Written and Photographs by Gavin John, Illustrations and Contributions by Nicole Wolf

In the summer of 2020, the eyes of the nation looked with trepidation on the city of Seattle, WA. What started out as part of the nationwide protest against police brutality following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis evolved into something unique. On June 8th, Seattle protestors had apparently succeeded in pushing the Seattle Police Department out of one of their precincts in the district of Capitol Hill.

The protestors quickly consolidated their victory and designated the area a "Cop Free Zone" and welcomed any allies to join them inside their self declared autonomous zone. The name Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone or "CHAZ" was a common name by many but inside the protest the Capitol Hill Organized Protest or "CHOP" was preferred. Within the first week of this perceived autonomy, national and international media began coverage from the outside looking in.

Much of the coverage centered around one man, "The Warlord of CHAZ", Raz Simone. As the protestors dug in by mid-June, online forums, social media, and news commentary scrambled to make sense of both the unprecedented events of the protest and the enegmatic man who became the face of the occupation.

“Growing up, my mother did water colours"

The ‘Warlord’ of the Seattle Capitol Hill Organized Protest(CHOP) smiled as he recalled his upbringing in the arts to a small but attentive audience on June 24th, 2020. Solomon ‘Raz’ Simone sat on the ground in a parking lot of a church regaling an audience with memories from his childhood, perspectives on American race relations, and his role in the now notorious CHOP zone, just down the hill from where they sat. Inside the church, a dozen of the leaders from CHOP discussed with Seattle Mayor Jenny Derkin the future of the protest and the fate of the Seattle Police Department East Precinct that they surrounded. The Warlord was conspicuously not one of the leaders present, choosing to sit outside instead.

"Me being in there won't help," Simone commented when asked why he wasn’t in the meeting. His reputation preceded him, and no doubt the reputation of “The Warlord” was not something that would help discussions. Instead, after a frantic jockeying for the positions, several of Simone’s people were selected to  be inside instead of him. The mood on that sunny June afternoon was chaotic, yet optimistic. The city was willing to talk, negotiate, and perhaps concede to the occupation.  None of the leaders who debated the future of CHOP would have known that in seven days it would be finished.

Late June was the twilight of CHOP. The scenes of thousands of people filling Pine Street in Capitol Hill had made way to a dwindling collection of protesters with a fraction of the jovial atmosphere. People recalled fondly the “better times” of just weeks earlier in an acceptance that something had been lost. National and presidential attention of the occupation had brought trepidation and unease to CHOP. The branding of Simone as a warlord and the movement as a collection of anarchists resulted in the narrative quickly fall out of control of the protesters themselves and into a cacophony of voices interpreting from the outside. Portrayed as either a “Summer of Love” street festival, or a chaotic Marxist enclave lead by a fierce and confrontational warlord, all depending on what political slant was reporting on it. The demands of police reform now competed with the need to regain the narrative of CHOP; this was a race against the clock. For the time being, Simone’s physical presence inside CHOP was no longer a boon to the movement, and Simone slipped quietly behind the scenes.

Simone’s role in the Seattle activism in Capitol Hill started early on as one of the multitude of protesters calling for police reform. While Simone denies the formal appointment of the “Leader of CHOP”, let alone the rise to a warlord, there is no denying his voice, presence, and reputation made him well suited to be followed by many.  

“I just happened to be one of the people who made speeches early on,” Simone recalled on how leadership came to him. “Early on it was the chants you hear all the time, but I started doing speeches and I guess it just came from that.” And so rather than seeking it, leadership fell onto his lap. It was the abandoning of the East Precinct on June 6th that changed the protest from a local to a national story. After this unplanned turn of events  the protesters “took” the Precinct, finding  themselves with both a liability and a bargaining chip. Once the Precinct was abandoned, the protesters consolidated the area with barricades, and CHOP was born. This unprecedented act changed the tone of many commenters on the outside, and the protest swiftly became intensely scrutinized, with partisan organizations eager to defend or dispute its existence. One of the first instance of this escalating polarization came at the expense of Simone.

The now-notorious video of Raz handing out a firearm to an onlooker transformed who he was perceived as from the outside world from a leader to a violent agitator. One that many in the media capitalized on.

“It was that Tucker Carlson guy. I think he called me an ‘African Warlord’'". He laughed as he showed a video his friend had sent him of the Fox News broadcast that gave him the nickname. Simone has never been to Africa.

“I fit the bill: a scary looking black guy with a gun. We were told that white supremacists were coming. The police were gone, and we were afraid we were going to get shot up,” Simone shrugged his shoulders and leaned back in his chair. Inside one of his Airbnb rentals in downtown Seattle, he reflected on what got him to that point. Rather than an ostentatious and aggressive demeanor that one would expect from a “warlord”, Simone had a kind, thoughtful, and intelligent persona. Despite sharing the rage over George Floyd’s death and participating in the public outcry, Simone was able to take a step back and see the problems in the context of how events were covered by the national news media. As Simone saw it, the partisan and divisive nature of how the movement was covered created ideological echo chambers that further drove people to the fringes of politics.

“If anyone’s in the middle they’re alone. If you’re conservative you’re over here and if you're liberal you’re over here.”

There was no place for moderates, a disappointed Simon described. The freedom of speech that is promoted by both sides, was found in neither and it was that discourse with the opposition that was key to solving these issues. Simone disliked ‘Cancel Culture’, seeing its desire for retribution over understanding as more counter-productive in the eventual goal of addressing systemic racism in America.

“I’ve had conversations with people who never met a black person until they were grown. They love Trump for reasons, because they love God and they think Trump’s a Christian. Or because they love guns too. I had a Trump supporter here the other day, and he said to me I’ll watch your six if you watch mine’. Racism had nothing to do with they he liked Trump and I learned that by having a conversation with him, not by cancelling his voice.” Simone saw that racism was taught so in turn racism can be educated out of it through honest conversation.

CHOP had become a place where ideals and values were easy to declare, but hard to transform into action, and it was next to impossible to balance the multitude of competing visions without defined leadership. The drama that unfolded in the final weeks around the Precinct showed this in action, a final act of a play, where the dogged few who remained struggled to regain control of a movement that was so far out of their hands.

The Precinct became the focal point of CHOP, yet CHOP yet was not all encompassing of the occupation; in fact, CHOP included a four-block area within the Capitol Hill district in Seattle, a nearby baseball diamond, and Cal Anderson Park. Each of these areas was known as “The Precinct”, “The Field” and “The Camp”, respectively.

The Precinct shared the intersection of 12th and Pine with a bagel shop, liquor store, and apartments, and in the time of CHOP nearly 30tents, concrete barricades, and a donation co-op. Nearly all of the news reports, photographs, and conversations surrounding CHOP focused on this single intersection, rarely venturing to the other areas, despite the multitude of stories and perspectives in the adjacent areas.

Throughout CHOP’s history, numerous individuals and organizations claimed ownership of CHOP, the movement, and intentions.  Even Simone’s ascendance to leadership was disputed by some on claims of personal gain and recklessness; accusations that followed him even after his departure. In his wake, a small core of individuals sympathetic to the cause laid out by Simone early on took the responsibility of leadership, not by appointment but by chance and circumstance. The Raz-sized hole left inside CHOP would be filled by roughly a half a dozen people, each filling in a needed aspect of CHOP organization. Yet the lack of an appointed CHOP leader left the door open to anyone with ambition, money, and charisma to seize the opportunity. Several people made claims to various media that they were ‘leaders’, much to the chagrin of those inside CHOP.

 “They come in when they see the news crew and then leave second, they’re gone.”

A young woman by the name of Angelica shook her head as she recalled several others who competed to speak for CHOP. She sat on a small chair just outside of the old docking bay of the Precinct, now a volunteer co-op, her hands gliding a paintbrush across a piece of wood, shading the hair of a man’s portrait she was working on.

Angelica had become one of the prominent leaders inside CHOP after Simone’s departure, rarely leaving the Precinct. Having recently moved from Chicago to Seattle, Angelica was known as “The Voice”: her thoughts and verdicts were sought after by many inside the Precinct. To her, those who claimed leadership roles at CHOP without being in CHOP held little authority other than what they claimed for themselves. Even her rise to leadership was not unscathed by political infighting, where her control over the co-op was contested by the previous organizer. With leadership came the never-ending barrage of questions and at times inane conversations that Angelica was frequently subjected to.

One afternoon, an eclectic man started an unsolicited pitch to an unenthusiastic Angelica. “I was praying all around this place for you, saying my prayers for you and everyone here.”            

She only smiled weakly and continued painting. The man then brought out his phone and asked if she wanted to watch a video about the healing prayers, he was bestowing on to CHOP. Angelica sighed as the man, who was unaware of the lack of enthusiasm and engagement, continued his pitch.

“I just needed time to think. I need time where someone isn’t asking me a question, I don’t know the answer to,” she would later recall. She rarely had time to herself, even while painting, people would come up to her and begin conversations without catching the not-so-subtle social cues that Angelica had very little interest in talking yet did so out of a polite obligation.

Simone fondly spoke of Angelica and described her as a quiet and thoughtful woman but also as someone who would much prefer to watch anime and paint than lead a social movement. “I’ve had to tell her that she needs to speak up and be louder sometimes,” Simone chuckled, when talking about how CHOP fared under the watchful eye of Angelica. “I think she may have taken that a bit further than I intended sometimes.” Simone laughed when told of an instance that Angelica and another woman got into a heated argument and nearly half of Capitol Hill heard her verbose retort.

Disagreements were common, and often these disputes to spill over into open arguments, and at times even physical confrontations. Another aspect of CHOP was the presence of security and enforcers. Several muscular and armed men were a common sight at the Precinct, and they rarely spoke unless there was a disagreement to be settled. Yet enforcing was not confined to the burly man stereotype: the most effective of the enforcers was a woman.

“Me and my friends came down here with two changes of clothing, one for protesting and for going out. I had no intention of staying any longer than that.” Shy laughed, her bright hazel eyes, colourful bandanna and neatly-tied neatly tied back dreadlocks made her easy to spot in the typically muted tones of CHOP, despite being one of the shortest people there. Yet it was her demeanor that made her a force.

Called Shy by her friends within the Precinct she was known as “Boots”. Originally from Lyndon, WA near the Canadian border, Shy had come to Seattle to participate in the protests.

Her height belied her ferocity, as she moved and spoke with an authority that was rarely defied. It may have been her confidence but may also have been the baseball bat she carried.

“Oh hell no.”

She declared and immediately walked between the two men, each towering at least a foot above her. “Look at me. LOOK at me. You do NOT do that shit here, you got it?” Her finger pointed an inch away from the apparent instigator. The man, now sitting on a barricade, sheepishly conceded. “All of you, get out of here. Leave.” She motioned to the crowd, who obeyed without question. Once the fight was broken up, Shy stomped back to the co-op muttering to herself and shaking her head, clearly annoyed.

CHOP had been perceived from the outside as a den of violent instigators from the beginning, largely owing to the cases of property damage during the riots. The ominous threat of “Marxist terrorists” or ANTIFA would only be amplified when President Trump branded the CHOP occupiers as “domestic terrorist” and soon many media pundits eagerly repeated the notion that CHOP was full of such people. There was no denying the presence of unsavory characters or far left beliefs inside CHOP, they were seen daily, but opposition to these views were equally present. The unifying ideal found at the Precinct was not a desire for violent opposition to state institutions or tearing down the system, but sympathies to the BLM movement. Finding the far-left agitators was proving more difficult than was expected considering the outside coverage lead to believe. That’s not to say it was impossible.

“I’m a hardcore leftist.”

Dan Baker said proudly while walking back to CHOP. A shorter masked man, he had followed a commotion earlier where someone had allegedly thrown fireworks into CHOP and taken off. Baker was part of the crowd that chased the suspect; the mob lost interest after a few blocks. Baker wasn’t from Seattle and traveled there to participate in ‘The Revolution’, as he put it. He wore a sweater that predominantly showed the name of an American anarchist, activist and fellow mercenary for the Syrian Kurdish Army, the YPG.

“I fought for the YPG in Syria a few years ago in the International Brigades, you should check out my YouTube channel, I have combat footage from there.” The YPG gained notoriety as one of the most successful groups who fought against the Islamic State during the Syrian Civil War, and one that the United States openly allied with. Their Marxist leanings are well known with such political ideals being a draw to many who decided to travel to Syria and fight, Baker being one of them. As he described, once the war was over, the revolutionary ideals that made them appealing appeal were applied to the civil rights movement of today, yet Baker seemed disappointed in the lack of violent opposition here.

“I don’t got any pull here man. I told them, if they really wanted a revolution, we needed to get AK’s and start making bombs. No one listed to me,” Baker confessed. It seems the leadership, despite their disorganization at times, saw the danger in letting such thoughts be entertained and actively opposed such radical actions.

“Who says that?” Simone looked puzzled on hearing there collection of Baker and his leftist revolutionary ideals. “Like who goes around and says, ‘I’m a hardcore leftist’? That’s just strange, man.” Simone knew of the accusations that CHOP harboured ANFTIFA agitators, but agitators but was something he claimed he never saw to the same degree as was outwardly advertised.  He openly acknowledged that there were people who had the intentions to burn and cause damage, which was something he and the other leaders tried their best to prevent and discourage. It was the abandoning of the Precinct that tested the authority of the leadership and the restraint of those willing to cause harm.

“We honestly think that they (the SPD) wanted us to burn it down, prove their point, but that’s why we moved in and set up around it.

"We weren’t going to let anyone burn it down.” Simone remained skeptical of the reasons surrounding the abandonment of the East Precinct but made it clear that once the anticipated violence that he felt the SPD expected didn’t manifest, things changed and the protesters found themselves in an unplanned occupation. A stalemate with the City of Seattle began.

Property damage was strongly discouraged inside CHOP even against the Precinct itself, and businesses were encouraged to stay open whenever possible. A dumpling store was just steps from the Precinct, and despite a drastic decrease in number of customers, it remained open with windows undamaged. This however didn’t offset the visible damage to other stores near CHOP, including a nearby Mercedes dealership with shattered windows. One store had a sign that declared the store was owned by a black woman with the telling plea.

Acts of mob-escalated violence were not uncommon, however. Often, they would start with disagreements over something menial, but escalate to where crowds would form and only ending when someone like Shy, or other security would step in.  

One night a young man was chased down the street and beaten by a group from CHOP. Catching up to the mob that followed, the man was handcuffed to a garbage can, with four of CHOP security standing around him waiting for the police to arrive. The young man was bleeding from a swollen lip and resigned to his fate but seemed willing to talk about what got him to this point. Walking past CHOP, he said he saw a fight break out between two people in the street (who happened to be Angelica and another member of the leadership).

     Pulling out his phone to record with the intention of ‘trying to break it up’, he then saw that the crowd that had gathered quickly turned on him. In a rapidly escalating situation, the man did arguably the worst thing in that scenario: he called one of the mob members the N-word and maced the crowd before attempting to escape. The mob caught up to him a block later.

“Yeah, in hindsight it was a bad idea. I said it as a joke, ‘cus I’m 1/1000th black ya know? Soft ‘a’ the softest of ‘a’.” The joke didn’t land, and the mob made that more than clear.

The cracks in the cohesion of CHOP we seen more and frequently by the end of June and seen daily. With Angelica, and Shy almost entirely caught up in the handling of the Precinct, areas sometimes meters away from it would go unchecked. Disagreements over how it was to be run were common, and almost always would result in various groups of people getting into verbal confrontations. The air of tension near the Precinct was palpable, and only grew with time. Not unique to the Precinct, the other areas of CHOP, had their own skeletons in the closet.

The Field lay between the Precinct and the Camp and comprised of an AstroTurf sports field. Daily gatherings known as “The People’s Assembly” occurred at 5pm every evening that anywhere from 30 to 100 people attend. Advertised as a place of open expression, discussion, and planning, the reality was much different.

A young white man by the name of Max and a young black woman named Sarah were a common sight at the assemblies. They took time at the beginning to explain that everyone had two minutes to speak, and updated people on the goings-on in CHOP. Most of these updates centered around security, which seemed to be on everyone’s mind. Max adamantly promoted de-escalation as part of security to combat what he described as ‘media narratives of lawlessness’ inside CHOP. Several in the crowd brought up an event that happened the day prior when a man with three firearms ‘took control’ of the Assembly; people in the crowd found it intimidating and wrong that ‘the man with the most guns could take control of the conversation’. Despite their concerns, they were dismissed by the assembly coordinators and once again the conversation was brought back to de-escalation.

The assemblies frequently devolved into a multitude of arguments, like about how much time was ‘too much time’ to speak, what a CHOP health care system would look like, should there be a safe injection site in CHOP, how media should be handled, what form of consensus would best suit CHOP, or even how an expansion of CHOP would be implemented. Without a recognized or unified leadership, the organic successes of early June were leading into the chaos of competing ideas of order.

Near the end of one of these talks, a commotion was forming on the outside of the baseball diamond where a man was tearing down tents. Max frantically told Sarah that something needs to be done.

“I’m 5’6 and 110 pounds what do you want me to do with a man like that?” Sarah, visibly annoyed shot back.

Max responded, “Well we need to go as a team, lets all go over there.” Sarah still annoyed, replied.

“You talk about de-escalation. There. De-escalate that. What are you going to do??” Max shrank at this and repeated that he needs more people with him to do it. Sarah was finally getting fed up and sternly told him,

“Well at some point ya just gotta pepper spray him in the face. This is something that a male presenting bodied person is better at dealing with.”

Max, who just 30 minutes earlier was advocating for de-escalation appeared helpless to stop a single man. All the bravado and courage evaporated in front of Sarah.

Narratives were tightly controlled within the assembly, while outwardly preaching tolerance and free speech. One instance where a man approached to mic and began to talk about how all voices should be heard and that white voices shouldn’t be silenced when it comes to the issues at hand. This prompted Max to snatch the mic away and ask him to sit down, much to the chagrin of some in the crowd.

“He has the right to his two minutes; he has the freedom to speak!” one person yelled. To which Max, irony lost on him, replied,              

     “We’re for free speech of course, but we need to make sure we’re all staying on message.” Max moved the conversation to another speaker and the protests subsided. The process of where censorship  inside these spaces was evident and displayed without fear of repercussions. There was a pecking order to the conversations, of who could say what. Black people, regardless of merit or idea, were left unchallenged at worst, encouraged at best, where non-blacks were silenced and tokenized.

One of the most egregious examples of this racial hierarchy, stood to speak  during one of the assemblies. A black man took to the mic and proclaimed that it was in fact the black person who should be recognized as the true ‘first peoples’ of America. The institutions and cities, he argued, that stand today were built by his slave ancestors and those very cities represent America. It was this claim to creation of the physical representation of America that lent the title of the first peoples of America. He said all of this, while wearing an indigenous chief head dress.

Halfway though his talk, an indigenous man on the periphery of the assembly was clearly shocked and voicing his disgust. “You can’t wear that, man; I can’t even wear that. That’s a chief’s headdress, man. Fuck this, man . That’s so disrespectful.”

“That’s not right man, that’s so fucking disrespectful.

He was told to be quiet, and eventually shooed away by security. His cries of disgust at the blatant disrespect soon faded away as he walked back towards the camp, concerns unaddressed.

Many inside CHOP proclaimed that BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People of Colour) were the top of their concerns, but when a choice between the two was needed the People’s Assembly made it clear which of the two denominations took priority.

Simone sighed and shook his head. The recollection of the experiences inside the People’s Assembly left Simone with a physical reaction to the divisive nature of how the conversations were now being had.

“Nah man, that’s not good. That’s not what this is about, you can’t silence people, you have to let them say their piece.

"If I was there that wouldn’t fly. None of that would.” It seemed that the absence of an organized leadership, Simone or otherwise, from CHOP left the door wide open to a multitude of ideas, some divisive, to be propagated without resistance. The glory days that nearly everyone recalled with pride where people of all backgrounds, unified by one message of BlackLives Matter, spoke together, had made way for dogma and division.

The role that non-black people inside CHOP and the greater BLM movement is one of debate and disagreement for those participating. Simone, and most leaders, felt that it was great to see white people stand beside them on the issue  of police brutality towards black Americans. The unity of all races on this issue  was something to be commended, Simone described, it was something that we all could agree on. The exclusionary behaviour towards white people by some did nothing but harm the movement as a whole and needed to be shut down whenever an opportunity was given. The leadership wasn’t everywhere at once, though, and such behaviour had wormed its way into CHOP and was even experienced by the leadership itself.

“I’ve had people say I’m not black enough to talk.” Shy raised her eyebrow sardonically. While of lighter complexion than others, there was no mistaking her black heritage.

She recalled when a friend of hers expressed that he wouldn’t feel comfortable speaking at these assemblies because of the colour of his skin, a notion that angered Shy. She marched down to the assembly with him to confront such alienating notions.

While skin colour, political leanings, and visions for the movement were common grounds for disagreement inside CHOP, the topic that ostracized the most people in CHOP was none of those.  Homelessness and the stigma that came with it would be CHOP’s last internal division in the closing acts of the occupation.

The Camp is a world apart from the Precinct . On the North end of Cal Anderson Park and starting at the edge of the field, the camp is largely known as where most of the homeless people called home once CHOP was established. Its community gardens were a prominent feature of the camp, that by late June had flourished into half a dozen plots of soil with the fruits of their labour now clear to see. Char, lettuce, and herbs were nearly knee height at some places and a multitude of flowers dispersed between. Congregations and lines of people frequently gathered at a community kitchen called Riot Kitchen which served meals to all those who needed during the day. Just beyond the kitchen, a tent city for many of Seattle's homeless people grew.

It was 8 am and a man lay on his back, hands gripping blindly to the air while his mouth seemed to formulate words that never came. As he writhed on the pathway, a passerby, another resident of the camp, slowly walked up to him and knelt.

“Meth,” he said, shaking his head. “He’s tweaking out.” He stood up and continued on continued his way without so much as looking back. The Camp’s reputation was that of a place of hushed rumors of rape, and of danger. People inside the Precinct were not frequently seen inside the camp, and if one had the intention to visit the Camp, the advice to ‘be careful’ was the frequent response. Yet, for all its implied dangers, the camp was not all what it was portrayed as.

What made the camp feel different was the private nature of the area; photography and video were strongly discouraged. Those who disregarded the request were verbally harassed and, in some online videos, physically assaulted.

One of the prominent voices from the community, Clover warmed themselves beside a burn barrel one dreary morning

“It’s a different mood these days. Not like it was in the beginning.” Clover brushed their short dirty blonde hair from their face between holding their hands over the fire. They recalled watching the formation of CHOP and how the homeless people played a vital role in the movement’s formative days. Early in the life of CHOP, the call for bodies was urgent in order to have some staying power. Large numbers of Seattle’s homeless came to Cal Anderson Park in support of the movement and shortly a tent city coalesced around the gardens and kitchen. This presence brought a form of permanency to CHOP, and it was only after the Precinct was taken, that tents eventually migrated up the hill, but largely by a different crowd. Once the Precinct became the focal point for the protesters, the mood changed towards the camp.

Clover spoke of an apparent decline in the comradery towards the homeless population, around the time the Precinct was taken. The tone in which the camp and the people who lived inside it were spoken of grew more resentful as time went on. The political games near the Precinct, and the parody of democracy in the field further ostracized the homeless. Despite making up most of the people inside CHOP in the later part of June, their usefulness took second place to the Precinct.

“They're more concerned about what homelessness looks like rather than what an ally looks like.”

They remarked about being on the receiving end of perceived resentment from the Precinct. The divide the Camp and the Precinct only grew, and the outlook bleak.

Clover’s concerns over the Camps future as part of CHOP came true only two days later. During a People’s Assembly, a person from the Precinct security detail announced that effective immediately they would no longer patrol nor protect the camp. At that moment, CHOP had been divided into two, however neither the Camp nor the Precinct would realize that it would be the last People’s Assembly ever. The end of CHOP was near.

The video began just after the shots were fired; a shaky camera runs across the field from the camp to the Precinct. Filmed in the early hours of June 29, Instagram user @aestheticsconash began filming shortly after hearing gunfire.

In her video, a crowd of people can be heard saying “Shots fired, there’s been shots fired!". (0:04)

As soon as the person recording reached the Precinct (09:15), a white car with Simone visible in the driver’s seat speeds (09:24) off while a commotion just outside of the co-op becomes the focal point of everyone's attention.

In front of a white SUV, with shattered windows and bullet holes, lay a man in a pool of blood (09:54) while the self- declared medics of CHOP shouts to each other and struggles to treat the man. (10:00)

After several moments, the man is carried into a SUV and is driven off. (10:20) This man would die later that night. Armed CHOP security is seen yelling at the crowd to clear the streets. (10:45) Sirens begin to be heard near the end of the video, long after they were driven off by the leadership of CHOP.

Throughout the life of CHOP, there were discrepancies in the role and access that emergency services (EMS) had in CHOP. Protesters insisted that paramedics and fire fighters intentionally ignored the area, whereas the EMS and fire spokespeople insisted that access was restricted by the protesters themselves.

The video ends in one of the most damming events in CHOP's final day:  Voices can be heard calling for people to immediately start washing the blood off the road with water (00:01). Just as a man can be seen on film picking something up off the ground and putting it in his pocket, another off camera could be heard in an exchange with the woman filming.

“If you see any shells, pick them up, pocket‘ em, take them home.” (01:27)

“Hell yeah, no evidence, pick that shit up” (01:30)

“Pick up my shells, I gotta get the fuck out of here,” the  man says before taking off. (01:37)

The woman then proceeds to ask for a flashlight to look for more shell casings as the sound of sirens can be heard in the distance. (03:41) She, for all intents and purpose, was a “nobody” within CHOP but her actions were applied to the entire movement, as there was no leadership present to immediately condemn such acts. She would be arrested a week later at another protest for rendering criminal assistance but was subsequently released.

Simone never knew the age of the person who he had taken to the hospital until he received a phone call while driving the next day.

Simone's hand stroked his face. “Oh man, fourteen? He’s just a kid. Fuck, he was just a kid.”  Clearly distraught, he shook his head in silence, the events of the night before fresh in his mind. According to him it took him three minutes to bring the wounded kid to the Harbourview hospital. Seattle Police were already waiting and got the wounded man inside. The police knew who Simone was and he even joked that there was an air of celebrity around him with the officers and he struck up conversations with them. All of which was productive.

The 14-year old’s life being saved by Simone’s quick thinking was a notion to which he would shrug and say that he just did what needed to be done, it didn’t matter that he had tried to shoot his friend moments earlier.

“I was raised by my mother to be a peaceful person, she always reminded me that I shared a birthday with MLK and that it was my job to bring peace. I am me because she is her,”

Simone recalled; his mother was a powerful influence in his life to this day. He had been running behind one afternoon which a meeting was planned, a brief phone call explained that he was getting his mom a car and the line at the DMV was taking forever. For all his fame, money, and notoriety, taking his mother to get insurance was the duty of a good son. Growing up in the “hood of Seattle”, as Simone called it, with a single mother gave him perspective that he carries with him today.

The woman that Simone described had faced hardships with a stoic resilience that was imparted onto an impressionable Simone.

“She had been trying so hard to get a child and had six miscarriages before me.” Simone spoke of the story of his birth with a matter of fact tone that belied the sadness of its reality. “One day my mother went to church with her best friend. He raped her.” Simone paused, it didn’t appear of out sadness, but like he fished for the right words to describe such a formative event. “That was me, I am a product of a rape.”

Six miscarriages and rape; Simone’s mother was finally pregnant and yet she decided to keep the child despite the horrific circumstances that facilitated it. “I'm her miracle child,” Simone said with a small smile. His mother went on to ask her friends to pray to God, asking what to name the child. Simone enthusiastically said that six of her friends came to her with the name Solomon and five with Samuel, biblical names for ‘Peace’ and ‘Name of God’.

Growing up in a single parent home, economic freedom was hard to come by, the trap of lower class was one that was hard to escape. For a member of Simone's family, there were ways to try and escape the lower classes that ultimately prove fatal.

“My aunt worked the ‘501’ just there,” Simone pointed out a spot alongside the freeway that cut through Seattle. “She was killed, someone cut her head off.” Simone was exposed at an early age to the realities of sex work and the dangers that came with it. Much of the negative attention that Simone received after being branded a warlord, came from these early formative years and his association in the sex industry.

“I literally sing about it in my music. I don’t hide anything; I talk about my time in that industry as a pimp openly.” Simone disliked the word pimp, but as he elaborated, there isn’t a better word that most people would understand when it came to what he did. All the women he worked with, from as far back as his teenage years, were friends, women who approached him rather than the inverse. The death of his aunt was a motivating factor to work with his friends who also worked the streets.

“I worked with them so they would eventually not have to do that work anymore.” For him, success in the sex work industry would be women having the freedom to leave should they so choose, or the normalization of the sex industry for those willingly stay. Simone emphatically denied perpetuating the predatory behaviour of the pimp stereotype, rather portraying anon-judgmental and empathetic approach to the trade.

“If you aren't a sex worker, you won’t understand."

"Some of these girls couldn’t talk to anyone about what they did. If they told their friends they would be called sluts and shamed for the work, let alone tell their families. Most of the time, I would just listen to them be there to hear what they felt.” Simone stressed that the industry in Seattle, had evolved to a point where predatory behaviour would not be tolerated by all those in the community.

Of all the vitriol that Simone withstood stoically, one seemed to hit home. A common charge online was that Simone participates in the trafficking of children for sex.

Following the national attention, he received from CHOP, these accusations only increased. “{People} started digging through my past and found “3rd Degree Child Endangerment” on my record, something I got when I was in Atlanta years ago.”

Third Degree Child Endangerment in Georgia is described as when ‘an individual purposefully allows a child to witness or hear an aggressive felony, battery or any other type of family violence.’ A charge that Simone does not deny but was taken aback by when it was handed to him. “I was robbed by two guys in Atlanta, and I fought back,” Simone described. “Turns out there were two kids a block down the street that saw it.” The police, Simone said, showed up and arrested him, as his two assailants had already fled. Once booked, he was handed the charge of child endangerment and despite Simone’s adamant protests, it stuck.

“Street culture comes from prison culture, and you know what they do to people who hurt kids in prison.” Simone said. “There’s an honour among people even in prison, you just don’t hurt kids.”

Those accusations remain a constant thorn that, for all his outward strength, still have a visible effect on Simone. The father of a young boy himself, Simone knows the struggles of raising a child and what a parent would do for their kid.

“I became a father with the first woman I had sex with, for the first time.” He was 17 years old when he became a father, and soon became a single father.

“You’d like to think that people who you care about have the same intentions for you. But sadly, that’s not the case for everyone.”

Simone would share few details on the mother of his child beyond this, a pain for a teenage Simone that still held onto parts of his heart.

“I’ve only lied twice to my mother. Once when the mother of my child was pregnant, and the other when I dealt drugs for the first time. I was so afraid.” The relationship between his mother and him was deeply damaged by those two lies, and Simone expressed genuine remorse at the betrayal of trust. Simone described the distance that followed between the two as sort of a film that prevented honest and genuine connection for years. Years were spent rebuilding trust with the woman who raised him, and Simone learned a lesson that honesty would always be preferred. Trust and honesty were values Simone showed no intention of wavering on, even when confronted with accusations and attacks on his character throughout CHOP. While never an official leader, Simone had the makings and values of a man who was more than suited for the role and the people inside CHOP respected him because of this. Following the shooting on June 28, this respect would be called upon during the final hours of CHOP.

The pall over CHOP was evident when Simone stepped out of his car. It was around 10 pm on the 29th. Initially people barely register the “Warlord’s” return, as they frantically moved bulky wooden barricades over top of the pre-existing concrete ones. Simone walked over to the Co-op where the leadership inside greeted him half-heartedly. Angelica immediately pulled him aside with a concerned look on her face and walked him away into the crowd. Following close behind, there was an air of mystique of Simone to those left in the wake of his hushed conversation with Angelica.

“That’s Raz” one of a nearby group of three whispered to their friends.

“No way, I’ve never seen him here at all, what do you think is going on?”  their friends whispered. The conversation continued with nervous glances to the man in the bright red tracksuit, still discussing with Angelica. Hesitant eyes darted back and forth, only looking at Simone for brief brief moments, as if prolonged stares broke some unspoken rule.

The sun had gone behind the buildings of Seattle by now and the blue light of twilight permeated the street, darkening rapidly. It would be dark within an hour, and by the sounds of numerous crews working to move the barricades, shoring up the defenses of the Precinct was a priority.

A small memorial was starting to form where the kid from the morning had been killed, and Clover was standing next to it with a few friends. After a genuine smile and a warm greeting, conversation turned to the anticipation of the night and the mood turned somber.

“I’m getting out tonight, something’s not right, I can feel it,” they nervously said. “They marked the tents last night.” They never clarified who ‘they’ were nor what ‘marked’ meant. “They’re closing down the camp. It’s over, I don’t see it lasting much longer. There’s just something not right about tonight and I don't want to be here for that.”  They motioned over to the Precinct behind them “A bunch of us tried to move up here, but there's problems setting up here. I don’t think they want us here. They're abandoning us.” After a genuine embrace Clover heading out for the night, to a safer place.

 There was no denying that the Precinct perimeter was shrinking. The barricades down the hill from the Precinct had now been abandoned, and the wooden boards from those barricades were salvaged and moved up the hill to the Precinct. Max and three helpers were frantically trying to maneuver one of these wooden structures off concrete barricade.

“Shit’s going down man, there's people on the roof, they’re coming.”

He replied when asked about the vibe of CHOP in that moment and the reconstruction of the barriers. “We need them back because someone got fucking shot and killed, we need them for cover man, fuck.” Max and a cohort of people continued to work though the evening, re-erecting the plywood barricades. One of whom, with a much friendlier disposition, commented with a nervous smile.

“I brought my truck full of rocks, to put in these barricades for better cover. But no one wants them.” He paused then said with a laugh, “You wouldn’t happen to want some rocks, would you?”

By now, Simone had finished his chat with Angelica, and made his way down Pine to where the barricades were being worked on. Simone, with three others of CHOP’s leadership, nervously chatted in a corner. People had been seen on rooftops and the lights inside the Precinct had been turned on – a T.V playing episodes of the Simpsons. Something was going on and the leadership felt it.

          One of Simone’s friends, O.D, scanned each rooftop with a pair of binoculars, while his friend made nervous glances around the darkened street. Simone and the small group discussed next steps but were interrupted when a man ran up to him.

          “Hey man, hey.” The man, wearing a cardigan and newspaper boy hat said breathlessly to Simone who nodded in acknowledgement. “You gotta make some calls, we gotta find places to put people when they come. Do you know the owners of these buildings?” The man, David Lewis, who was known as a frequent spokesperson for CHOP, motioned to the surrounding buildings. “Where’s safe? You gotta know some of these people, do you?” Simone apologized that he didn’t and that perhaps he could try reaching out to the Seattle College across from CHOP. The man half-heartedly thanked Simone and ran off. Despite being physically absent in the previous weeks, people still went to Simone for answers and direction.

Immediately after this interaction, a commotion caught the eye of the group. A bright halogen light appeared on the other end of the parking lot: two SPD officers were shining their flashlights into a parked vehicle next to an apartment building. The appearance of two officers inside CHOP at night took everyone by surprise. For a moment Simone and his entourage just watched in silence from the shadows, before the officers disappeared into the apartment’s parkade. Something was going on, yet no one knew exactly what. Simone nervously laughed and said that was the cue he needed that they should leave for the night.

“They kept us always guessing,” Simone recalled. “They knew we were always listening to their scanners and would say things like they were coming that night or that they heard of reports of people going to CHOP. We always were on edge. We never got a chance to rest.”

Ever since the shooting, CHOP was holding its breath, waiting for the axe to fall. People knew what was coming, but when was anyone’s guess. The night of June 29th was surprisingly calm, despite the tension, and CHOP let a slight sigh of relief. Perhaps the signs people were seeing that night were just like all the other nights - a game put on by the SPD - and that calling the SPD’s bluff would always work out for the best at CHOP. The axe would finally fall a day later.

On July 1st, the Seattle Police Department arrived to clear CHOP at 5 am.

It was over by 5:30 am.

“The Mayor told us to leave, so we left; the Mayor told us to take it back, so we did,” a Seattle Police officer said politely that morning as they manned a barricade on the outskirts of CHOP. A block behind him and a line of police tape, city workers in Hazmat suits alongside a tractor were working to clear the Co-op. The city would later say that 34 people were arrested during the retaking of the precinct, Angelica and Shy among them. All their belongings were now being pushed into massive piles of debris and unceremoniously removed by the tractor. Crews already worked to remove the graffiti in the area, starting with the defaced sign above the East Precinct.

The line of police was met with a variety of reactions from passersby. One line of officers in a span of five minutes had several people thank them for their work and several others met them with middle fingers. Over the course of the day, nearly every officer expressed sympathy and even agreement with the demands that CHOP protesters had made, and made and shared equally the outrage over the death of George Floyd. For many, it was the uniform, not the colour of the skin, that ostracized from the community.

 “I’ve been called a Nazi. I didn’t know a black woman could be a Nazi.”

 A SPD officer on the line remarked. She motioned to her squad behind her, “There’s three women and all visible minorities, isn’t this the representation they want? Once you put on the uniform everyone thinks you’re a bad person” she sighed and shrugged. The desire for dialogue for the officers themselves was evident and was eloquently expressed by many. Sympathies for the movement was common, and many seemed to grapple with how to find a solution to the tensions while reconciling their careers and identities.

           “We have to work together with them, there’s no escaping that. We have to have that dialogue (with the SPD) in order to get real change done.” Simone commented. He had been seen with Chief Best early in the CHOP movement, and never hid that he was open to speaking to them to find solutions. Dialogue was something Simone pushes to this day, with police, with Trump supporters, and with anyone who would listen to break down the barrier that grew everywhere.

With CHOP dismantled, the protesters scattered, and Capitol Hill locked down, not much more could be done on Pine Street. A new place to reflect and plan emerged.

An hour outside of Seattle, nestled below a ridge line and surrounded by forest and fields there’s an idyllic small organic vegetable farm. Simone stood on the edge of a broccoli field and smiled.            

“There’s something about getting away from the city to a place like this,” Simone said with a relaxed sigh. “I don’t know a thing about farming though.” He laughed. The owner, a kind middle-aged man named Jeff, stood nearby and with a chuckle said.

“Neither did I, but you’ll figure it out.”

For a man whose reputation came from his rap career, Seattle activism, and the occupation of a police station, Simone seemed a bit out of place on a broccoli and strawberry farm. The smile that grew the longer he stood looking over the fields showed that he had found a new place to feel at home. Surrounded by rose bushes in a secluded patio at the farm, Simone explained his ambitions of buying the farm as a new venture in community service.

“I hope one day to have kids from the city be out here. It just frees your soul.”

Simone intended to buy the farm turn it into a place where kids and their families from the inner city can come and have momentary respite from the city. Despite being a short drive away from Seattle, the prospect of many youth in the city to make the trip was not possible. Cost, family, and social economic restrictions made such things a dream for many, but to Simone these were the people that needed a place like this to go to the most. The father of a twelve-year-old son himself, the well being of children was a value that Simone believed was worth fighting for. Simone went on to describe what the farm could mean and could be, his hands making sweeping gestures as he described these hypothetical day camps.

A hummingbird darted in front of his face, stopping him mid-sentence, and a childlike grin spread on his face. The diminutive bird hovered there for just a moment before flying off. “Dope. That was dope.” He grinned and after a long sigh and an introspective pause, he spoke again. “This place is magical. To hear the wind in the trees, the birds, the silence.” The nature of the farm made it a place for reflection and a place to feel safe. The farm became a place for that reflection, for not only Simone, but the rest of the CHOP leadership.

          Two days after the fall of CHOP, a small group of people - Raz, Angelica, Shy and O.D included - walked along the rows of strawberry and blueberry bushes, trying the fruit from the plants as they went.

Angelica danced ahead of the group holding a Bluetooth speaker high in the air. A far cry from the authoritative  “Voice” on 12th and Pine, a jovial and relaxed Angelica picked raspberries for the first time. The weight of the CHOP responsibilities had visibly been lifted off her shoulders and she danced with the freedom that came with that.

“We got back from the hospital, both Angelica and I,” Shy quietly recalled. “We got back and the whole back of the truck was full of this kid’s blood. We had so many people come up to us and ask us all these questions. We didn’t have the mental time for that, so we just went in and started cleaning the blood ourselves.” Shy paused, her eyes drifting away into the twilight.

“We got to truly know each other; cleaning the blood of this kid out of the truck together.

“That was the first moment Angelica and I really bonded.” Angelica smiled warmly at this. "We weren’t just cleaning the blood of that kid, but it was the blood of our brothers, fathers, and grandfathers.” A horrific scenario for anyone, but for a young woman like Shy, it had been formative and insightful. An idealist, Shy argued value in disruption and protest, and, despite his disagreement on method, Simone agreed that the CHOP model was never going to work without leadership.

“No, it can work, it can. We just haven’t found out the right way to do so,” Shy protested at Simone’s acceptance of some of the failures of CHOP.

“Sure, we need defined leadership, though; we can’t do this again without leadership. Simone leaned back in his chair, his animated hands gesturing broadly.

“It’s going to fail if it doesn’t have leadership that everyone agrees on,” Simone plainly acknowledging one of the core failures of CHOP. The man with whom Simone shared his birthday, MLK, was a frequent talking point in the conversations on their future. The civil rights movement back then had a leader that spoke on behalf of many and was accepted by most as the true leadership, an aspect that CHOP never truly resolved.

“We’re going to keep fighting this fight, our kids are going to fight this fight, and our grandchildren are still going to be fighting this.”

The long game was in Shy’s view the one worth fighting. “I still think something positive is going to come from this. There’s a hunger”

“We got too focused on holding the precinct, and not what we got us there in the first place.” Simone concluded.

Over the next four hours, the catharsis of finally being free of CHOP was evident for everyone at the farm. As the sun danced lower in the sky, sounds of laughter, music, lively debate, and even tears filled the air. Angelica talked about her wishes to get married and watch anime. Shy reflected on what she finds attractive in people, which she poetically described as “spirits connecting”. Simone and O.D. laughed over everything from music videos to O.D.’s signature footwear. Crocs. As the sun finally slid behind the trees, moments of reflection became woven with moments of silence –the silence of finally being in a place where there was nothing left unsaid between a group of friends.

The light from the fire danced off the faces of the leaders of CHOP. Angelica, Shy, O.D., and Raz, were for the first time together, as friends, outside of CHOP. The protest didn’t allow any of them the time to know each other outside of the movement’s context. There were fights to break up, rivalries to quell, messages to send out, and the chaos of order to manage; these friendships weren’t given a chance, and it was likely the same for many others inside CHOP.  For many looking from the outside in, these stories were insignificant against the barrage of politicized and incendiary coverage nature of CHOPs coverage through its entire life and no doubt many years after. For the group at that farm, those friendships were everything. The notion of Black Lives Matter brought together these people, who neither wanted nor asked for leadership, and thrust them into a situation that was long out of control before any of them managed to reign it in.

To understand what CHOP was, was to understand what brought those people together at that farm at the end of it all.