Early Saturday morning, two people were shot—one fatally—inside the section of Seattle known as the Capitol Hill Organized Protest Area (CHOP), a police-free zone that sprung up in the wake of anti-racism protests following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota.
The gunshots that rang out between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m., killing a 19-year-old man and leaving another in critical condition, marked the first report of serious violence inside CHOP, where a largely festival-like atmosphere has prevailed.
The protest area’s internal medical team, referred to as Medic One, transported two victims to the nearby Harborview Medical Center.
“We had two males arrive,” said Susan Grigg, a spokesperson for the Harborview Medical Center. “The first male arrived approximately at 2:24 am. He unfortunately died shortly after his arrival to the emergency unit. The second male arrived at 3:06 am and he is currently in critical condition in Intensive Care.”
Grigg confirmed that the two victims had not been transported to the hospital by police or ambulances. “Private vehicles transported the males,” Grigg said. “I don’t know who owned the private vehicle. I just know that it was not an ambulance, it was a private vehicle.”
Police claimed that upon entering the six-block enclosure—formerly known as the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone–they were “met by a violent crowd that prevented officers safe access to the victims.” But a live video from the scene recorded by civilian journalist Omari Salisbury shows that police arrived after the victims had been transported to the hospital.
Seattle Police, who did not respond to three requests for comment, are now investigating the incident.
The motives and identities of the assailants remain unknown. But in the aftermath of the shooting, independent and civilian journalists in the CHOP area began broadcasting live and sharing footage to social media, to reconstruct a loose timeline of the incident.
Salisbury, a journalist with the independent outlet Converge Media, was awakened just after the shooting and filmed a live video from the scene. In the footage, Salisbury walks around the CHOP streets, walls, pavement, and blockades decorated with artwork honoring Black Lives Matter and images of George Floyd.
“People woke me up and said that there were gunshots,” Salisbury tells the audience. “It took me a second to gather myself, and put this vest on...Uh oh, what’s this? We’ve got a lot of movement over here. We got a lot of movement over here.”
Salisbury, who is broadcasting live, conducted several on-the-street interviews, most with the subjects off-camera to protect their identities. In one conversation, a man tells him, “I saw a guy, blood on his face, his shirt is torn off. He’s getting CPR. He’s been shot. He’s been hurt. They’re bringing in a helicopter. If you walk 20 feet that way, you’ll see a guy getting CPR.”
Salisbury approaches the medical tent and finds a large crowd responding to the crisis. Medics tell the civilians to “fall back.” One woman approaches the camera, telling the crowd about a black pick-up truck that needs to be moved. “Driver of the black pickup truck? Now!” she says, “This is a life or death situation.”
“This is a life or death situation,” Salisbury echoes. “Medic One is now heading eastbound. Eastbound on Pine. This is 100 percent a life or death situation. They’re trying to move the shooting victim out of here—to Harborview Medical Center, I suppose is the next place they will be going. Harborview Medical Center, the trauma center, it’s about six blocks away from here... It’s a volatile space right here.”
“This is not okay,” a man says off camera. “This is not fucking okay at all. I am not fucking okay with this. At all.”
Salisbury tracks as the police arrive on scene and approach the CHOP border. The camera shows dozens of officers lined up behind the barrier and approaching in step. They’re moving westbound on Broadway, Salisbury says.
“We see that. We see regular police vehicles–that looks to be a SWAT-type vehicle,” he says. “Now it looks like the police are on foot. The police are now on foot. They’re entering the zone….The police have entered the zone. Their weapons are out. The police have entered the zone. It could very well be that the Seattle Police mustered their forces outside of the zone until they had the appropriate manpower to enter the zone. ”
As the police approach, talking on a megaphone, Salisbury and other organizers begin to update the officers on the situation. The crowd shouts that the victims have left the area. They begin to chant, “Don’t shoot.”
“They formed a human chain to stop the traffic, the flow of individuals, they formed a human wall, the purpose of the human wall is to form a barrier in between the police,” Salisbury says. “Looks like the police might be giving an order to disperse. What we did see appeared to be a scene of mass confusion, which is typical when you’re talking about a shooting. We now see SPD returning to their vehicles. They very well might be leaving the area right now.”
A few hours after the shooting, Salisbury shared a photo of the murder scene, in front of a closed off doorway. “Was it a protester?” one Twitter user asked of the victim. “To be honest it is hard to tell who is who,” Salisbury wrote. “CHOP has become a tourist attraction as well so at the moment I cannot say.”
The CHOP has a significant security presence of its own. The Daily Beast reported last week that members of the Puget Sound John Brown Gun Club (PSJBGC)—a leftist community defense and firearms education organization–has been monitoring the zone since its inception. The group’s spokesperson, Nick, told The Daily Beast that the PSJBGC had provided security escorts for “some very prominent black voices who were doing speeches here at the Autonomous Zone.”
An ex-Marine who goes by the pseudonym James Madison, who has led CHOP’s security detail since its second day, recently laid out the defense protocol on the Yeah, But Still podcast. “We have a street operation team,” Madison said. “We have a threat level basis of Zero through Four. So Zero is everything is all good.”
A Level One Threat, he said, meant a verbal argument or mild risk of conflict. A Level Two Threat entailed confirmed white supremacist groups in the area or on scene, without signs of aggression. If the groups show signs of aggression or are carrying weapons, he said, that's a Threat Level Three.
“We’ve only got one incident, of the hundreds we’ve had, that have actually gotten to the point where a punch was thrown or it got violent,” Madison said. “And we handled that really quickly. We responded to it. A couple punches were thrown, and we calmed both parties involved."