“Know What’s Worth Dying For”: Inside The Police-Free CHAZ

Jaycie Ewald
14 min readJun 20, 2020
Western entrance to the CHAZ. Photo by Alex Glidewell. CC BY-SA 4.0

CONTENT WARNING: Contains descriptions of violence and drug use.

Protests against police brutality erupted worldwide following the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. The unique demonstrations in Seattle, Washington have captivated the news media. On June 8, 2020 the Seattle Police Department pulled out of the East Precinct at 11th and Pine in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. Since then, protesters and Black Lives Matter activists have taken a foothold in 6 blocks around the precinct, christening it the “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone”, or “CHAZ”. Protesters defined borders with road barricades and signs, many of which read “NOW LEAVING USA” when crossing the threshold.

The area is now a police-free zone, with hundreds of people camping in the streets and in Cal Anderson Park. Black Lives Matter speakers take the podium several times a day. Counter-protesters disrupt the talks by heckling and harassing attendees, sparking fears of a violent confrontation. However, pointing to the positives, many activists say that this is what a police-free city could look like.

I sat down with an anonymous source who worked for five days as part of the border patrol team at CHAZ. This is a first-hand account of their experiences. Their responses have been edited for length and clarity.

We meet at a local burrito place. It is raining hard, and I’m late. They order the jalapeno popper burrito. The atmosphere is affable.

When did you first decide to go to the CHAZ?

It was a super spur of the moment decision. I had been hearing about it over Twitter, Reddit and everything. They desperately needed people, especially people who had any sort of experience being a street medic. From getting the idea of, “maybe I should fly out there” to being on a flight was about 6 hours. I booked that flight the same night I left. I brought enough clothes for 2 weeks, both my phones, a pair of headphones, my medications, and a blanket.

What did you find when you arrived?

Nothing, really. I got an Uber from the airport and just walked in. There wasn’t any sort of greeting or orientation. It was more just, everyone knew their place. I went out to the park and met some folks. I joined…

Jaycie Ewald

Hey there! I’m a journalism student and freelance archivist interested in preserving old and forgotten media. jaycie.erysdren.me