Don’t Be Fooled by Seattle’s Police-Free Zone

tags: urban history, Seattle, policing

Margaret O’Mara (@margaretomara) is a professor of history at the University of Washington and the author of The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America.


In its brief life, CHOP [Capitol Hill Organized Protest area] has reinforced Seattle’s reputation as a quirky left-coast bastion of strong coffee and strong progressive politics. Many white Seattleites like to think of their city that way too. But Seattle’s progressive appearance is deceiving.

It is a city and region with a long history of racism, of violent marginalization, and of pushing back against more radical movements for social change. It is, in short, much like the rest of America.

The global protests of the last few weeks have rightly generated the feeling that the world is at a turning point on redressing racial inequities. This moment has great possibilities, but the history of Seattle and other seemingly progressive places should make us realize that change is not that simple.


There is, to be sure, a radical streak in the city’s history. In 1919, Seattle shut down for five days as 60,000 unionized workers walked off the job in a general strike. In the 1930s, the Communist Party was so ascendant here that James Farley, a close adviser to President Franklin Roosevelt, said that “there are 47 states in the Union, and the Soviet of Washington.”

Huge anti-globalization marches greeted delegates to the World Trade Organization meeting here in 1999, causing a partial shutdown of the conference and such a ferociously violent police response that the chief was forced to retire.

But these movements often have been squelched by pushback from political leaders, even those who once were allies. Mayor Ole Hanson, who led Seattle during the 1919 general strike, once had been a labor-friendly moderate, but quickly turned into an implacable union foe.


Read entire article at New York Times

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