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Protesters In Seattle Take Over 6-Block Area, Announce An 'Autonomous Zone'


In Seattle, hundreds of activists are occupying in an area they are calling an autonomous zone. It's part of the nationwide protests against police brutality towards African Americans. The zone surrounds a police precinct vacated days ago. Casey Martin of member station KUOW reports that a few city blocks symbolize patriotic protest for some and lawlessness for others.

CASEY MARTIN, BYLINE: This time last week, Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood was filled with tear gas and exploding flash-bang grenades. After days of standoffs with protesters, Seattle police were pulled out of the East Precinct building. In their absence, people have claimed a six-block area they're calling the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, or CHAZ.


MARTIN: There's a free food co-op, stations of volunteer medics and music around the clock. Every available surface, including the street, is covered with art. Capitol Hill has seen protests before. It was one of the major sites of the WTO protests two decades ago.

BERIA HEYMAN: All I've seen is kindness. People are giving people water, making sure people are OK. Like, it's really peaceful, and it's just a beautiful thing. If anything, I've been very inspired.

MARTIN: Beria Heyman, from Seattle, has been at CHAZ since it started on Monday. She brought her younger brother and sister with her as part of the protest. At all hours of the day, the CHAZ is sprawling with Black Lives Matter activists discussing police reform and a lot of just hanging out.

To outsiders, including President Trump, it can look like a lawless place. On Thursday, the president tweeted at both the governor of Washington and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan to take back their city. He wrote, the ugly anarchists must be stopped immediately. Mayor Durkan defended the activists, calling peaceful protests an act of patriotism.

JENNY DURKAN: The right to challenge authority and government is fundamental to who we are as Americans.

MARTIN: Unlike other protests, the CHAZ isn't a one-day march. People are camping here overnight, and some have stayed five days straight. And that's been an adjustment for residents who live in the apartments inside the CHAZ.

JOE PASCUAL: Yeah, we would definitely like things to go back to normal.

MARTIN: Joe Pascual lives on the ground-floor apartment right next to the boarded-up police precinct. He feels safe during the day but takes shifts with his neighbors to keep watch at night. Some activists are showing up with guns to be volunteer security for the CHAZ in case of counterprotesters. Pascual doesn't like seeing the firearms.

PASCUAL: It definitely doesn't feel like we're living in the United States when we have people walking around with guns protecting a small zone within a neighborhood, you know?

MARTIN: But the area is still safer than during the protests, says Silberio Ellis, who comes to the CHAZ every day after work as a janitor in north Seattle.

SILBERIO ELLIS: Somebody just handed me a pizza. I'd rather be handed this pizza than a flash grenade or pepper spray. And that's all the police were offering me.

MARTIN: For now, the city of Seattle says it has no plans to retake the east precinct. Some protesters say they plan to march to the north and south precincts this weekend.

For NPR News, I'm Casey Martin in Seattle.

(SOUNDBITE OF FELBM'S "FUNICULAR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Year started with KUOW: 2015