For several days, Ochoa, 28, has been serving as a volunteer “sentry” or guard volunteer in the protest area. Ochoa, who describes himself from the recently furloughed libertarian left of the Seattle International Film Festival, and other volunteers have served four hours to help keep the peace.
The area was formed last week in the middle of the Black Lives Matter protests. The activists gathered in a police district of the city of transparency and the end of police violence. In response, on June 8, police left the area. The spontaneous appearance of a protest camp has since swarmed outside the building, led by volunteer activists.
Heart of the Zone is a vision of community self-governance without the police. Instead, the volunteers, many of them avowed police abolitionists, began to organize their own security in force.
Among other incidents, these volunteers faced a man throwing apples and threatening them with punches, a car driven towards a large crowd of pedestrians and a vehicle circling the block several times and taking photos . Volunteers say they have engaged with armies of visitors from outside the city, who came to the area convinced that Seattle needed registration from left, agitators.
They defused the fights, the protected store windows from vandals and the treaties on mental health crises. Protesters rushed to put out the flames when a single arsonist attempted to set the city on fire early Friday. The director of LGBTQ resource center publicly thanked the sentinels of the protest area on Sunday for their assistance in watching over a broken window until plywood arrived, attributing the incident to a mental health or addiction problem with a person who sleeps regularly in the center of the door.
Volunteers say this work is a way to showcase what a city without the police might look like. “We have a chance to really build something here, when I have a special interest in defense only as part of my community,” said Ochoa, who lives in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. “I live on the Hill, and the police presence here has always been tense and the type of malicious.”
On weekends, about two dozen people served as sentries, provided the micro-district, with a round-the-clock security. From a folding table under a pop-up tent on the sidewalk, a volunteer coordinated hours on a whiteboard and notepad.
On Sunday, half a dozen people inquired about the signing, including several women of color. The coordinators paired volunteers to establish a mutual monitoring system, handing over radios for on-site communication and adding phone numbers to a discussion group on the Signal Encrypted Text service.
They offered basic advice in de-escalation: Speaking in a low volume, establishing a dialogue, using slow hand movements to indicate that the situation is calm, alert the offenders as they are being watched.
It was the approach a pair of volunteers had with a man tossing apples to passersby. Ochoa and others watched him carefully, while assuring him that their intention was not to harm him. He punches one of the sentries, which has not responded. Finally, the man calmed down and left.
“These alternatives do not involve forcing someone to the ground and immediately handcuffing them from their work and providing a much safer job for the community at large,” Ochoa said.
Listening and trying to understand the needs of those who are mentally impaired – whether drunk, high or struggling with mental illness is essential to the process.
A sentinel who goes by the brand name Markinson, said to resolve conflicts this way, helped him calm a person threatening to be punched, by offering him a slice of pizza. It turned out that he was hungry. “I don’t walk into any situation assuming I know who’s wrong,” said Markinson, dressed in black and sporting a cap with the trans pride flag overlaid with a decal gun and the phrase “ Defend Equal Opportunities. ”
Markinson describes himself as an anti-fascist, anti-racist in the defense lawyer community. He’s an owner’s gun, but he was unarmed on Saturday night. He was on duty at the southernmost occupation of the barricade, where eight people practiced pushing three metal jersey obstacles and three plastic empty water wells to open the barricade’s proverbial door for local residents and business owners. They had the routine at 12 seconds.
“The person screaming is not necessarily bad,” Markinson said. “In the end, maybe no one is bad. You just have to listen, which is in the argument to calm the game and mediate, possibly trying to get these individuals not to be around each other. ”
“You can’t go into this situation with any preconceived notions about who could be causing the problem,” he said. “Often times I feel like the police officers go into these situations with a lot of preconceived notions.”
Markinson, who is white, said he fights with his own implicit bias, facing a culture that engenders an irrational fear of the darkest of people. “This is something that I have been actively trying to fight for a very long period of time,” he said. “It is important to make sure you are aware that he is there and try to learn as much as you can about other people. Diversify your group friend and who you hang out with. ”
Markinson views Seattle’s continuing experience as part of a line of anarchist neighborhoods such as Exarcheia in Athens, Rojava in northeastern Syria and Free Christiana in Copenhagen. Ochoa draws comparisons to the National Confederation of Labor, which arose during the Spanish Civil War, as well as the small towns of the United States which eliminated their police services in favor of neighborhood watches.
The model has its challenges. Saturday, dozens of people, surrounded by fire and sulfur, preacher street that regularly disrupts local protests with in-your-face threats of eternal damnation.
When efforts to bring him to a peaceful world failed, someone dragged him to the ground. One person briefly put him in a chokehold while others blocked any attempt to film the incident with their phones. Later in the afternoon, a dozen people marched to the city, with US flags held in the air. A crowd gathered around them, and one of the flags was confiscated.
Firearms present a different challenge. Many volunteers are licensed gun owners, but bringing a gun changes the dynamics. “If you are an open accountant, rock climbing is more difficult because at this time you are also a threat to someone you just did,” Markinson said.
But who can leave vulnerable volunteers. The sentries say they are particularly concerned with far-right groups like the extreme-rjght Three Percenters and the Fier des Garçons, a group that has made headlines for its part in violent clashes in Portland, Ore., and in New York.
A difficult compromise could be seen early on Sunday, when a sentinel who gave his name James Madison was south of the barricade with an AR-15 draped over his chest, as he had done on other nights.
Madison said he was on guard duty due to reports of known, indirect “threatening” vehicles near the Autonomous Area. “We found the owner of this Twitter vehicle threat, and he clearly intends to harm the protesters based on his tweets,” he said in a text message. “There are a few of us who are armed.”
At the much quieter eastern end of the barricade, Ochoa found that volunteering connects with the neighborhood in a way they found faulty. “The US culture is extremely spray, especially in terms of how the suburban neighborhoods and apartment buildings work,” they said. “The sense of community that I grew up in a small town is completely dissolved, because I have moved to a town, in order to have community involvement like a neighborhood watch or a people council turn making decisions is something that I think must happen for any sort of future in the United States. ”
As this experience evolves, a hand-painted sign to approach the barricades offers two watchwords: “In a world without cops we must never again become the cops ourselves.”