Get In the Zone: A Report from the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone in Seattle

The following is an interview with a Seattle resident who has been out on the streets during the recent uprising and watched as both vigilantes, police, and the National Guard have attacked protesters in the Capital Hill neighborhood. Now, after over a week of intense rioting and clashes with the authorities, Seattle police have evacuated from their East precinct and an autonomous zone has sprung up around the empty building. Wanting to know more about what all is going down, we caught up to discuss how the last week and a half has played out on the streets.

IGD: Broadly speaking, what’s been happening in Seattle since intense rioting broke out in late May? 

Things began in Seattle on Friday, May 29th, with Saturday the 30th being the most intense day of rioting and looting. The days that followed all had similar arcs and tones, but were generally focused around the Seattle Police Department’s East precinct in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. This is where the majority of the evening clashes with police took place.

Every day has seen massive demonstrations throughout the city while protest infrastructure along the main business corridors of Capitol Hill has grown. Food, music, medics, literature tables and a vigil to the fallen all appeared over the course of the week.

IGD: The other day, the police announced that they were gathering their things and leaving their precinct. What do you make of this? 

This, to be very honest, is anyone’s guess. There are many theories around why they abandoned the precinct. Some feel that they ran out of resources, some feel that it was a politically expedient move on the Mayor’s part. From my perspective-this was a “good” move on the city’s part. They were getting hammered in the press for the nightly tear gas barrages and street clashes, and the crowds never really got smaller. When an active shooter was on the scene, people rushed to the neighborhood to give support.

Every day has seen massive demonstrations throughout the city while protest infrastructure along the main business corridors of Capitol Hill has grown. Food, music, medics, literature tables and a vigil to the fallen all appeared over the course of the week. 

The risks that people were facing in standing off with the cops night after night were just not the deterrent I assume the city thought it would be. Once they left the precinct, while certainly a blow to their power, the focus has been taken off of the heavily militarized police that is still lurking in the area.

They also mounted a hard counter ‘arson’ campaign through fearful social media posts about the “threats of arson to the precinct” and the Seattle Fire Department on “standby.” From my perspective, it was a strategy gamble on the city’s part once they realized that the thing they were defending was symbolic at best. What they might not have factored in is how important symbology is to revolt – the statues coming down all over the world is a good example.

IGD: The area in the Capitol Hill neighborhood that people have been gathering around has been described as an autonomous zone. Can you speak more about this? 

Autonomy is going to mean a lot of things to a lot of people. This space is certainly not controlled by the city at this point. But it’s important to remember that because of the pandemic, this neighborhood was nearly abandoned for the last 2 months, which has made it an excellent choice to occupy but also an easier space to tip over into feeling like it’s ours.

Capitol Hill is the historic queer neighborhood, and back in the day it was where the punks and the musicians and all the freaks lived. The pitched battles around Ferguson in 2014/2015, Occupy in 2011/2012 and the anti-police movement of 2010/2011 saw a majority of these conflicts on the Hill. This has always been “our” neighborhood – but as with literally every other city in the US, rapid gentrification and demographic shifts kicked everyone out, corporatized Pride month, and built the neighborhood into a tech corridor. Currently, the streets are ours again, and with that comes the next battle of what does it mean to be autonomous?

IGD: What is the crowd coming out to these events like? How have bureaucratic Left groups/peace police attempted to maneuver in this context and how have they been received? 

With 9 days of riots, looting, demonstrations, sit-ins, clashes and everything else it’s hard to categorize the crowds in any way. But across the board, especially for the Pacific Northwest, this was some of the most diverse, inter-generational and generalized revolt that I have ever seen.

The streets have been filled with energetic Zoomers and street hardened anarchists, “peaceful protestors,” and those wanting to directly confront the police and capital. What has emerged tactically is the idea that militant defense was acceptable, and that more aggressive actions against the police were more controversial, leading to a deep “peace police” element which has been consistent. Despite that, people of all types continued to charge cop lines, throw sooo much shit at the police and try to create tensions with the cops literally raining tear gas down on people’s heads. The complex nature of race and leadership has been prominent in these clashes, with white people stopping Black youth from doing their conflictual thing because they have some sort of in with, “Black leadership.” These dynamics have made cohesion in the crowd difficult but not impossible. Fuck, despite the peace police people have been able to keep the National Guard at bay and get them to abandon their beloved precinct, so they couldn’t have been that powerful in the end.

Overall, there has been a lot of emotion felt viscerally on these blocks. So much joy and so much anger held at the same time as people have been coming together physically for the first time in months due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Live music has been played every night by these musicians calling themselves the Marshall Law Band, less than a block away from where police would be shooting tear gas and flash-bang grenades at protestors. Surreal barely describes the experience.

IGD: The National Guard has now left; does this change anything at all?

The National Guard as of last night (6-8-2020), is very much still present in Seattle. They’ve been spotted at various public school parking lots and parks in the areas surrounding the neighborhood. Not seeing them in backing up the police lines, that have also disappeared from the block, clearly allow a more tranquil atmosphere to take place. There was a lot of rage and anger voiced at the National Guard when they would physically march with police to press protestors back, people still seem very attached to this idea that the National Guard is supposed to serve the “American people” and everyone’s been calling them traitors for serving a role in suppressing the uprising. The public school district of Seattle posted on twitter that they were looking into finding a way to block the Guard from using their parking lots as staging areas, an encouraging statement for all of us who’ve had to stare them down over the last week.

IGD: Law enforcement in Seattle and Portland seems to have trying to outlast the people on the street; tear-gassing people again and again. Can you say anything to their over all strategy on the street? How have people responded?

The police in Seattle have very clearly tried to fix their public relations image in the last couple of days that led up to their withdrawal from the precinct. Seattle police have been issuing countless warnings via sound-system, specifically citing the importance of peaceful protest and stating things like, “It is you the protestors who have advanced your line towards us, we have not made any movement towards you.” Eventually these warnings turn into a deluge of crowd-dispersal tactics, including but not limited to tear-gas, OC canisters, pepper-balls fired from paintball guns, rubber bullets and flash-bangs shot directly at protestors.

It was a horrifying and incredible moment that was a clear example of how a liberatory process will incur attacks from all sides and will have to defend itself in a bunch of different ways. Those who were involved clearly found that the police do not care for our well being, and that we can protect ourselves from reactionary violence without the aid of the police.

I have been nothing short of inspired by the crowds’ ability to remain calm in the face of these aggressive maneuvers by the police. Countless videos show the crowds simply slowly falling back from advancing police lines, forming defensive lines with shields and umbrellas, and even sometimes throwing tear-gas and OC canisters back towards the police. However, it is also in these moments where some individuals have taken the opportunity to throw things at the cops, which is still incredibly unpopular in the streets, even as the police are actively attacking people.

IGD: The other night in Seattle, a vigilante drove into the crowd and opened fire, hitting one person. Has far-Right and/or vigilante violence been a re-occurring problem? 

So far, the identity of the shooter is very confusing. As far as most people can discern, he is a unaffiliated, not-white regular ass dude from the South End of Seattle. Instead of focusing on him, I think it’s important to think about the response to his attack – which is irrefutable.

When he drove his car at significant speed towards the crowd, people did not hesitate to try and stop him. People put themselves in the way, tried to pull him from the car, pulled others to safety, and physically stopped the car with repurposed cop barricades. Someone was shot for his efforts. It was a horrifying and incredible moment that was a clear example of how a liberatory process will incur attacks from all sides and will have to defend itself in a bunch of different ways. Those who were involved clearly found that the police do not care for our well being, and that we can protect ourselves from reactionary violence without the aid of the police.

Our general response has been to show up, to be there, to have literature and info available, to stick with it night after night and confront the peace police and help the medics drag bodies out, to get people out of jail and have some of the conversations that need to be hashed out-and to make the alliances and build the crews we we will need to continue this past a conflict with the East Precinct. 

The threat of reactionary violence is very real, and I fear that we will see this boomerang back at us soon. But in the current moment one of the bigger threats seems to be the fear around these forces. As we speak, hundreds if not more people are messaging, tweeting and generally boosting unsubstantiated claims of reactionaries on their way to the Hill at any given times. This constant signal boosting of public police scanner channels has deeply hampered the ability to organize real and consistent response to if and when the right does choose to engage us.

IGD: Riot shaming, liberal disinformation, conspiracy theories – the wider Left has really shown itself to be lacking in overall analysis and understanding of the current moment. Just curious how people are dealing with the sea of misinformation and bad-faith actors.

There are so many people engaged in this movement it is difficult to break down one exact way in which these ideas are being addressed. It also greatly depends on which perspective you are coming from. We can see that the people positioning themselves to “lead” this movement are disingenuous grifters, while others think the same way about anarchists. Our general response has been to show up, to be there, to have literature and info available, to stick with it night after night and confront the peace police and help the medics drag bodies out, to get people out of jail and have some of the conversations that need to be hashed out-and to make the alliances and build the crews we we will need to continue this past a conflict with the East Precinct.

 

https://itsgoingdown.org/get-in-the-zone/

Detainment is Death in the Pandemic!

Umaapaw na raw ang kulungan. [The jails are overflowing.] Nearly 30,000 people were reportedly arrested under the quarantine in the Philippines, with more than 4,000 of these arrested detained, based on a report dated April 18, 2020.1 Doubtless, more have since been arrested and detained since then. The police even went on record saying there will no longer be any more warnings to the alleged “quarantine violators” and will arrest people as they see fit,2 likely straining the capacities of the already overstretched jails and prisons.

As the recent proletarian demand “tulong, hindi kulong” [“aid, not detentions”] suggests, there is already a collective experience where the state is more felt in its punitive instruments of violence and policing more than its capacity to deliver aid. Indeed, every evening on the news we watch helpless as more and more injustices are wrought onscreen as police inflict more and more violence upon people and communities. A man suffering from PTSD was shot and killed by police in broad daylight.3 There were mass arrests of people demanding food aid.4

Police maul a street vendor for not wearing a face mask.5 Watching these unfold fill us with loathing for the police.

Instead of the state providing people with face masks when its agents see people without these, they detain them, putting them more at risk of contracting the dreaded COVID-19. Instead of providing enough food and medicine to remove the need for people to go out, the state and its agents arrest people for a smallest deviation of procedure when people leave their homes to get food and medicines. It is clear then the state cares little for the well being of the people under this pandemic—it only cares for its “peace and order.”

The framework of this martial law cloaked in quarantine is always the peace and order for the state; fulfilling the needs of those in quarantine are secondary, if they are even considered at all. This regime of policing would detain people for any little slight, regardless of personal context. The state narrative frames people as “pasaway” [stubborn and willful] or “tigas-ulo” [stubborn, literally hard-headed], deliberately erasing the contexts of people to fit their image of automatic guilt. Like Duterte’s “war on drugs,” this narrative that people are pasaway, or tigas-ulo justifies the harshest of repressions. To these agents of the state, everyone is guilty until proven innocent. Installing a climate of fear and culpability seems to be the only method that this government knows in addressing issues.

Let us be clear: the state cares not about your lived experiences and motives. It cares not if you are at risk of starvation and you must leave your home to get food. It cares not that you have run out of medicines and you must obtain more. It only cares that you are outside your homes and thus breaking its pronouncements. What the state cares about most is punishing whom it pleases. The paltry provision of aid compared to the deployment of violence is testament to that.

The state is uncaring, and its prisons and jails more so.

Remember that it will always be the poor that bears the brunt of the state’s policing and incarceration. Remember the arch-plunderer and widow of the dictator Marcos is still a free woman despite being already declared guilty.6 Remember that the senator Koko Pimentel that brazenly risked infecting others with COVID-19 because he refused to quarantine himself is still free with the law taking its sweet, sweet time to prosecute this quarantine violation.7 Quarantine violators among the proletariat face warrantless arrests while quarantine violators among the privileged do not even face a slap on the wrists. The law will always take its time punishing the wealthy and privileged for they are the ones that drafted and adopted the laws and it is people of privilege who comprise the police to begin with. The state and its laws will always protect property and privilege for that is what the state was made for. They made the laws and they can break them. Only in rare circumstances where the balance of power goes against wealthy and powerful defendants that they are imprisoned.

The mass arrests and tortures inflicted by the state in the time of pandemic only convinces us more on the necessity of prison abolition. We are for prison abolition because the prisons are always machines designed to make those with less privileges to suffer. How many in prison are there for crimes motivated by need? How many are in prison because of the “war on drugs” whose addiction was penalized instead of treated medically? How many of those arrested for alleged quarantine violations were out of their homes due to need? We are under no illusion that arch-plunderers would go to jail anyway, so why pretend that those who are imprisoned actually deserve it? Prisons and jails are overwhelmingly for punishing the poor.

In the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, the institutions of imprisonment becomes institutions of death. There is no quarantine on the inside of prisons and jails. Detentions risks becoming death sentences as jails and prisons are all highly vulnerable in pandemics. People deprived of liberty do not deserve to die, much less die in such putrid conditions. Indeed, state has already practically sentenced many to die with its dragging of its feet on releasing people from detention. In some prisons the plague has already started to make its course, with 63 persons on the inside of a jail in Cebu City test positive for COVID-19.8 In other prisons like in the New Bilibid Prison, bodies are starting to pile up—suspected to be because of COVID-19—but the Bureau of Corrections remains silent on their cause of death and of how many inmates have already been killed by their negligence.9

We demand the police stop its campaign of public harassment of people. We demand that the state cease its program of mass incarceration of so-called pasaway and alleged quarantine violators. We demand that the persons deprived of liberty be released at once, so that they may care for their health and their families without the violence of detention getting in the way. We demand that non-violent convicts be released back into society before the prison system destroys what is left of their humanity and before the pandemic kills them on the inside.

In time, we demand that prisons be abolished and instead of incarceration, a regime of rehabilitation. In time, we demand an end to policing and instead of cops, non-violent reconciliations based on care and need. But until that day, we struggle against the policing of the current order.

Tulong, hindi kulong!

Bigas, hindi bala!


Image from the Twitter account of Bangued Police Station. The emoji over the detainee’s face was added by the account holder.10

  1. Eimor Santos, “Nearly 30,000 quarantine violators arrested nationwide in a month,” (CNN Philippines., April 18, 2020). https://www.cnnphilippines.com/news/2020/4/18/quarantine-violators-arrested-coronavirus-lockdowns.html (Retrieved on 2020-04-29) []
  2. Rambo Talabong, “PNP begins to arrest lockdown violators without warning,” (Rappler, April 21, 2020). https://www.rappler.com/nation/258570-pnp-begins-arrest-coronavirus-lockdown-violators-without-warning (Retrieved on 2020-04-29) []
  3. Vince Ferreras and Gerg Cahiles, “Retired soldier shot dead by police at checkpoint in Quezon City,” (CNN Philippines, April 22, 2020). https://cnnphilippines.com/news/2020/4/22/Retired-soldier-shot-dead-by-police-.html (Retrieved on 2020-04-29) []
  4. CNN Philippines Staff, “21 protesters demanding food aid arrested in Quezon City,” (CNN Philippines, April 1, 2020). https://cnnphilippines.com/news/2020/4/1/quezon-city-protesters-arrested-.html (Retrieved on 2020-04-29) []
  5. Rambo Talabong, “QC officials maul, drag fish vendor for not wearing face mask,” (Rappler, April 28, 2020). https://www.rappler.com/nation/259289-quezon-city-officials-maul-drag-fish-vendor-not-wearing-face-mask (Retrieved on 2020-04-29) []
  6. Lian Buan, “What’s taking the Sandiganbayan long to issue warrant vs Imelda Marcos?,” (Rappler, November 13, 2018). https://www.rappler.com/nation/216601-where-is-arrest-warrant-vs-imelda-marcos (Retrieved on 2020-04-29) []
  7. Dona Z. Pazzibugan, “DOJ sets Pimentel probe in May,” (Philippine Daily Inquirer, April 15, 2020). https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1258792/doj-sets-pimentel-probe-in-may (Retrieved on 2020-04-29) []
  8. Dale Israel, “63 persons inside Cebu City jail test COVID-19-positive,” (Philippine Daily Inquirer, April 25, 2020). https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1264619/63-persons-inside-cebu-city-jail-test-covid-19-positive (Retrieved on 2020-04-29) []
  9. Lian Buan, “Concern over deaths in Bilibid mounts in the face of the pandemic,” (Rappler, April 30, 2020). https://www.rappler.com/newsbreak/investigative/259317-concern-bilibid-deaths-mounts-coronavirus-pandemic (Retrieved on 2020-04-30) []
  10. PNPAbraBangued. @PNPAbraBangued. Twitter Post. 11:48 AM, April 19, 2020. https://twitter.com/PNPAbraBangued/status/1251719226022170625 (Retrieved on 2020-04-29) []

Detainment is Death in the Pandemic!

Survival of the Fittest in the Time of Pandemic

People often equate Charles Darwin’s notion of “survival of the fittest” with competition. People think that the natural way of the world requires some sort of battle. This is also often translated in how we deal with other people. “It’s either myself or others,” that’s how many people justify cruelty and domination. But if we think closely, survival of the fittest does not always mean competition.

Survival of the fittest simply means that if a specie is not able adapt to the changes in the environment, that’s when it starts to die out. If your fur is not thick enough, then you might die in the winter of Alaska. If your fur is too thick, then you would die like a Siberian Husky in the tropics. If you can not grow claws, you might not be able to catch prey, or be able to climb tress to avoid predators. Strength is not enough in survival. If we only consider strength, then no animal now can match the dinosaurs who were much bigger in size and appetite. They have walked the earth for millions of years, but eventually, they became extinct because they were not able adapt to climate change.

As pointed out by a former Russian prince turned biologist and anarchist named Peter Kropotkin, few people realize that mutual cooperation is as much a factor of evolution as competition. If we think about it, there are quite a number of species which might have not survived if they did not practice cooperation amongst themselves or with other species. Canines work in packs. Gigantic sea mammals like whales and sharks may die of parasites if they did not allow smaller fishes to ride on their backs. Bees (which are prehistoric in origin) or ants can not survive without the hive or colony.

Another misconception which may arise here is the conception of the alphas. Herds and packs tend to have alphas but these alphas are not there to terrorize their own specie. Alphas become alphas because they have the capacity to protect and search for food. Their position is not permanent. Being alpha in the animal kingdom does not have a time frame. Quite different from the human conception that alphas should reign for as long as six years even when he or she is not capable of feeding and protecting the group. We should also take note that in many species, alphas are of the female gender.

In the bee or ant colony, there are also roles taken by each individual. There’s the “queen,” the “soldiers,” and the “workers.” But this is entirely different to how we look at queens, soldiers, and workers in the human context. In the colonies of such arthropods, the queens are also replaceable, the soldiers do not harass the workers, and in contrast, the workers can become the heroes. In colonies, the queen or the soldiers do not have authority over workers. They do not make rules and they do not assert self-righteousness. Each individual act on their own will and understanding to preserve the colony. When a worker finds a good tree to establish shelter, it dances, to tell the others of the location, so others can verify if the claim is true. They require a constant check and balance similar to how internet open-sources work. Dictatorship does not work in nature.

Of course, there are instances where competition is evident in many species. But take note that this is only true when resources are scarce. In the human world, resources are more than enough to feed everyone in the world for multiple times. Scarcity is a myth repeatedly told by hoarders. Competition is only acceptable in scarcity, not in the abundance that we have now. Poverty and hunger, therefore, are crimes committed to the poor, most especially during a pandemic. Thankfully, instead, we witness cooperation almost everywhere during these times.

Survival of the fittest is not only about competition. Survival is also about adaptation and mutual cooperation.

Survival of the Fittest in the Time of Pandemic