invalid because they haven't stopped shootings that were happening before the CHOP existed and will continue after it's gone. Shootings that the police have not been able to stop with hundreds of millions of dollars pumped into their department yearly and decades of pretending to try.

If you're paying attention, all this calls attention to the fact that our system of policing and our larger justice system do not work. At least, they do not work if the goal is to stop or reduce crime.

In the U.S., most to all of us are brought up on messages that the police "fight crime." That's what they're for. They fight crime. Movie after movie shows them putting their lives on the line to bring down criminal organizations dedicated to human misery and saving the day. In a blaze on gunfire, they bring down the evil ones and restore order and justice. White people swallow this message especially easy without any experiences to counter the narrative.

But the reality is completely different. Police largely respond to crime. Yes, there may be examples in which they arrest those who break the law, break up organizations they label criminal, and maybe even get your stolen stuff back. But most of the time, they don't.

In fact, there is mounting evidence and consensus that they facilitate and increase crime.

But let's pause here and go deeper. What is crime? This word has such a big impact on so many lives, yet we rarely think about what it means. Crime is "an action or omission that constitutes an offense that may be prosecuted by the state and is punishable by law." Basically, crime is any action or lack of action that breaks the law.

Who make the laws?

In the PR version of America, people vote for representatives who properly represent them and don't manipulate people with ad campaigns, lies, and bigotry to gain power, and they make the laws. So, in essence, the people make the laws.

That's why rapists like Brock Turner get three months in prison when there are multiple direct and credible witnesses to the crime and people who spray paint cop cars face life sentences. That's what you wanted, right?

Further, who decided that putting people in prison is justice? The idea that prisons are rehabilitative is a fucking joke in this country. Most people will readily admit that prisons don't do anything other than keep people who have been deemed "criminal" out of the wider population, and in fact are probably places where people can learn how to become better criminals. It's much more than that, actually - prisons are horrific hell holes where violence abounds and people routinely come out utterly traumatized with criminal records that make it impossible to get housing, jobs, or government assistance, leaving many with zero options other than "crime."

Especially in a nation that literally criminalizes being homeless.

So even when our justice system works as intended, or as we've been told it should work, it does nothing to reduce crime or violence. Rather, we send violent police to use violence to detain and throw people into conditions that would be illegal to keep animals in, with all the trauma and desperation that caused them to do "crime" in the first place, and let them commit violence on each other while being abused by the guards as well.

How is this a solution to violence? What could this possibly due other than increase violence and what we think of as "crime"?

It's incredible how obvious this all becomes by asking a few key, basic questions. The problem is that police were not created to "fight crime" or solve it or anything else. They evolved out of palace guards and slave catchers, literally just people dedicated to protecting the wealth of the wealthy, the property of those privileged enough to own it.

The only way to fight crime is to prevent it. Having police anywhere in Seattle, including in the east precinct on Capitol Hill, never did that. The only way to prevent crime is to ask where it comes from.

Why do people break the social contract currently in place? The answer lies in poverty, trauma, and the gaping chasm between those who make the laws and those who are actually arrested if they break them. Why follow the rules invented by someone else when those people aren't made to follow them or punished if they don't? Why follow the rules of a society that has only ever subjected you to poverty and violence? How absurd is it to ask this of people?

This is why I'm a revolutionary. This is what it means to be radical. The system not only doesn't work as we were told it was supposed to, it was never meant to work that way in the first place. That is how rotton, corrupt, and toxic the system is. The only reasonable option is to chick the whole thing and create something that works for the people, not just the privileged.

Right-wingers who have never been to Seattle or rich white people who have only seen it from their privileged towers act like the CHOP is a much bigger deal than it is. They act like it's everything, ignorant of the fact that autonomous zones like it have popped up multiple times in the city's history and in other cities across the U.S. They are important in the lessons they can teach us if we're ready to learn.

Nobody who was involved in the creation and maintenance of the CHOP ever thought that it would be a magical violence-free zone. That's why we always had the John Brown Gun Club and other volunteers there for security, because violence was expected, at the very least from police and white supremacists who viewed it as a threat. People sneering at the fact that the daily gun violence that has been a part of Seattle for many years didn't stop because of a six-block zone that kicked out the police, ignorant of or ignoring the daily gun violence happening in many, many other cities still entirely controlled by the police says something they didn't intend.

Cops don't fight crime, and "crime" is a manipulative term trotted out to justify maintaining a toxic and unjust system only ever meant to maintain the power of the powerful. Even calling what we have a "justice system" is so intensely ironic that it makes me want to reach through my own skull and rip my brain in half.

Whatever happens to the CHOP, it will always be a success for exposing this to world.

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