Imagine finding your small business suddenly inside of a zone to which the police will not go. An area where the few customers you have are harassed, and the group now controlling the area demands protection payments.
This might sound like New York in the 1970s when the mob ruled certain neighborhoods, but it also describes the CHOP, or CHAZ (Capitol Hill Organized Protest and Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone) area of Seattle, which Mayor Jenny Durkan commanded the police to relinquish to protesters over the summer.
Durkan said it would be the Summer of Love. It turned into the Summer of Discontent.
While the city furnished the protesters’ concrete barriers and portable toilet facilities, the protesters vandalized buildings and extorted money from business owners.
After the protesters marched to Durkan’s private residence, she ordered the police to dismantle the CHAZ. Business owners began picking up the pieces, but they also filed a lawsuit against the city essentially for abandoning them. City officials specifically failed to do their duty, failed to enforce the law, failed to keep the peace.
Judge Thomas S. Zilly of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington wrote:
“Plaintiffs plausibly allege that the City’s actions—encouraging CHOP participants to wall off the area and agreeing to a ‘no response’ zone within and near CHOP’s borders—foreseeably placed Plaintiffs in a worse position.”
Zilly found that the business owners could move forward with their claims that, by allowing the protesters to shut down the area for a month, the city unlawfully took their private property for public use with no compensation, restricted their ability to fully use their property to conduct business, and failed to protect the businesses from the danger of the city’s own making.
Let’s hope they win, and win big.