The Capitol Hill Organized Protest, otherwise known as CHOP, has had more than enough of its 15 minutes of fame. The protesting group has dominated national headlines, made a laughingstock out of the city of Seattle’s lawmakers, attracted the president’s negative attention, and has destroyed buildings, residences, and property over several blocks of the Emerald City’s prime real estate. While the mayor ridiculously referred to it as a possible “summer of love” and others see it as a long-lasting block party, what about the residents and business owners of the area? Well, they’ve had enough and have filed a class-action lawsuit against the city for allowing and encouraging the weeks-long occupation.
Calfo Eakes LLP, the law firm representing the plaintiffs, says that the action is not against the protesters’ right to free speech, but instead that the city did not provide protection for the residents and allowed continued unrest to damage their property and businesses. In the lawsuit, the firm stated:
“This lawsuit does not seek to undermine CHOP participants’ message or present a counter-message. Rather, this lawsuit is about the constitutional and other legal rights of Plaintiffs … which have been overrun by the City of Seattle’s unprecedented decision to abandon and close off an entire city neighborhood, leaving it unchecked by the police, unserved by fire and emergency health services, and inaccessible to the public at large.”
Neglected Citizens, Crime, and Destruction
When Democratic Mayor Jenny Durkan ordered law enforcement to abandon the East Precinct, the concrete barriers that had been used to keep demonstrators at a distance were confiscated by the occupying group, which they used to align a barricade or “wall” around their new country. The lawsuit mentions the presence of armed “guards” roaming the streets to make sure no one got into the new autonomous zone. Residents had difficulties leaving and returning to their homes, often suffering verbal abuse as well as graffiti and other damages to their properties. Businesses were vandalized and lost revenue because customers couldn’t enter the stores. Since police, fire, and other city services could not enter the zone, garbage piled up along the streets (aside from all the trash and filth left by the occupiers).
Cal Anderson Park was taken over as a sort of headquarters where a “tent city” dominated. The city provided medical supplies, sanitation, and even portable toilets for the usurpers, prolonging their ability to stay. A section of land in the park was turned into a garden (if you could call it that) but had a sign stating only people of color could enjoy any of the crops. Just about every building, slab of sidewalk, street, and any other structure has been defaced with graffiti. There have been shootings resulting in death, rape, drug use, and numerous other crimes happening in the “summer of love” new country. And through all of this, people who live and do business in the area have had to suffer.
The Toll on Small Businesses
The lawsuit claims that the plaintiffs and Class “has suffered – and continues to suffer – irreparable economic and non-economic injury as a direct result of CHOP participants’ presence on Capitol Hill” and lays the blame at Seattle’s feet. “The City’s support for CHOP enables, aids, and abets the ongoing harm to each of the Plaintiffs and members of the Class.” It mentions several businesses and the personal and professional losses they have already experienced due to the occupation.
Perhaps one of the most notable is Car Tender. The owner and son of the business caught a burglar who had just set fire, using hand sanitizer, to the garage. The intruder had a knife and a spike, with which he attempted to injure the son, but father and son were able to subdue the man. The mob of CHOP occupiers attacked the chain link fence, damaging the concrete posts, and swarmed inside, demanding they release the man who had vandalized the business. The incident was captured on this video (ADVISORY: Video contains some instances of explicit language).
Richmark Label employs 70 people and has lost a substantial amount of business. Because of its location, it cannot receive or send out shipments (a significant portion of its business) – and UPS refuses to deliver to the area. Employees have been harassed and are afraid to go to work because they have to cross a line of cones set up by CHOP. The lawsuit also claims CHOP members required everyone to answer a series of questions such as who they are and what they are doing in the area before allowing them to pass.
The company owns its own facilities, a historic building from 1927. Richmark Label commissioned a huge mural that CHOP destroyed. Like other businesses in the area, it is afraid to have it repaired because CHOP, according to the suit, has threatened to create even larger scale graffiti and even burn the buildings down if anyone removes the graffiti. The protesters are also responsible for preventing the company from receiving income from its other source of revenue: paid parking.
There are numerous other stories listed in the suit from business owners and residents. They include claims of sexual harassment, violence, threats, CHOP protesters taking up residence on their doorsteps, preventing entry to the buildings, breaking into property, defecating on private property, theft, etc. The class-action lawsuit seeks to hold the city responsible. Many of the business owners sent letters to the mayor, pleading for assistance, but they have gone unanswered.
Read more from Kelli Ballard.
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