Surviving the Pandemic: Protests, Violence, and Panic Attacks

2020 is quite the year. Whenever I think we've finally hit rock bottom, we manage to go lower.

In the last month since I threw some thoughts out there, a lot has happened.

The biggest event is obviously the police murder of George Floyd that sparked worldwide protests. Hundreds of cities in every state in the US rose up in unison to push back against the frequent violence our police inflict on citizens, especially the disproportionate violence towards our Black friends and family.

Countries from around the world showed their support through their own massive protests. It was amazing to see the swell of support, and heartbreaking to watch the hundreds of videos of police violence in response to these peaceful protests.

Seattle is having our own adventure in that regard. If you've heard of CHAZ or CHOP or Free Capitol Hill, you'll know what I'm talking about.

A little backstory though.

Before CHOP

My neighborhood, Capitol Hill, has a police precinct near Cal Anderson Park (a great park I take Kal on walks to on almost a daily basis). Back during the early days of the George Floyd protests, the police stopped a march from proceeding through the block by the police station.

The police threw up barriers and stood shoulder-to-shoulder in full-on riot gear. There were nightly stand-offs between a peaceful protesting crowd and police that used tear gas and other violent crowd control weapons that we ban in war but use on our own citizens.

The National Guard was brought in to support the police. Each night, they'd face off for hours, at least until the police decided to attack.

For example, the pink umbrella.

Protesters next to the police barriers held up umbrellas to protect the crowd from the use of tear gas, pepper spray, and other chemical weapons. A policeman on the front line decided to grab a pink umbrella (because it "crossed the barrier", but that's just a bullshit excuse for the police to start the violence). After the protesters tried to pull the umbrella back, the police cleared the area using flash-bangs, tear gas, and pushing their line forward to clear the area.

This type of thing continued for a bit, with various moments of inexcusable police violence. The one that stands out to me in particular is a harrowing video of a woman who shot in the chest with a flash-bang. It stopped her heart and she only lived because the protest medics were able to keep her alive.

Eventually, the police pulled out of the area, and that gave birth to Free Capitol Hill, also know as the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ), and now, the Capitol Hill Occupy Protest (CHOP).

CHOP

The weeks after CHOP formed were so much more peaceful than when the cops were attacking protesters. I could sleep again without being startled out of sleep by an errant flash-bang and my dog's very loud response to them.

Watching CHOP come together after the police pulled out was amazing. There's a huge, beautiful "Black Lives Matter" mural painted on the street, which each letter painted by a different local Black artist. A new community garden section that has popped up in Cal Anderson. Groups have brought couches and chairs to have teaching sessions for people to learn more about Black oppression and police brutality, among other topics.

In addition, organizers are out getting petitions signed and displays of CHOP's demands have been set up prominently to try to keep the focus on the task at hand:

  1. De-fund the Seattle Police Department by at least 50%
  2. Invest in local Black communities
  3. Free the arrested protesters.

It has felt very much like the usual Capitol Hill summer block party, except most people are wearing masks and the focus is on dismantling racist systems rather than having a good time.

Unfortunately, it hasn't always been a good time.

CHOP Violence

There was one shooting a week or so back where a man drove his car into the CHOP crowd, a protester pulled the guy out so he wouldn't be able to kill anyone with his car, and the driver pulled out a handgun and shot the protester in the arm. The shooter then ran over to the police line, and I believe he's since been arrested for assault.

But this last weekend there were two shootings in/around CHOP. And the worst part is, I can't tell if I'm hearing fireworks or gunshots! On Friday, there were lots of fireworks to celebrate Juneteenth, which was awesome! Kal wasn't that happy about it, but I was glad to see my neighborhood celebrating the holiday. However, the fireworks have continued late into the night, with assholes setting off M-80s and other extremely loud and bomb-like fireworks in my neighborhood (not everything I'm hearing has come from CHOP). CHOP folks have been recruiting folks to patrol the area at night on bikes to watch for whoever is setting them off so we can figure out who is doing it and why.

Anyway, the fireworks have already created a stressful situation, with Kal startling me out of sleep when the pops and bangs startle him into a late night reflexive bark session. And now we've got shootings in the mix. It's been a tough weekend for CHOP, my Capitol Hill neighborhood, and my sleep schedule.

So, first shooting. A 19-year-old recent high school grad was killed and another person is in serious condition. It happened around 2:30 AM, but there were fireworks and M80s going off up until about 2 AM that night, so I was awake and stressed already. I had been checking Twitter to make sure the bangs were fireworks, and that's when I saw the shooting being reported.

And less than 48 hours later we got another one. Again at night. Again with fireworks going off around the same time. Thankfully the victim seems to have suffered only a shoulder wound and should be okay. Again, my neighborhood and I got no sleep.

I'm relieved that the noises I heard Sunday night/Monday morning ended up all being fireworks. But my body doesn't know that, so the panic attacks came anyway.

So I'm going on a total of maybe 13 hours of sleep in the last three days. I'm more If this post makes no sense or has spelling errors, let's blame it on that.

Back to the topic at hand.

Investigations are still ongoing for these shootings, so it's impossible to tell if this recent violence has been from disagreements within CHOP, outside right-wing agitators coming in, or even the police department itself working to turn the community and city against CHOP.

And that's what is scaring me so much. I have felt completely safe during the dozen or so times I've walked through there, but now that we've gained national attention, including major mischaracterization of CHOP by both the orangutan in office and his propaganda arm (Fox News), outside folks are starting to come make trouble. The Proud Boys where here last week, rumors of gun wielding bike gangs making their way up to Washington are floating around, and Trump continues to stoke the flames.

I'm more scared of a disproportionate response from outside my city than anything we'll do to ourselves.

Fox News was literally modifying photos of CHOP to insert gunmen on its CHOP news stories. The President is encouraging racial hatred by playing to his white supremacist base. The dog whistles are easy to hear, and sometimes he says the racist stuff out loud with zero filters. The leader of our country is directing the weight of his troll army at a small section of a single neighborhood in one large west coast city.

At this point, I've got a little bug-out bag and am ready to leave my neighborhood at a moments notice, especially if Trump does something idiotic like deploying Troops to "take care" of CHOP.

Final Thoughts

This was a rambling post. I know my lack of sleep is nothing compared to the tragic loss of life from one of the shootings this weekend. I'm hoping the investigations can find the perpetrators and they can be held accountable.

Some people might call me out as a hypocrite, since "investigations" sure do sound like police work, and I'm all about abolishing the police.

But many people misunderstand what "abolish" means.

It's not that we don't need people in the community to enforce laws, resolve conflict, and protect our communities. We absolutely need all of that! But the institution of policing was originally started to round up slaves. Many officers have a toxic masculinity problem, and many are flat out racist. Many officers are also wonderful people, but the system is what enables the violence and racism to flourish, which implicates all cops.

Abolishing the police would help us reconcile the past. To finally admit, as a nation, that it's time for reparations. Abolishing the police is a chance to start new, with new names, duties, and procedures. A complete reformation, starting with burning down the old police ideologies and practices.

Think about the abolition in terms of renaming or reclaiming hateful things from the past. Names are powerful things. It's why Black people reclaimed the N-word. It's why the LGBTQIA+ community does the same thing with homophobic slurs. It's why my county, King County, in Washington renamed itself after Martin Luther King, Jr. instead of a slave-holding racist plantation owner fucktard.

Policing in the US is just too toxic. Too much racist history. Too much pain. It's too far gone.

Finally, despite all the craziness and violence and lack of sleep and panic attacks, I'm still 100 percent in support of CHOP and their goals. I'm hoping they can learn from past protests, like Occupy Wall Street, so CHOP can keep being a safe, welcoming place for the community that pushes Seattle towards a brighter future where all its citizens are treated equally under the law.


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