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Were CHAZ (Seattle Autonomous Zone) Businesses Extorted?

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Are business owners in the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ) in Seattle, Washington being extorted? The stories from local business owners have been contradicting stories from local officials from the start, and now police are walking back previous assertions that extortions are happening in CHAZ. Local reporters and business organizations say there are no signs of extortion.


Police Walked Back Statements that Businesses Were Being Extorted

GettyA sign designates a smoking section near the Seattle Police Departments East Precinct.

On June 10, Seattle Assistant Police Chief Deanna Nolette told KOMO News that the police were getting reports of armed people at checkpoints into the region, intimidating people who were visiting. She also said that some people were being asked to pay a fee to operate in the area. This led to a lot of stories going viral on social media about businesses being extorted.

At the time, she told KOMO News: “We have heard anecdotally of citizens and businesses being asked to pay a fee to operate within this area, this is crime of extortion.”

The next day, on June 11, police walked back the extortion claims, Seattle Times reported.

Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best said in a news conference that extortion “has not happened affirmatively.” She said earlier claims were based on anecdotes, including stories they saw in the news  and on social media.

“We haven’t had any formal reports of this [extortion] occurring,” Best said.

In fact, the Seattle Times reported that the claims seemed to originate from a story in The Post Millennial written by a Seattle City Council candidate, Ari Hoffman.


Local Reporters & Businesses Say Extortions Aren’t Happening

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KOMO News reported on June 10 that while visiting for six hours, they saw no signs of intimidation or threats while they were there for six hours. Protestors organized free legal aid, food and drink stations, and had medics on site, KOMO News reported.

Then on June 11, Seattle Times reported that restaurant owners hadn’t reported any attempts at extortion in CHAZ and sales were strong if not increasing.

Brian O’Connor, co-owner of Bok a Bok Chicken, told the Seattle Times that the Zone hadn’t hurt his business at all. He wasn’t extorted — when he returned, he was offered a free sandwich.

Likewise, both the GSBA and the Capitol Hill Business Alliance have heard no reports or evidence of extortion.

The GSBA later reiterated this, writing in a tweet: “we chatted with businesses this morning too and also found no evidence of the claims. Thanks for your wariness of the claim and groundwork.”

Reporter Brandi Kruse also reported that she couldn’t find any evidence of extortion against businesses.

Kruse tweeted that the denials included Northwest Film Forum, Northwest Liquor and Wine, and Pel Meni Dumpling Tzar. She said one said they’d been talking to other businesses “and they’re all elated honestly.”

Even Governor Jay Inslee has said that the autonomous zone is mainly peaceful. He’s made it clear that he does not want involvement from President Donald Trump or from the military.

He wrote on Twitter, in part:

I spoke with @MayorJenny and her team about the situation on Capitol Hill. Although unpermitted, and we should remember we are still in a pandemic, the area is largely peaceful. Peaceful protests are fundamentally American, and I am hopeful there will be a peaceful resolution.

What we will not allow are threats of military violence against Washingtonians coming from the White House. The U.S. military serves to protect Americans, not the fragility of an insecure president.”

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