Imagine, if you will, a Donald Trump rally, or better yet the four-day Republican national convention, where security consisted of MAGA-hatted volunteers with no training in policing or crowd control. Police wouldn’t come even when those volunteers — some of them armed — confronted people who crossed them. Those volunteers might even try to collect data on people who patrolled the area around the rally to use against them in some shape or form. When asked to identify themselves, a few might even call themselves “Sam Adams,” or some other reference to America’s founders.
What kind of media coverage would that MAGA force get, do you think? Somehow it seems rather doubtful that it would get the kind of sympathetic treatment doled out in today’s Washington Post report on Seattle’s Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, or CHAZ. Gregory Scruggs lauds the volunteer “sentinels” enforcing whatever rules exist in the anarchist commune:
Core to the zone is a vision of a self-governed community with no formal policing. Instead, volunteers, many of them avowed police abolitionists, have begun to organize their own safety force.
Among other incidents, these volunteers have confronted a man throwing apples and threatening punches, a car driving toward a large crowd of pedestrians and a vehicle circling the block repeatedly and taking photos. Volunteers say they have engaged with armed visitors from outside the city who came to the zone convinced that Seattle needed saving from left-wing agitators.
They have defused fights, protected store windows from vandals and handled mental-health crises. Protesters rushed to douse the flames when a lone arsonist attempted to set fire to the precinct early Friday. The director of an LGBTQ resource center publicly thanked sentinels from the protest zone Sunday for their assistance watching over a broken window until plywood arrived, attributing the incident to a mental-health or drug-addiction issue with a person who regularly sleeps in the center’s doorway.
Volunteers say this work is a way to highlight what a city without police might look like. “We have a chance to really build something here, so I have a vested interest in defending that as a part of my community,” said Ochoa, who lives in the city’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. “I live on the Hill, and the police presence here has always been tense and kind of malicious.”
So what we have is a somewhat-armed neighborhood watch? Would George Zimmerman qualify for a position in CHAZ? Having untrained activists impose “security” is a recipe for disaster, and it’s only a matter of time before it gets ugly. In fact, it already has, but WaPo readers don’t find that out until far into the article:
The model does have its challenges. On Saturday, dozens of people surrounded a fire-and-brimstone street preacher who regularly disrupts local protests with in-your-face threats of eternal damnation.
When efforts to escort him out peacefully failed, someone dragged him on the ground. One person briefly put him in a chokehold while others blocked attempts to film the incident with their phones. Later that afternoon, a couple dozen people marched up to the precinct with U.S. flags held aloft. A crowd gathered around them, and one of the flags was confiscated.
Those are also known as civil rights violations. Why didn’t the “sentinels” step in to stop them — or did they participate in them? Scruggs doesn’t give any indication that he even bothered to ask. Now, imagine once again how this might be reported in our hypothetical RNC convention and the MAGA-hatted forces had allowed a protester to get roughed up or pro-abortion signs to get confiscated. Would those incidents fall to the twenty-first paragraph of a report, with no questions about security involvement in the incidents?
Oh, let’s not always see the same hands …
Missing from this report on the “sentinels” is any mention of reports that supposed CHAZ “warlord” Raz Simone has been handing out so-called assault weapons in the zone. Uncorroborated video of this alleged distribution popped up on YouTube, which if authentic would violate laws on weapons transfers in Washington. Thus far, though, it hasn’t been reported by any American media outlets, nor does Scruggs mention it either:
Whoever this is badly needs a course in weapons safety. Wouldn’t it have been worth asking whether this allegation is on the level? Had video like this popped up from our imaginary Republican convention, it would have made the nightly news on every network, even without authentication.
There’s another problem here that Scruggs never mentions, either. In all his blathering about “sentinels” and their volunteerism, he never quite gets around to the fact that they have no basis on which to secure peace or enforce rules. No one elected them, no one gave them explicit authority to govern, and no one thus far has even promulgated a system of rules to enforce in the first place. They have no legitimacy in terms of self-governance; they are operating strictly on the basis of self-appointment. At least police have formal accountability, even if local governments wimp out on applying it. Where is the accountability for the actions of the “sentinels”? Who are they to tell others how to behave without that imprimatur?
This is precisely the mindset that produced the murder of Ahmaud Arbery. People took the law into their own hands, tried to capture someone they suspected of some sort of wrongdoing, and then killed him when he fought back. It’s only a matter of time before the same thing happens in CHAZ, especially if the distribution of high-powered long guns to untrained extremists turns out to be real. When it happens, will the media give that the same coverage? Or will it just be described as another “challenge”?