2020 protests

The Homelessness-Jail Cycle

Seattle News

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has released their fourth and final SER report on the 2020 protests in Seattle. One of the report’s most noteworthy recommendations is that SPD apologize to protestors for its response. SPD provided KUOW with a statement saying Chief Diaz did apologize for the 2020 protests in June of 2021: I’m sure all the protestors who were harmed in 2020 feel much better now.

The SER report was produced by a panel that was chosen “with the assistance of the Planning Group.” When weighing the report, it’s important to take note that of the 12 members of the panel, 5 are employed by SPD and 3 are employed by city accountability bodies (OIG, CPC, and the Monitor). Thus only 4 participants were community members.

Earlier this week Mayor Harrell announced his new plan to activate downtown, which is marked by more enforcement of the distribution and sale of drugs, although detail is lacking in how this would differ from previous failed attempts at hot spot policing and criminalizing drug users, some of whom turn to low level dealing in order to support their habits. One of Health One’s three vans will also be used to respond to overdose calls, although no more money is being made available to Health One for this purpose, bringing up the question of whether they’ll have to turn down more calls due to lack of capacity. The Mayor also supports the idea of contingency management treatment, which would provide people with gift cards for participating in treatment. However, the new plan does not involve providing safe consumption sites, even though way back in 2017 King County found that such sites improve outcomes.

Missing from the plan is any further provision of housing or services for downtown’s large houseless population. This lack, combined with a tougher enforcement policy, could lead to an exacerbation of the homelessness-jail cycle. As Chloe Cockburn recently noted, several research studies have found “strong connections between homelessness and the criminal legal system, with causation going both ways. Unhoused people are extremely vulnerable to criminalization, and having a criminal record can make it very difficult to find housing.”

Following up on the case where SPD Officer Dave struck and killed Seattle student Jaahnavi Kandula in January, Erica C. Barnett has confirmed the caller to whom Dave was responding had used cocaine, not opiates. SPD has said officers need to be present when the fire department responds to opiate overdose calls to provide backup (a claim that lacks general consensus), but since this call was related to heroin, this policy would not have applied in this case.

WA State Legislature:

The state legislature passed HB 1324 preventing convictions under age 18 from being automatically counted in adult court. “According to Department of Corrections data collected by the ACLU, significant racial disparities exist in the current system of mandatory sentence enhancements using juvenile judgments. More than 40% of currently incarcerated Indigenous people have a juvenile felony on their record, as do 39% of Black people currently incarcerated. People of color are facing longer sentences because they were involved in the juvenile system as children.”

Unfortunately the Senate and House bills differ in terms of retroactivity, and the two chambers will need to come to an agreement on this issue. 

Recent Headlines

OPA releases findings for first few cases from summer protests

The whole city is talking about the first set of findings on the Seattle summer protest cases the OPA released this morning. The two most high-profile cases of the five summaries released were the incident of the child being pepper-sprayed, which was found to be unsustained, and the incident of the officer putting a knee on a protester’s neck, which was partially sustained. More details can be found here and here. Kevin Schofield also interviewed OPA Director Myerberg on these findings yesterday.

The CPC have made a statement talking about the inadequate policies of the SPD and saying “It is also important to understand these disciplinary decisions are being made under the flawed disciplinary system created by the current police contracts.” Philip Weiss, who has been doing excellent work this summer reviewing OPA summaries on Twitter, gives his analysis of the OPA summaries in two Twitter threads:

Twitter avatar for @kingrat

Philip Weiss @kingrat
OPA cases have been released. And the first one I’m reading on the kid being pepper sprayed is making me fucking mad at @SeattleOPA .
Twitter avatar for @kingrat

Philip Weiss @kingrat
I think OPA is wrong on the policy too: 8.100 “Officers shall conduct a threat assessment so as not to precipitate an unnecessary […] use of force by placing themselves *OR OTHERS* in undue jeopardy.” Emphasis on OR OTHERS by me.
Twitter avatar for @kingrat

Philip Weiss @kingrat

The analysis is that because there was no policy of trying to not hurt bystanders, this was just fine. “there was no section of the policy that caused directed pepper spraying to be improper simply because it inadvertently affected another individual in the immediate vicinity.”

We also have an excellent investigative journalism piece in the South Seattle Emerald about the quest for police accountability from a journalist who permanently lost her hearing in one ear during a protest this summer. This piece painfully chronicles the bureaucratic twists and turns involved in the accountability process, illustrating some of the flaws in the current SPD accountability system. The injured journalist wouldn’t have gotten as far as she has in the process without hiring a lawyer, and even so, it is by no means certain she will receive any accounting whatsoever for the actions of the police officer who threw a flash bang at her while she was resting away from the protest.

In other news about accountability, Black Lives Matter Seattle King County filed a request with the OIG yesterday to investigate SPD’s potentially unlawful actions against protesters earlier this year.

Meanwhile, The Urbanist published a closer look at the history of the consent decree and recently resigned Monitor Merrick Bobb, which quotes former Mayor Mike McGinn at some length, laying out reasons the consent decree has failed and going into more depth of the influence SPOG has had on Seattle city politics over the last several years. Obviously there is a political battle being played out here, and hearing the other side of the argument is educational.

Finally, we have a a couple articles on reform on the county and state levels. While my focus here in this newsletter is primarily on Seattle, it’s important to remember that changes at every level of government can have impact. The King County 2021-2022 budget proposal is being introduced next week by Executive Dow Constantine, and this new plan “includ[es] alternatives to jail, community-based public safety alternatives, and divestments from the current criminal legal system.”  He also envisions a $1.9m decrease in spending on the county jail. He presents this budget to the King County Council on September 22. Andrew Grant Houston did a Twitter thread of Omari Salisbury’s interview with Nikkita Oliver about her reaction to this budget announcement And the Washington State Department of Corrections has drafted a strategy calling for a reduction of 30% of the state’s prison population over the next year.

I’ve heard the City Council might not be discussing the veto of the revised 2020 budget on Monday after all, possibly postponing that discussion until later in the week. CP Gonzalez previously stated the last day they can act is September 24, so we’ll see how things play out. This news seems to suggest a deal has yet to be reached between the Mayor and the Council.

Hope you have a good weekend!

Notes on today’s Council Briefing

The Council Briefing this morning:

Here is my Twitter thread.

The bulk of the briefing this morning was spent discussing the sales tax increase to benefit public transit that needs to be voted on soon in order to make it onto the November ballot. The mayor had proposed a .1% sales tax, and two CMs had proposed amendments increasing that amount to .15% (Gonzalez) and .2% (Morales). The CMs were also divided as to whether this sales tax should go into effect for four or six years, mostly because they really want to shift to a more regionally-focused transit system in partnership with King County, something that was in process earlier this year and then got derailed due to the pandemic.

BIPOC-led groups overwhelming called in to support the .2% tax. Even though sales taxes are regressive, this small an increase would still be better for most low-income people who rely on transit and who would otherwise have to buy a car, and even the .2% tax would require transit cuts. However, the .2% tax was voted down 4-5, with Herbold, Pedersen, Juarez, Lewis, and Gonzales opposed. It’s also worth noting Herbold voted against this increase even though she wants more money for West Seattle transit given the bridge closure. The .15% tax was passed as a compromise, and they decided to pass it for the six-year period so if something goes wrong on King County’s end in 2024, there won’t be a gap in service.

Also discussed at the meeting was the indiscriminate force used by the SPD at this weekend’s protests, as well as their targeting of journalists and legal observers.

Twitter avatar for @stimesmcarter

Mike Carter @stimesmcarter
@RevWalden @sydbrownstone I’ve spent much of my 43 years as a journalist reporting on law enforcement and police accountability (or lack there of). You know me. This is retaliation. People should be outraged.

This targeting is disturbing and undemocratic, interfering as it does with the operation of the free press. Also interfering with the free press is the subpoena served by the SPD to several local news outlets to release their unpublished videos and photos from the May 30th protests, which a judge ruled enforceable on Thursday. Meanwhile, a judge passed a temporary restraining order on Friday evening on Council-passed legislation banning the SPD from buying and using less-than-lethal crowd control weapons, as this was in opposition to the consent decree. The judge will decide what to do about the conflicting policies after various briefs and responses are filed later in August. Unfortunately, word on the streets was that with this restraining order in place, the SPD used even more flash-bangs than at previous protests, and there were numerous recorded incidents where the SPD was obviously using more force than warranted or using these weapons in ways they were not intended to be used. Big shocker there, I know.

Finally, several CMs spoke out against the harassment and threats made to various public officials, including CM Juarez and CM Pedersen and their staffs, and particularly spoke against the use of misogynistic and racist language and the use of such threats at the councilmember’s homes.

Continuing Budget Talks:

The discussion about the revised 2020 budget will continue all day Wednesday, including proposed amendments having to do with the SPD. Public comment will happen Wednesday morning at 10am, with signups at 8am. An additional budget meeting was scheduled for Friday morning at 10am to continue these talks. CM Mosqueda also signaled there might be another budget meeting next Wednesday the 5th, which would mean the final vote scheduled to take place on August 3rd would have to be postponed.

Something I’ve hinted at before that could have bearing on this revised budget is the increasing rift between the Mayor and the City Council, which you can read more about here: “As council members have noted, with visible frustration, several times over the past few weeks, “We can’t force the mayor to spend the money we appropriate.”” If I’m understanding this correctly, in terms of defunding the police department, the Council can take away money to be spent by the department, but if, say, they allocate some of that money to community-led organizations that are scaling up to serve public safety, the Mayor could refuse to spend that money. We’ve already seen it implied during Council meetings that she hasn’t spent money allocated for 2020 for tiny home villages even in the midst of a pandemic that spreads more quickly in congregate settings, making the need for tiny home villages even more urgent, so that doesn’t bode particularly well. However, if we’re lucky the increased public interest in police brutality and lack of accountability might act as a counterbalance.

In any case, the budget talks are going forward, and I’ll be attending the Wednesday and Friday meetings this week and letting you know what happens next.

Victory for the Defund Movement and the Mayor has a hard weekend

It has been an eventful few days, and with such a storm of activity comes the understandable confusion and inevitable misinformation as people scramble to keep up. I’m going to do my best to bring you up-to-date now. Take a deep breath and let’s dive in.

Let’s start with last Thursday, July 9, when journalist Andrew Buncombe published his story of being arrested by the SPD while trying to report on the ongoing protests, giving us insight into what happens once protestors are arrested and brought to a precinct for booking while also showing a shocking disregard for the freedom of the press.

Twitter avatar for @Lisa_Herbold

Lisa Herbold @Lisa_Herbold
herbold.seattle.gov/wp-content/upl…. The Constitution and Municipal Code protections for the press, and observers, do not exist for the convenience of government, to be cast aside whenever they happen to be inconvenient to government.” @Omarisal @AndrewBuncombe

The next day, Friday July 10, seven out of nine Seattle council members came out in support of defunding the SPD by 50% and reinvesting the money in community needs. This is noteworthy because this is a veto-proof majority of CMs, meaning they can pass an amended budget without the Mayor’s approval. The two hold-outs? CM Juarez and CM Pedersen, no surprises there; neither of them were likely to support this plan. The CMs who waited to announce their support until Friday were CM Herbold, CM Lewis, and CM Strauss; these are the CMs that need the most ongoing support/pressure to stick with their position. CM Strauss in particular has publicly asked for continued public pressure to hold the Council accountable, including protests, public testimony, calls, and emails. These will all need to be kept up till the beginning of August at minimum, and then probably again later in September.

Deputy Mayor Fong and Police Chief Best were upset about the council members’ commitment, to say the least. Meanwhile, the SPD took to Twitter to share that lay-offs in the department would mean a large decrease in BIPOC officers.

That being said, CM Herbold suggests there’s a way to avoid this problem:

Twitter avatar for @Lisa_Herbold

Lisa Herbold @Lisa_Herbold
@Masters131 @NikkitaOliver Layoff out of order. PSCSC ED “may grant permission for layoff out of the regular order, upon showing by the appointing authority (Chief Best) of the department of a necessity therefore in the interest of efficient operation of his or her department…”

Also on Friday, a King County Superior Court Judge approved a petition for an election to recall Mayor Durkan. Okay, what does this mean? Well, there were originally two petitions to recall the Mayor filed; I’m not sure what happened to the other one. With this one, the Judge allowed one charge to stand, which was that Mayor Durkan allowed tear gas and other crowd control weapons to be used during the pandemic. The Mayor is allowed to appeal this ruling; otherwise, the next step is to collect around 55-56k signatures of registered Seattle voters. If the requisite number of signatures are collected within six months, then the Mayor would be recalled. While that might sound like a high number of signatures, proponents of the Tax Amazon campaign collected around 30k signatures in six to eight weeks during Phase 1 of the pandemic (see the responses to this tweet for the full information).

Twitter avatar for @daeshikjr

Dae the Lawless @daeshikjr
FYI @eyesonthestorm reminded me that the tax amazon campaign collected 30k signatures in like a month. 56k signatures in 6 months is nothing with the way Durkan has endangering the lives of her constituents. We can have a new Mayor by the start of 2021.

Given the widespread anger about Mayor Durkan’s handling of the protests, this recall does seem possible, although it’s hard to predict its potential success rate with any certitude. Meanwhile, several protesters have filed suit against the city, county, and state, claiming excessive police force.

Which brings us to this morning, when Mayor Durkan and Chief Best held a press conference. You can find my live tweet stream here.

First let’s recap. The City Council has a veto-proof majority of members committed to defunding the police by 50% and a Judge has ruled that the recall petition for the Mayor may continue. The Mayor is not in the good position right now. In addition, the role she played in the consent decree that Seattle entered into back in 2012 means its perceived failure casts doubt on her as a leader. As Kevin Schofield wrote: “Her legacy, not to mention much of her political credibility, is tied to her work on negotiating the consent decree. For her to abandon it, this close to the perceived finish line, would probably sink her future political ambitions.”

Given all this, it’s not a big surprise that at the press conference this morning, Mayor Durkan came out swinging. Her very political survival is at stake. She is very adamant about her commitment to reimagine the police (you could play a drinking game with her use of the word “reimagine”), but her timeline for accomplishing this is less certain. The sense I got from her comments is that she wishes to reorganize the police department, and she’s basically on board with the idea of removing the 911 emergency response unit from under the auspices of the SPD. In addition to continuing a hiring freeze and cutting back on overtime (probably that related to events), she’s estimating cutting $60m from the SPD budget in 2021; that money will still be spent on the same purposes, just not under the SPD umbrella.

What she doesn’t seem to support are any lay-offs to the actual police force or the subsequent re-investment of those funds into community organizations. This is where her plan and the demands of community organizations, which the City Council is responding to, vastly differ. She attacked the City Council repeatedly, saying things they’ve done almost no analysis on the SPD budget, that they haven’t met with Police Chief Best, that they don’t have a plan, that you can’t govern by Twitter or bumper sticker, and that she hopes after consideration the Council will change their minds. She said if the Council doesn’t change their plan, she will veto (an empty threat as long as they can hold onto their veto-proof majority).

There is also an open question as to how many community organizations the Mayor has actually been meeting with, in spite of her public claims:

Twitter avatar for @NikkitaOliver

Nikkita Oliver @NikkitaOliver
.@MayorJenny your community engagement is inauthentic and disingenuous. And in some instances, you are straight up lying. https://t.co/jUPTrOjlgZ
Twitter avatar for @Omarisal

Omari Salisbury @Omarisal

#UPDATE – I asked @MayorJenny who she has been meeting with in the Black Community in her efforts to Reimagine Seattle. Her office responded with this list of people and organizations. According to her office all meetings were official and available through freedom of info. https://t.co/DRPAOjKUlq

I want to respond directly to the Mayor’s attack on the City Council that they don’t have a plan and are behaving irresponsibly, because from what I’ve seen, this isn’t a fair characterization of what’s been happening. I saw the CMs commitment to a 50% divest and re-invest goal as a public statement that they are taking the demands of the community seriously and that they aren’t going to be simply paying lip service to the idea of transforming public safety, but rather have a serious intent toward change. While it is true they don’t yet have a plan for achieving this, Central Staff is already hard at work at developing a plan, and this is exactly what the next few weeks have been allocated to do. It seems clear the Mayor wants to erode support for the Council’s general commitment to defunding and scare the public before the Council has had a chance to finish developing their plan. Now, if it’s a bad plan, then yes, we have a problem, but we need to wait to see the plan before passing judgment.

CM Herbold responded to the Mayor’s accusations at the press conference here:

Twitter avatar for @Lisa_Herbold

Lisa Herbold @Lisa_Herbold
I want to thank my Council colleagues for their words supporting our efforts to defund SPD so that we can reinvest in evidence-based public safety community interventions by reducing the kinds of 911 calls officers respond to. THREAD:

In addition, the Seattle Times reports the following response: “González described Durkan’s remarks as spin, while Strauss said council members understand a transition period will be needed as Seattle builds a setup that can send people other than police officers to more 911 calls.” I’ve heard various community groups also emphasize that they’ll need time to scale up, so I think everyone involved is aware of this constraint.

And with that, I think we’ve covered all the major developments of the past five days. I’ll be covering the City Council’s budget meetings on Wednesday. There will be more budget meetings the next few weeks, and if all goes as planned, the Council will vote on the revised 2020 budget on August 3.



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!

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.