Seattle City Council Briefing 7/6/20

This morning the Seattle City Council had their regular Council Meeting briefing, and you can find that Twitter thread here.

As you can imagine, many of the council members wanted to discuss the ongoing protests and police brutality, as well as expressing their condolences to the family and friends of Summer Taylor and best wishes to Diaz Love for her recovery. These are the two protesters hit by a car while protesting on I-5 this weekend.

There is still much confusion about the nature of the threats made against the East Precinct and whether they were specific or more general in nature. The Mayor has said they were specific, but in private briefings more than one CM has been told the threat was more general, made by the FBI regarding three different cities. CM Herbold says the SPD has been continuing to use less-than-lethal weapons such as blast balls, pepper spray, and sponge rounds. It is worth noting the legislation the Council passed a few weeks ago banning chokeholds and less-than-lethal weapon use by the SPD goes into effect on July 26.

Relating to the Council’s ongoing conversation about defunding the SPD, CM Lewis brought up the idea of basing a first-responder system on the CAHOOTS program used by the city of Eugene in Oregon. I’m sure this program will come up again, so it’s worth going into a few of the details.

CAHOOTS teams respond to about 20% of Eugene’s 911 calls. They are independent from the police, unarmed, and don’t have the power to arrest. They can elect to involve the police if necessary, but rarely do (the numbers given were 150 referrals to police out of 24,000 calls responded to). 60% of their caseload is working with homeless people. This program is cheaper than having police respond to these calls and has been in place since 1989. Here in Seattle, we have a Mobile Crisis team, but they aren’t hardwired into the 911 dispatch system. It’s possible we can reorganize and scale up already existing programs to do something similar.

There will be more information about this and similar programs discussed at Wednesday’s budget meetings. CM Gonzalez emphasized that she wanted to have a conversation about the full spectrum of emergency response options and then thoughtfully select what would work best for Seattle.

CM Morales gave a statement about the current police response to protests that you can read here:

Twitter avatar for @CMTammyMorales

Tammy J. Morales @CMTammyMorales
People have always put their lives on the line for justice. They take that risk because our government is not serving them. But this kind of police-induced crisis leads to police violence and is literally killing people. (1 of 8)

Something worth noting for your ongoing planning: CM Gonzalez emphasized the importance of public pressure in the Council’s work on defunding the police. This is work that will be ongoing through the fall. So it’s important to continue protesting, calling, emailing, and otherwise showing your desire for this work to be prioritized.

Twitter avatar for @amysundberg

Amy Sundberg @amysundberg
We need the pressure and the movement to keep building towards execution of these demands, and we need to continue to see and feel that they want us to prioritize this work. A good way to do that is to take to the streets.

It is also worth remembering the barrier the police union contract raises in the effort to defund the SPD. You can read more about it, but in a nutshell the current contract with SPOG means that if cuts are made to the SPD before a new contract is negotiated, they will happen based on seniority instead of, for example, based on records of violence. The SPD could also potentially cut more of their civilian positions instead of sworn positions. All in all, this is a tricky situation.

Meanwhile, the new Jumpstart tax was passed in the Council meeting this afternoon. This payroll tax on big businesses will help raise money for the city’s COVID response as well as housing and community development. On Wednesday, I’ll be reporting on the budget meetings continuing the process of looking into the SPD and the proposed revision of the 2020 budget. There will be a period of public comment about the 2020 revised budget (including defunding the police as a priority) on Wednesday at 4pmYou can sign up for a spot beginning at 2pm. Alternately you can call or email. And I hope to have a longer piece on the history of the police in the US up by the end of the week.

Finally CM Gonzalez reminded us that we’re experiencing a spike in cases of COVID-19 in Seattle, in King County, and in the entire state. Please stay safe!

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On Political Theater and the Mayor’s Press Conference Today

This afternoon the Seattle City Council was supposed to be meeting to further discuss the revised 2020 budget, along with proposed cuts to the SPD. I was hoping we might also get the delayed 911 call report. Unfortunately, the conversation about the new progressive tax legislation ran long, and this was postponed until next week.

But don’t worry, there’s still stuff to talk about. As you probably already know, the CHOP was cleared out early this morning after Mayor Durkan signed an executive order to do so late the night before. There were some reports of rubber bullets and pepper spray being used, as well as badge numbers still being covered and most police officers not wearing masks. There were at least 32 arrests.

Mayor Durkan, along with Police Chief Best, held a press conference about this operation this afternoon, and I tweeted most of the press conference. You can find that thread here.

However, I would take anything said at that press conference with a grain of salt. It was a highly scripted PR affair, and the questions asked by journalists were, for the most part, softballs that didn’t uncover much information. Mayor Durkan certainly put on a good show, talking about wanting to reimagine public safety with her best friend Chief Best by her side (I say this because she thanked her repeatedly), about wanting to reinvest in community, about the systemic racism that runs through our city, about letting the community lead, etc. She repeated several times that this work can’t be done overnight, but that Seattle could lead the way in showing how this work could be done. However, she did not commit to any specific actions regarding the police department, like a percentage goal of defunding or any demands she’ll be taking to the SPOG negotiations later this year.

We’ll have to wait and see what happens on the ground over the next few days and the weekend in terms of the treatment of protestors, and what happens in policy discussions over the next several months. There’s been a lot of political theater the past couple days, with Mayor Durkan asking for CM Sawant (who has herself been calling for the mayor’s resignation) to be investigated by her fellow council members; with the late night signing of the executive order to clear the CHOP; with the press conference scheduled opposite the city council budget meeting that was originally supposed to be about continuing defunding efforts. The protests have definitely placed a lot of pressure on the city government to respond, but as I said at the end of my Twitter thread today, in order for words to matter, they must be followed by concrete action. Continuing the pressure until that concrete action (both budgetary and legislative) is enacted is crucial.

Meanwhile, the Washington state Attorney General is calling for a state law to track and report police use of deadly force publicly. The AG’s office identified 21 deaths and 9 serious injuries in Washington state from January to May 26, 2020. That’s one death A WEEK involving police. And how did the AG’s office identify these? Through media coverage. That’s how shockingly terrible our system of police accountability is. At some point this legislation will be worth a letter or phone call to your state reps. However, unless a special session is called, the state legislature won’t be meeting again until January 2021.

Finally, I’d like to say to my subscribers, thank you for your interest and support! I’m starting work on a piece about the history of the police that I hope will be ready soon. I’ll be referencing Alex S. Vitale’s The End of Policing as well as various articles on the subject. Also next week is the regular City Council meeting on Monday, where I believe they’ll be voting on progressive tax legislation discussed today, and another budget meeting on Wednesday.

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