It has been just over a week since Seattle finally cleared out the CHOP, formerly known as CHAZ. Today the Seattle Times published the results of its investigation into the killing of 16-year-old Antonio Mays and the shooting of an unidentified 14-year-old who was a passenger in the same SUV. Mays was not a local but had left home in San Diego “to be a part of history” by joining the CHOP. His death would become the last straw for its existence.
The Times notes that, like the previous deadly shooting in the CHOP of 19-year-old Lorenzo Anderson, no one has been arrested for killing Antonio Mays. Police aren’t saying much about what happened that night, but the Times pieced together this timeline based on video.
About five minutes before the fatal shooting, videos show roughly a dozen people run from the encampment that had flanked the shuttered precinct building for weeks.
It’s 2:53 a.m.
Most run west, toward Cal Anderson. But a few run the opposite direction.
About a minute later: Gunshots. First, two or three. Then a 20-second lull. And then about 10 more shots, in rapid succession.
Shouts from the protest area sound like they should be coming from a war zone, not a sleepy urban neighborhood.
“Everybody down, everybody down!”
“Eyes up, eyes up, eyes up!”
“Anyone with weapons, I want them behind this barrier … multiple vehicles, multiple vehicles, stolen white Jeep!”
It’s unclear why the speaker thinks, or how they know, the Jeep is stolen…
At 2:58 a.m., three minutes after the previous gunshots, tires screech and a white Jeep Cherokee traveling up East Pike Street turns left on 12th, headed toward the protest area.
Seattle police said that Mays and the injured 14-year-old were “presumably the occupants of the Jeep.”
There’s a scream, then a gunshot, then two more. People duck behind barricades and flee. The Jeep hits either a concrete barrier or a portable toilet at the edge of the protest area. Six more gunshots.
The Jeep backs up briefly, then drives forward again, and again hits the barrier and the toilet. Ten more gunshots.
Someone appears to approach the Jeep.
“Oh, you’re not dead, huh?” someone says. “Yo, you want to get pistol whipped?”
So how did this happen? The Times spoke to a man in his 30s who doesn’t want to be identified. He says he was beaten up that night around 2:30 am by two men. He gave the men the keys to his white Jeep Cherokee in order to get them to stop. “I have a car, just take my car,” he told them.
The two men, presumably Mays and his 14-year-old companion, began driving the car and for some reason people inside the CHOP were convinced they were shooting at people from inside. But the carjacking victim says he never saw any weapons on his attackers and no one claims to have been shot or injured by gunfire coming from the vehicle.
Did Mays and his companion shoot at anyone? Did they even have weapons? It’s not clear and Police Chief Carmen Best said at the time that people were in and out of the Jeep long before police showed up, so any evidence or absence of evidence is suspect. Police have said that it’s clear several people fired shots into the Jeep.
The Times doesn’t draw any firm conclusions but the picture they paint of what happened that night suggests that protesters may have misunderstood what was happening. Shots were fired but they might not have come from the Jeep. There were lots of armed people walking around the CHOP. Security people were convinced the CHOP was under attack and targeted the Jeep as the source of the shots. But again, it’s not clear they really were under attack or that Mays and his passenger even had weapons.
Mays’ family thinks the CHOP shouldn’t have been allowed to exist until his death. “It took all these deaths for them to go and say, ‘this is enough,’” his aunt told the Seattle Times. She added, “It shouldn’t have taken that. That’s what city officials are for.”
Vox published a piece last week about the collapse of CHOP. One local woman they spoke to noted the similarity to the collapse of Occupy nearly a decade earlier.
“The ‘community center block party’ vibe ended after the first week,” said one local woman. “This reminds me of NYC during Occupy Wall Street almost to a ‘T.’ Except here people are getting killed.”
The issue, she said, is that she felt the protests shifted away from police violence and Black Lives Matter into more of an anarchist message. “The people with the loudest voices are all sharing the same ‘fuck capitalism/establishment/burn it all down’ rhetoric. The camp and the early infrastructure is similar,” she said, saying that the lack of clear leadership hurt efforts to make the area safe. “Sure, burn it all down, but have a plan. The lack of a central voice, the lack of a plan, and the elevation of people who don’t even live here are very similar.”
The best part of the Vox piece is the very end where Justin, the publisher of CapitolHillSeattle.com, tells Vox that CHAZ/CHOP shouldn’t be judged too harshly because it wasn’t “a true police-free neighborhood.”
Part of the issue, according to Justin, is that, despite coverage to the contrary, including from Vox, CHOP was never set up to be a true police-free neighborhood. It was, above all, a protest.
“I don’t think it’s fair as a laboratory for” a police-free neighborhood, said Justin. CHOP “also lacks so many other investments and so many other resources that you’d have to have to make that world work that it’s just not fair to measure it that way.”
It’s every communists’ lame defense of failed communist states, i.e. real communism has never been tried. In this case, he’s claiming that a real police-free neighborhood has never been tried even though that’s exactly what CHAZ/CHOP was from the start. It failed spectacularly with attempted rape, arson, at least five shot and two people dead but, hey, don’t let that make you think it was a bad idea. Thanks for that helpful explainer, Vox.