Address on Police Accountability
We have to turn the page to a new era of Seattle history, free from the disparities of the past.
Over a century and a half ago, one of the first acts of Seattle government was the expulsion of Indigenous people from city limits. On February 7th, 1865, the newly-incorporated Seattle City Council passed Ordinance №. 5. The statute read “no Indian shall be permitted to reside or locate their residences on any street, highway, lane, alley, or vacant lot in the town of Seattle.”
A week earlier on February 1st, 1865, President Lincoln signed off on the 13th amendment, which abolished slavery — except where it could be imposed as punishment for a crime. In one Washington, a constitutional decree preserved slave labor in American amber for all posterity; in the other, white settlers banished Indigenous peoples from the city they helped create. Structural racism in policing and land use was solidified for the next century and a half.
Today in Seattle, Indigenous, Black, and Brown people are more likely to be stopped, searched, and killed by the police. Children of color are subject to a school-to-prison pipeline. Seattleites of color are disproportionately represented among the homeless population. And sweeps of the homeless separate them from the land, just as Ordinance №. 5 did in the last months of the Civil War. Today, Seattle is a city divided. There are those who acknowledge racism in city politics, and those who can’t see how our city has condemned too many to sink or swim on their own. When Seattleites live in heavily policed communities or go without housing altogether, the results are tragic.
In 2010, Seattle police shot and killed John T. Williams, an unarmed man of Indigenous ancestry. Seven years later, while still under federal consent decree, Seattle officers shot and killed Charleena Lyles, an expecting Black mother, miles from where we stand in Seattle City Council District 4.
Seattle has attempted to acknowledge structural racism in policing, and adapt city policy to correct it. I commend Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best for saying that we cannot simply “arrest our way out of” the issue of homelessness. I appreciate her and Mayor Durkan’s leadership on renewing funding for the Community Service Officer program, which takes the “warrior mentality” out of policing.
But the fact remains that John T. Williams and Charleena Lyles should be my constituents today. City leadership failed them. And Seattleites should no longer stand for a lack of leadership on police accountability. We deserve candidates who will dismantle systemic racism in policing.
We stand here today at the Roosevelt Light Rail station. Hopefully, this area will be at the center of a new commitment to public housing, with numerous City Council candidates in the 2019 election cycle, including myself, calling for transit-oriented housing development around our new light rail stations. We must ensure that the low-income residents who find housing near this station do not have to live under the threat of police violence. A radical commitment to public space has to be combined with a commitment to disinvesting from the police state. We have to turn the page to a new era of Seattle history, free from the disparities of the past. In stepping forward, we must not step back. I’m proud to be endorsed in this race by Seattle Subway, the Sierra Club, and the Transit Riders Union because of my campaign’s vision for fusing equity and environmentalism in racially-inclusive neighborhoods.
I stand with two dozen community groups — including the ACLU, OneAmerica, and the local chapter of the NAACP — in calling the current Seattle Police Officer’s Guild contract a major step back for police accountability in Seattle. Many progressives still can’t bring themselves to stand with the community on this issue. But when it comes to undoing structural racism in the age of Trump, we don’t have time for on-the-job training. We need leadership that understands the urgency of this moment.
US District Judge James Robart has given Seattle until July 15th to comply with the consent decree. My campaign is calling on the mayor’s office to abort the committee it created to recently to skirt the federally-mandated police accountability process. Instead, we should adapt a thorough plan to end racist policing in Seattle.
We must pursue restorative justice and build towards a world where nobody is criminalized for being poor.
We can have a city that stops participating in the “deadly exchange” program, where Seattle police officers go abroad to learn policing techniques from foreign armies. We can end the school-to-prison pipeline by getting police and security firms out of our schools, ending out-of-school suspension, and funding mentorship programs like the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which I served with at Washington Middle School. We can decriminalize sex work and repeal municipal codes against loitering (like SMC 12A.10.010, the “prostitution-loitering” code) that are used as a pretext for police harassment of vulnerable communities.
We can commit to not building a youth jail in Seattle, and commit to not funding renovations at the North Seattle Precinct until the culture of racism uncovered there in 2016 is addressed and undone. We can create safe consumption sites that safely dispose of used needles and get opiate use out of our parks and greenways, and direct people to much-needed services and diversion programs. We can use progressive taxes on major corporations and luxury real estate developers to fund the safety net all Seattleites need, instead of relying on regressive sales and property taxes that hit renters and vulnerable homeowners.
The question before us in this election cycle is whether we want to be a compassionate city or a cruel city.
A compassionate city is one that builds enough deeply affordable housing for those already here and for those on the way. It’s a city where every Seattleite can enjoy public parks, free public transit, and mental health and supportive housing services. It’s a city that understands that we don’t have to choose between the sanctity of collective bargaining for the police and the right of Black and Brown people to live. And we don’t have to choose between progressive values like inclusivity and affordability and more moderate concerns about neighborhood safety. `
Compassionate solutions are effective solutions. By committing to anti-carceral solutions to our biggest social ills, we can build a more inclusive city. A city free from the mistakes of the past.
Some forces in this city would turn us into a cruel city: a city that continues to waste $10 million a year on ineffective sweeps of the homeless; that displaces Seattle home owners, and only builds housing for the richest among us; a city with no treatment centers and no investment in social services like childcare. A city where the police can kill with impunity.
I think we can do better. I think we can have a compassionate city. As a Seattle City Councilmember representing District 4, I’ll work to build that compassionate city. And it starts with standing with community members by ending unconstitutional practices in racist policing.