Below is my column in the Hill on the controversy over the creation of the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, better known as Chaz. Well it was Chaz. "The autonomous zone formerly known as CHAZ" is now the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP). As W.C. Fields said, "It's not what they call you, it's what you reply to." The problem is, Chief Best said no one would answer their calls. Chef Carmen Best announced today that the name has apparently changed, but that they have not yet identified any people who would speak for CHAZ or CHOP. She also noted that there seem to be very different requirements. This is a serious obstacle to resolution.
RIP CHAZ. Everything hail CHOP, but the question of leadership remains. Here is the column:
In Seattle, Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, better known as Chaz, is trying to create a collaborative experiment on non-governmental government. With violent meetings at the Seattle People Department formerly known as the Seattle Police Department in the East Precinct, Chaz is a work in progress treated with graffiti. However, beyond his barricaded line, Chaz is already defining governance. In Seattle, Mayor Jenny Durkan rejects the concept of leadership. In Washington, President Trump claims he does not need to retake the district. It is a story of two very different cities, one official abdicating their authority and the other handing over his.
Officials tried to ignore the fact that people have taken control of a police station and six blocks of the largest city in Washington state. Governor Jay Inslee has been ridiculed for denying being aware of the takeover, which has been the focus of all major networks and newspapers for days. When Inslee struggled with denial, Durkan quickly moved on to acceptance.
Despite the pictures of men walking through Chaz with guns and great property damage, Durkan shrugged off suggestions that she might have a responsibility to regain control of the area. In an interview, she described the takeover as nothing more than a block party. Urged when to act, Durkan said she could just leave the area and let in what she called a summer of love. Even so, both Durkan and Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best denied the order to leave the station.
In a way, this is the greatest achievement of some anarchist and socialist groups in the movement: the government appears to have melted not only within CHAZ but also in Seattle. In fact, they are witnesses to what Friedrich Angel once introduced: "The state is not" abolished ", it withers."
Durkan's support for her "desire to build a better world" ignores that she was chosen to run the entire city of Seattle. The withdrawal of the police and the indulgence of mob control of even a small area are at odds with the most basic concepts of governance. Indeed, unwilling Chaz citizens could complain about this decision to give up control of their district. The city could also be sued for damage caused by the abandonment.
The irony is that Durkan and the city can be protected by exactly what the residents of Chaz and democratic leaders have called for the elimination of what immunity is. Police have won complaints of failure to prevent injury or respond to calls in the discretionary decisions of a city. Some of these cases involved the "doctrine of public duty" that protects governments from liability for refusing to take action to enforce the law.
In the 19th century, the Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit against a sheriff who allowed a gang of workers to hold a man hostage for unpaid money. The Supreme Court ruled that the sheriff owed his duty to the public rather than to individual citizens. Durkan can count on the same precedent to excuse her own refusal to deal with Chaz.
When Durkan gives up her duties, Trump threatens to surpass his own. He tweeted that the Seattle "anarchist takeover" was a domestic terrorism case. Whatever Chaz is, it is certainly not terrorism. The chaos is largely peaceful, if destructive, and Trump's habit of calling his critics "traitors" is troubling. But he went further, telling Seattle officials to retake the city or he would do it himself. This claim of power is as radically exaggerated as Durkan's is radically undervalued.
In our federal system, police powers rest mainly with the states. The Constitution gives Congress the power to overcome disruptions. It can "provide for the militia to be called upon to carry out union laws, quell riots and repel invasions". However, the Seattle disruption isn't a riot or a challenge to federal agency. It is more of a local protest that city officials have now allowed to continue.
With the Insurrection Act, Congress authorized presidents to deploy troops in response to civil unrest that "oppose or hinder the implementation of United States laws or obstruct legal recourse under those laws". The president can intervene at the request of a state parliament to suppress an uprising. In the case of Chaz there is no rebellion or plea. The Insurrection Act also allows unilateral action in cases of unlawful obstruction, gathering, or rebellion against the United States.
However, there is no challenge to the federal agency once city officials have allowed the local protest to continue. In addition, the law grants the federal agency powers under conditions that "make enforcement of the law in a state with" normal legal process "impracticable". The reason for this is because the rule of law can be enforced as long as the courts are in action and Chaz is not preventing the Seattle courts from meeting.
While Trump has said he will seek "strength with compassion" in Chaz, it would still go beyond any design in the constitution. As with his erroneous claims that he could order states to open up in the pandemic, Trump certainly surpasses his power as president. In comparison, Chaz worked the way it was intended because it didn't work at all.
Activists are calling for the abolition of the police force, the criminal justice system, the gentrification of cities and a growing number of other measures, most notably Durkan's resignation and the incarceration of Trump. The talk is of the city where citizens are pushing for free delivery of everything from lotion to cigarettes, basking in the relative clarity of anarchy.
Jonathan Turley is Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can find his updates online at JonathanTurley.