Category: Cops

“You Can’t Fix What’s Fundamentally Broken”: City Council Discusses Defunding Police Department

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared at the South Seattle Emerald.

As the Seattle Police Department announced it was removing all “sensitive items” from the East Precinct building on Capitol Hill in anticipation of another long night of protests, the Seattle City Council adopted a number of strongly worded resolutions demanding action earlier this afternoon. Among other actions, the council unanimously signed two letters calling, respectively, for the demilitarization of SPD and for Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes to withdraw the city’s lawsuit against inquest reforms adopted by King County in 2019.

The first letter, which was initiated by state lawmakers, calls for reducing police funding and redirecting it to “community-based alternatives” that promote public safety. The second, initiated by council member Lisa Herbold, would effectively allow King County continue with inquests (formal, public investigations) into police shootings that have been held up by the city’s lawsuit. At a meeting of the Community Police Commission last week, Mayor Durkan said she was unaware of the lawsuit, which the city filed in February.

The council also plans to consider legislation that will formalize Police Chief Carmen Best’s directive to officers that they should not use “mourning bands” to cover their badge numbers, a reform both Best and Durkan initially and repeatedly said was unnecessary last week, given that officers are required to display their first initials and last names.

In addition to short-term measures to protect peaceful protesters, the council indicated they were ready to start real discussions about defunding the Seattle Police Department—a key demand from demonstrators who began protesting in late May after the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, at the hands of Minneapolis police.

More significant than any of these hastily proposed resolutions, however, were the statements council members made about defunding the police department and reallocating the funds to other purposes, including health care, child-care programs, and community organizations in Black and brown communities that have been overpoliced and underserved by the city.

Council members said they were appalled by the police violence that occurred at the East Precinct over the weekend, including last night after Best and Durkan held a press conference to announce that they would change their tactics to create a less heated situation. In spite of these promises, last night’s police action against protesters was widely described as the most violent yet, with hundreds of officers in body armor and gas masks and National Guard members deploying flash grenades, gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets against protesters after a small number of demonstrators threw items at the line of police.

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The C Is for Crank is a one-person operation supported entirely by contributions from readers like you. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job. Every supporter who maintains or increases their contribution during this difficult time helps to ensure that I can keep covering the issues that matter to you, with empathy, relentlessness, and depth.

If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for reading, and supporting, The C Is for Crank.

“We’re now in a situation where, in Seattle, babies are being exposed to tear gas and children are being pepper sprayed in the face. … Children are bearing witness to their parents being pulled from their cars and arrested” for participating in protests, council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda said.

In addition to short-term measures to protect peaceful protesters, the council indicated they were ready to start real discussions about defunding the Seattle Police Department—a key demand from demonstrators who began protesting in late May after the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, at the hands of Minneapolis police.

“We have an opportunity now to shift and to pivot and to think about what we want our public safety to look like and define who it is we want this public safety model to truly, meaningfully serve,” council president Lorena González said. “I don’t think we’re talking about reform anymore. You can’t fix what is fundamentally broken.”

In practical terms, this will mean the initiation of council budget committee chair Teresa Mosqueda called an “inquest” into the “black box” of the police budget itself, including how much the city has spent deploying chemical and other weapons indiscriminately against mostly peaceful protesters in a residential neighborhood. “We are not going to pass [the budget] until we, the council have a chance to get a thorough , transparent, public deep dive into the Seattle Police Department’s funding,” Mosqueda said. “I am committed to defunding the police and using most of that money, 50 percent ideally, to invest back into the community.” Mosqueda said she hoped that review would wrap up by July 17.

Mosqueda also joined council member Kshama Sawant in calling for Durkan’s resignation, an idea that Durkan has derided as a “political ploy.” Durkan also suggested this weekend that council members who showed up at the East Precinct protests over the weekend were merely “postur[ing]” for political gain and needed to work to “deescalate, not escalate, the situation.”  Durkan also claimed that the FBI had informed the city about a “credible threat” against police buildings, but her office deferred all followup questions to the FBI, and council member Herbold said this morning that she had been unable to get specific details about these alleged threats.

Although Best has appeared at the protest at least two times, Durkan has not shown up at any protest since she briefly spoke to demonstrators outside city hall last week and was roundly booed.

It remains unclear whether the council’s actions—and there will certainly be more of them as the annual budget process continued—represent a potential shift of power between the executive and legislative branches. Historically, the council has tended to defer to the mayor on major policy and budgeting issues, trimming budgets around the margins and avoiding strong statements that directly condemn the executive. As a coequal branch of government and the body that amends and adopts the city’s budget, the council has significant power, but they have not always opted to use it. The use of force against people protesting specifically against police violence may convince them to do so.

Durkan has resisted calls to defund the police, instead saying that she continues to be committed to “reform.” Asked at last night’s press conference whether she would be open to discussions about dismantling of the police department, as the city council of Minneapolis has proposed, Durkan said that was not necessary in Seattle because the city has already undertaken a reform process as the result of the federal oversight established in 2012, when a federal judge found that the city had engaged in racially biased policing and excessive use of force. Last week, City Attorney Holmes withdrew the city’s request to terminate a sustainment plan for that decree, a step toward asking the judge to lift the decree altogether.

“In the coming weeks, we will have a conversation about … SPD’s budget,” and will rethink spending on new weapons, vehicles, and technology,” Durkan said yesterday. It is becoming increasingly clear, both inside and outside City Hall, that this “conversation” will not be enough.

 

Dear Mayor Durkan: A Letter From a City Employee

Editor’s note: The writer of this letter requested anonymity in order to protect their job at the city of Seattle. This letter has been very lightly edited for style.

I am a City employee. I am white. And I am disgusted by Mayor Durkan and Seattle City Council. I write to you anonymously, as my City employer has recently provided guidance that we employees are not to speak with media, and I firmly believe that my job would be in jeopardy were I to attach my name.

This week, amidst the backdrop of protests across the country related to police abuse of force and the disparate impact of this unchecked force on communities of color, particularly Black Americans, Mayor Jenny Durkan stood in front of protestors in Seattle and sought to draw some parallel between the experience of her Irish ancestors and that of Black Americans. This is not the first time she has evidenced a total lack of understanding, appreciation, or humility as it relates to communities of color.

Here, the story is familiarly white and dominant—that the savior (Durkan) blessed an undeserving African American (Best), not because she had earned it, but to placate a protesting minority community.  Gratitude should flow.

I was an employee at the Seattle Police Department the day that Mayor Durkan announced her appointment of Carmen Best to Chief of Police, following a botched selection process conducted in secrecy that left final decision-making in the hands of unaccountable actors selected by the mayor, with no oversight. Following an uproar from the community—largely rooted in the racial implications—after Best was eliminated from consideration for unknown reasons, Durkan reversed course and not only agreed to reconsider Best, but appointed her to the permanent position in August 2018.

Beware the framing of this as a win, when in fact the process itself was so broken that it did more harm than good. Had the process been transparent, legitimate, and competent, Best—a 26-year veteran to the force, a Black woman—would have been lauded and rewarded for her very real achievements. Instead, she became Chief of Police with a permanent asterisk attached to her promotion —not because she didn’t deserve it, but because white dominant culture moved her through a flawed process that humiliated her and eroded trust in the legitimacy of that process, while also reinforcing racist tropes that the success of communities of color comes only at the benevolent hands of a white savior. Here, the story is familiarly white and dominant—that the savior (Durkan) blessed an undeserving African American (Best), not because she had earned it, but to placate a protesting minority community.  Gratitude should flow.

No white mayor of any major city, having once been a federal prosecutor, has lived in any space devoid of privilege.

I worked for the City when the mayor nominated Jason Johnson to direct the Human Services Department, and then withdrew his nomination amidst a surge of grievances expressed by department employees and City council members that the process had been flawed, and carried with it serious racial implications.  Again, the mayor evinced a tone deafness, responding by installing Jason as an interim director indefinitely, as if her personal pride were more important than the ongoing trauma woven into the fabric American racism. And, as leadership under the interim director has borne out, promoting people unqualified to the challenges of the times ensures a legacy of destruction and oppression, as they, in turn, preside over the hiring of more people unprepared to lead on these issues.

As a City employee, I have sat in numerous rooms when the mayor has mentioned the fact that she was the first out lesbian federal prosecutor in the United States in response to direct questions about how she plans to address the very real concerns of institutional racism in the City’s administrative, social, and political structures. No white mayor of any major city, having once been a federal prosecutor, has lived in any space devoid of privilege.    Continue reading “Dear Mayor Durkan: A Letter From a City Employee”

Another Day of Protests, Small Concessions from the City, and Calls for Systemic Change in Seattle

Community activist and former mayoral candidate Nikkita Oliver speaks at a rally in the Central District while two people film on their phones.

Protests against police brutality in Seattle have produced multiple lists of concrete demands from activists on the ground, the leader of the city’s civil rights department, and the three organizational pillars of the city’s police accountability structure. And while action from the city itself has been minimal—nightly curfews ended yesterday, police officers will display their badge number, and cops will stop using tear gas against protesters for 30 days—the protesters are far from done.

It’s hard to see the big picture while events are unfolding. We don’t have the benefit of hindsight or distance, and no one—even reporters with five streaming windows open on their laptops—can be everywhere at once. With that in mind, here are some snapshots of the last two days in Seattle.

• Mayor Jenny Durkan received significant credit for lifting a citywide curfew that was originally put in place at 5pm on May 30, but behind the scenes, the city council may have forced her hand. On Wednesday evening, the council was preparing a motion to lift the curfew on their own, and Durkan reportedly got wind of this information. Shortly after 7pm, Durkan lifted the curfew, saying that she made the decision after meeting with community leaders who told her they didn’t want anyone to be arrested for violating curfew. In fact, the community groups’ demands included the release of anyone arrested during the protests, including but not limited to anyone arrested for violating curfew.

The somewhat last-minute (or last-two-hours) decision to grant a minor concession to protesters was of a piece with Durkan and Chief Best’s announcement yesterday afternoon that they would change the policy on “mourning badges”—black bands that Seattle officers use to cover their badge numbers to mourn fallen officers, in this case a state trooper and Bainbridge Island police officer who died in March and April, respectively—so that the public could identify officers by their badge numbers, not just by their last name and first initial.

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The change to the mourning-band policy happened overnight, after both Best and Durkan said repeatedly that it could not “happen overnight.” Nonetheless, the change is a change in policy, not in legislation, so the council may choose to change the law itself to require that officers display both names and badge numbers, not just last names and first initials.

Durkan attempted to deflect criticism for the city’s motion to terminate a sustainment plan established as part of the federal consent decree, saying repeatedly that she did not support, and would not seek, the termination of the consent decree. However, the motion to terminate was a step toward just that. Yesterday, city attorney Pete Holmes withdrew the motion in response to police actions during the protests. Durkan has not spoken in detail about that decision, and her name was not on the announcement.

• The mayor made a small concession on the use of tear gas against demonstrators—she’s banning it for 30 days so that the Community Police Commission, Office of Police Accountability, and Office of Inspector General can review the use of tear gas and other chemical weapons, such as pepper spray, and make policy recommendations.

Those three groups, however, had already expressed their unanimous opinion that the city should stop using tear gas, full stop—asking the mayor and police chief Friday morning to “stop using CS gas, commonly known as tear gas” and calling it “a serious and indiscriminate use of force.” In a letter elaborating on their announcement, the three groups noted the adverse health impacts among people exposed to tear gas and to note that its use in warfare is banned by international convention.

A partial view of the crowd at Friday’s rally and march in the Central District. More photos available on Instagram @ericacbarnett.

 

The CPC asked the city to ban the use of blast balls, pepper spray, “and other projectiles” during demonstrations back in 2016. At a press conference on Friday, both Durkan and Best said that they were not aware of these recommendations, which were covered in the Seattle Times.

Later in the day, Office for Civil Rights director Mariko Lockhart—a Durkan appointee—sent an open letter to the city’s race and social justice “change teams” calling on the mayor to “immediately halt the use of militaristic law enforcement against demonstrators”; cut the police budget and “invest in community infrastructure within Black and Brown communities”; and stop sweeping homeless encampments and “shift funding away from the law enforcement component of the Navigation Team and invest more deeply in outreach, support services, and preventive strategies.

The leaders of the of the city’s Race and Social Justice Initiative Change Teams, as well as other groups representing Black and brown city of Seattle employees, are also drafting letters that will call for immediate changes to police use of force against demonstrators and significant longer-term changes to the way the city holds police accountable for violence against civilians.

• The mayor has often taken a defensive tone in responding to complaints about police brutality, the use of military-style weapons against large crowds of peaceful protesters, and requests for relatively minor policy changes like the use of mourning bands that cover badge numbers. For example, Durkan has emphasized the fact that the federal judge overseeing the consent decree “approved the crowd management plan” for back in 2017, “before I took office.”

Similarly, a letter from Durkan to city staff today recalled the mayor’s comments earlier that people “apparently” think that cops should display their badge numbers in addition to their last names and first initials. After centering her comments, as she has consistently, on large, systemic national issues (rather than the specific Seattle issues around which the protests have coalesced), Durkan wrote, “While Chief Best and I each have worked for decades for greater police accountability and a more just criminal justice system, we now hold positions where holding us accountable is also critical.” It’s the non-apology apology of conciliatory statements: We hear your concerns, but perhaps you didn’t realize that, actually, we’re on the same side.

• Late in the day, the leadership of the 43rd District Democrats created a petition calling on Durkan to resign, saying that she “has repeatedly used her powers to declare curfews that infringed on the First Amendment rights of protesters to peacefully assemble” and “failed to implement meaningful police reform to address police violence, specifically against Black and Brown communities (Durkan is up for reelection next year, assuming she decides to run). At this writing, it has more than 1,300 signatures.

Turning Points and Sticking Points in Seattle’s Protests Against Police Violence

The Community Police Commission met yesterday to discuss the recent actions by Seattle police during protests against police brutality.

This post originally appeared at the South Seattle Emerald.

Seattle’s protests against police brutality, which began after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, continued into a sixth night on Wednesday as crowds moved throughout the day from City Hall in downtown Seattle to the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct on Capitol Hill. And while it might seem as though little had changed since the night before, when police officers released tear gas and unloaded pepper spray, rubber bullets, and flash grenades on a crowd of hundreds of peaceful protesters, several things were materially different.

No, Mayor Jenny Durkan and Seattle’s police chief, Carmen Best, hadn’t budged on their commitment to a version of the protests in which a few “bad people” throw objects at police, forcing them to deploy chemical weapons indiscriminately against large crowds. If anything, the list of projectiles that the police claim have been deployed against them only grew throughout the day and now includes urine, feces, “cans of food” and a fire extinguisher.

No, the mayor and police chief have not backed down from their contention that asking officers to remove “mourning bands” that conceal their badge numbers is something that “can’t happen overnight. Asked about widespread calls to end the practice, Best responded, “we’re not going to do that right today,” but said SPD would come up with some way to make badge numbers visible in due time. During the meeting and throughout the day, Best herself wore a mourning band in the center of her badge, sending what could be seen as a message of solidarity to officers who continue to wear them during the protests.

When Durkan tried to refute complaints that she cried over broken windows downtown, but not about police violence in her own city, saying, “I cry for the generations that have been dispossessed…” longtime CPC member Rev. Harriet Walden cut her off.

And no, they wouldn’t commit to stop using tear gas and other chemical weapons against protesters or to try to focus their attention on the handful of people who are causing trouble. Although Durkan lifted the 9:00 curfew, which was supposed to be in effect every night until Saturday, by tweet at 7:05pm (so much for “don’t believe what you read on social media”), she and Best pointedly refused to commit the city to no longer using these weapons against protesters. At the CPC meeting Wednesday morning, Best said, “At the moment we don’t have another tactic to disperse large crowds when we have people throwing rocks and bottles. …I just don’t have an answer better than what we’ve got at our fingertips.”

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But there were some indications throughout the day that changes may be on their way, whether Durkan wants them or not. The first came at a morning meeting of the Community Police Commission, which was created to address unconstitutional policing in 2012, when Durkan was repeatedly cut off by commission members and staff when she attempted to use her time to speak in lofty terms about the ways in which the nation—not the city—had failed Black and brown Americans. When Durkan tried to refute complaints that she cried over broken windows downtown, but not about police violence in her own city, saying, “I cry for the generations that have been dispossessed…” longtime CPC member Rev. Harriet Walden cut her off.

“We are here because Mr. Floyd, bless his heart, has made it into heaven by being murdered,” but also to address what is happening in Seattle right now, Rev. Walden said. The protests against police brutality aren’t just about lofty American ideals or generations of institutional racism in America, Walden said; they are also about “how the officers escalated” their tactics against lawful, peaceful protesters, by responding to a few thrown bottles by tear-gassing entire residential neighborhoods and wrestling umbrellas away from demonstrators trying to protect themselves from pepper spray.

Roxana Garcia, a CPC staffer, said the commission has repeatedly pushed for reforms to the way police officers deal with civilians, but that those efforts have “been halted for the last three years by city leadership… So I encourage you all to start voting these folks out.” A few moments later, Garcia got specific. “If I can give you all a name, her name is Mayor Jenny Durkan.”

The second sign that something in the air had shifted came when Durkan agreed to come outside and address the crowd that had gathered to protest police brutality and present her and the chief with a list of demands. Durkan got off on the wrong foot with the crowd right away by drawing a parallel between her own Irish ancestors and that of enslaved Africans, saying, “I know, as mayor, that I have enormous privilege, and that my ancestors came here from Ireland to seek freedom, but that many black Americans’ ancestors came here in shackles.”After a brief speech about the need for systemic change at the national level, Durkan briefly responded to a question about mourning bands and went inside, followed by raucous boos.

Roxana Garcia, a CPC staffer, said the commission has repeatedly pushed for reforms to the way police officers deal with civilians, but that those efforts have “been halted for the last three years by city leadership… So I encourage you all to start voting these folks out.” A few moments later, Garcia got specific. “If I can give you all a name, her name is Mayor Jenny Durkan.”

Moments later, Oliver told the crowd that the mayor hadn’t addressed any of the group’s three demands—defunding police, reinvesting the money into communities, and the release of people arrested during the protests. “In fact, she told us about how her family immigrated to the US while black people came in chains!”

The third possible turning point came late in the afternoon, when city attorney Pete Holmes announced that the city would withdraw its motion to terminate a “sustainment plan” under the federal consent decree that the police department has been under since 2012, a step that would have begun a path toward lifting federal oversight. At the CPC meeting, Durkan insisted that the motion had nothing to do with lifting the consent decree—even accusing an attorney for the commission, David Perez, of lying when he Durkan was “trying to end the consent decree—but by this afternoon, her tone had changed.

In a press release after Holmes announced his decision, Durkan said, “I oppose being released from the Consent Decree at this time,” a position she said she had “discussed with” Holmes before releasing her statement. The city’s reversal, though somewhat technical, is a clear concession to police reform advocates who have disagreed with Durkan’s contention that “Seattle police officers have become a national leader in policing and de-escalation with a commitment to true and lasting reform,” as she put it when the city filed the motion to lift the sustainment plan last month.

Continue reading “Turning Points and Sticking Points in Seattle’s Protests Against Police Violence”

Durkan Praises Police As Tear Gas Engulfs City

The lens of crisis shifts so quickly now that it can be hard to keep everything in our heads at once. Last week, the city held a five-and-a-half-hour hearing on the injustice of our city’s policy toward its homeless residents, which includes pushing them from place to place if they do not “accept” a specific shelter bed on a specific day—a one-size-fits-all policy that is especially inept at responding to the conditions of vulnerable people in the middle of a nationwide public health crisis.

Over the weekend and today, and almost certainly tomorrow and the rest of the week as well, the city and nation have focused our attention on another crisis that, like the criminalization of homelessness, has racism and dehumanization at its core: Police violence against black and brown Americans.

The cameras don’t look away, even when political leaders do.

The protests against the murder of George Floyd are multifaceted and raise real questions about whether cities have the right to dictate the “proper” way to protest, as well as legitimate concerns that a movement for justice (“peaceful,” as that term is defined by law enforcement, or not) has been hijacked by outside forces on the right or left. But they also may be an inflection point (it seems far too optimistic to talk of turning points) in the debate over the role of police in Seattle and other cities, and to what extent cities should allow police to act with impunity, and unquestioned, for behavior that any rational person would consider unreasonable: Putting a knee on a young man’s neck, or spraying mace indiscriminately into a mostly peaceful crowd, or covering up badge numbers with rubber tape on the grounds that it is an inviolable “tradition.”

This weekend, the city described young white men showing up in Seattle from elsewhere bent on sowing “chaos” and destruction, using projectiles, Molotov cocktails, and “frozen water bottles” to attack police. By today, those young men had morphed into “thousands of people out there with nothing but ill intent,” as Best put it, and their weapons had evolved into huge backpacks full of the aforementioned projectiles along with rocks, “urine, and feces.”

This afternoon, Mayor Jenny Durkan and her police chief, Carmen Best (and fire chief Harold Scoggins, who always looks and sounds like he knows he isn’t going to be quoted at these things) stood up and intoned the same lines they have been reciting all weekend, repeated with a bit more fervor and flourish. A protest by “peaceful people” of color and allies got hijacked by outside forces, “young white men,” probably right-wing or perhaps left-wing, “bent on destruction and chaos,” with “nothing but ill intent” in their hearts. (The phrase “ill intent” was repeated so often that it started to sound more like a mantra than a talking point.) The nightly curfews, initially imposed with less than 15 minutes’ notice, are meant to “take the lawful people off the street” and are necessary, night after night, to “protect public health and safety.” Looting, rioting, fighting back when police throw tear gas canisters and flash bangs indiscriminately into crowds: “This is not what people trying to express their opinions do,” Best said. “This is what criminals do. So we have to differentiate between the two.”

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If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for reading, and supporting, The C Is for Crank.

As the protests have stretched into their second week, the rhetoric from the mayor’s office and the police department has grown more pitched and baroque. This weekend, the city described young white men showing up in Seattle from elsewhere bent on sowing “chaos” and destruction, using projectiles, Molotov cocktails, and “frozen water bottles” to attack police. By today, those young men had morphed into “thousands of people out there with nothing but ill intent,” as Best put it, and their weapons had evolved into huge backpacks full of the aforementioned projectiles along with rocks, “urine, and feces.”

Mourning bands, black bands that many officers placed over their badge numbers, making them harder to identify, had evolved from something people might not be aware of (“Google it,” Durkan said this weekend, helpfully spelling it out: “M-O-U-R-N-I-N-G bands”) to a tradition so hallowed and ingrained that it was actually offensive for the public to suggest that concealing badge numbers during a protest about police accountability might send the wrong message. Durkan, exasperated, insisted, “There was no attempt by anyone to cover badge numbers” and called the very existence of badge numbers on officers’ badges “a fallback and in some ways an unnecessary redundancy” to the first-initial, last name identification on officers’ name tags.

Herbold, who heads up the council’s public safety committee, was hardly the only council member who raised concerns about the behavior of police this week, or who will be demanding answers from the mayor and police chief about why police acted with such apparent indiscretion during protests against police violence. (One reasonable answer might be that they felt empowered to do so.)

Durkan even expressed surprise when a reporter asked about reports (described, videotaped and posted on social media by hundreds of witnesses for anyone to see) that officers had fired tear gas, flash grenades, and pepper spray indiscriminately into crowds that were mostly peaceful, saying that she would follow up with city council member Lisa Herbold, who had spoken earlier in the day about witnessing many such instances herself over the weekend. “I don’t know the facts of the case that she’s indicating… but we’ll reach out to the council member to find out what she’s concerned about,” Durkan said. Continue reading “Durkan Praises Police As Tear Gas Engulfs City”

Two More Encampment Removals as Council Prepares to Consider New Restrictions on Sweeps

This post originally appeared at the South Seattle Emerald.

People wheeling suitcases, lugging hand baskets, and pushing grocery carts trailed slowly out of a large homeless encampment on South Weller Street Thursday morning, passing through police barricades and a crowd of onlookers as the city’s Navigation Team removed an encampment that, as recently as last weekend, included nearly 70 tents. About 30 police were on hand to escort an estimated 36 residents away from the area.

The sweep was the second in two days by the Navigation Team, which is led by the Human Services Department. The team has touted its success at getting people to accept referrals to shelter from the two sites, plus another one at the Ballard Commons that was swept two weeks ago, through advance outreach and during the actual encampment removal. 

Officially, sweeps are no longer happening. According to a March order by the city, “all encampment removal operations have been suspended” during the COVID-19 outbreak unless the encampment constitutes an “emergency” and there are appropriate shelter beds available for every person living there.

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If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for reading, and supporting, The C Is for Crank.

In reality, sweeps are still happening, and opponents believe they are ramping up. The city has acknowledged removing four encampments during the pandemic—the one in Ballard, one at South King Street on Wednesday, and two, including today’s, outside the Navigation Center. The justifications for these removals have varied widely, and not all of them fall under the criteria the city gave as examples of “extreme circumstances” in the March announcement. At a city council meeting on Monday, council member Lisa Herbold, the council’s longtime Navigation Team watchdog, said that “there seems to be continued divergence between what [people at HSD] say the policy is and what it is that the Navigation Team is actually doing.

In a blog post, the Human Services Department said it referred 88 people to shelter from the two locations between April 1 and today. As of last weekend, the two sites combined had around 80 tents, and dozens of people were walking around, so it’s unclear whether people who received referrals simply returned to the encampment. Team director Tara Beck, who was on site at both removals, said the team has offered shelter to every person living at the encampments.

Beck, who was on site at both removals, said the team has offered shelter to every person living at the encampments.

“I can guarantee that everyone here, we’ve explored shelter with them, and if they wanted shelter, we’ve explored transportation barriers,” Beck said. “Our job is to offer, and the person’s job is to accept. We do our part and we have to trust that the person is doing theirs. If they’re choosing to walk away, they were not interested in the services that we were able to offer.” Beck said the city is not providing actual transportation to shelter right now because of the need for social distancing in vehicles operated by city staff; instead, she said, they can call an Uber to transport people to shelter.

But several people I spoke to at both encampments said that they were not offered shelter, or, if they were, that it did not fit with their needs. One man who was helping a friend move his stuff across the street during Wednesday’s sweep at South King Street, who identified himself as “Smiley” Dixon, said he had been living outdoors for three years and had never been offered shelter. His friend, Jacob Davis, said that the Navigation Team had “come through to let us know that they’re going to remove us,” but that “no one offered us anything.” 

When I talked to Davis and Dixon, they were standing on South Jackson Street, exactly one block away from the encampment where Davis had been staying. Davis called the team’s claim to have offered shelter to every person “a bald-faced lie”—not that he would go “anywhere near” a mass shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I don’t want to get the virus,” he said.

Guidance from the Centers for Disease Control says that cities should not remove encampments during the COVID-19 pandemic unless every person is offered “individual housing” such as a hotel room, rather than mass shelter, where disease can spread easily from person to person. King County has been following this guidance by moving people from existing shelters into hotel rooms, a strategy King County Executive Dow Constantine has credited for the fact that every person moved from the Downtown Emergency Service Center’s downtown Seattle shelter into a Red Lion hotel in Renton had tested negative for the virus. 

“That clearly would not have been the case if they had been left in the close quarters of a congregate shelter,” Constantine said during the first meeting of the Regional Homelessness Authority governing board on Thursday.

In contrast, the city is only offering shelter beds, not hotels or housing. “The first thing we did, based on CDC guidance, was to de-intensify our shelters and set up hundreds of of new beds throughout our city,” Durkan said at the RHA board meeting, referring to community centers and other facilities that have opened up so that shelters can place se existing (not new) beds further apart.

Davis said he had been moved by the Navigation Team or police “more than 100 times” in four years, and “I’ve never been offered housing.” Dixon added: “I would go to any hotel.”  Continue reading “Two More Encampment Removals as Council Prepares to Consider New Restrictions on Sweeps”

Police Lieutenant Had Navigation Team Haul Her Personal Trash

Trash piled up for pickup at an encampment next to I-5.

Seattle Police Department Lieutenant Sina Ebinger, the SPD lead for the city’s encampment-clearing Navigation Team, directed Cascadia Cleaning and Removal, a city contractor that removes trash from encampment sites, to haul away bulky items from her house over the weekend of February 8-9, the C Is for Crank has learned. According to several sources, Lt. Ebinger asked Cascadia staffers to pick up some large items from her house because it was “on the way” to where they were going.

In a statement, the Human Services Department said, “The Human Services Department (HSD) and Navigation Team leadership are aware of an alleged incident involving two HSD and SPD Navigation Team members. Within hours of becoming aware of the incident, HSD notified SPD, which forwarded the matter to the Office of Police Accountability to review. In addition, HSD Human Resources will be reviewing the matter to ensure all proper protocols and policies are in place.”

“The OPA will be responsible for determining if any policy violations occurred and will provide any disciplinary recommendations to Chief Best.”—SPD

Separately, an SPD spokesman said that “following Seattle Police Department policy, we have forwarded the alleged incident to the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) for further review. The OPA will be responsible for determining if any policy violations occurred and will provide any disciplinary recommendations to Chief Best. Until that time we will not have further comment.”

OPA has confirmed that a complaint was filed about the incident. Anne Bettesworth, OPA’s deputy director of public affairs, says the police-accountability agency is “conducting a preliminary investigation” into the incident, but said she couldn’t comment further on the open case.

Last year, the Navigation Team expanded to seven-day operations, allowing the team to post 72-hour removal notices and clear trash on weekends. The amount of trash the Navigation Team picks up each quarter is one of the performance metrics it reports to the city council; more “tonnage,” under this metric, means better performance.

HSD would not say whether Lt. Ebinger remained on the Navigation Team, and did not specify what items Ebinger had Cascadia haul away from her home.

Cascadia is one of eight companies the city contracts with to pick up garbage, bulky items, and hazardous materials at homeless encampments throughout the city; according to their most recent contract, the city pays Cascadia $80 per worker, per hour, for encampment trash removal.

The Navigation Team’s work does not include picking up personal household trash from the homes of team members. Lt. Ebinger’s alleged improper use of city encampment cleanup resources could fuel criticism that the Navigation Team is insensitive to the gravity of its work, which involves removing homeless encampments, disposing of trash and personal items, and informing encampment residents about available shelter beds. Mayor Jenny Durkan has expanded the Navigation Team every year she has been in office, often over the objections of homeless advocates, who say the team does little more than move homeless people from place to place without providing viable alternatives to sleeping outdoors.

HSD would not say whether Lt. Ebinger remained on the Navigation Team, and did not specify what items Ebinger had Cascadia haul away from her home. Cascadia did not respond to a request for comment.

Support The C Is for Crank
The C Is for Crank is supported entirely by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy the breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported, ad-free site going. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job, so please become a sustaining supporter now. If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for keeping The C Is for Crank going and growing. I’m truly grateful for your support.

“Lateral Transfers” at HSD, Nextdoor Comes to Cops’ Phones, Council Staff Unionizes, and More

1. Seattle Human Services Department director Jason Johnson told the council last week that the existing Homelessness Strategy and Investments Division, which runs the city’s day-to-day work on homelessness and will mostly be subsumed into the new King County Regional Homelessness Authority next year, is “a division of a little over 30 people.”

But a comparison of the agency’s organizational chart—which, indeed, includes more than 30 positions—and a separately compiled list of employees currently on staff shows that the true number is much smaller because people are leaving and not being replaced. In reality, the division appears to have fewer than two dozen employees left, and many of those are on loan from other divisions or departments, are temporary employees, or have given their notice.

The department has been slow to give staffers in the homelessness division clear direction on whether they will have jobs in the new regional authority, or elsewhere in the city, which could be contributing to the high rate of departures.

Last week, Johnson told HSI staffers in a memo that “in no way should be considered a layoff notification” that they would be eligible for “lateral transfers” to other HSD divisions, a new option that does away with the usual byzantine seniority-based “bumping” process. (Basically, if you get a layoff notice but have seniority over someone else with your position in another division, you can “bump” that person out of their job.) Under the new process, any time a job comes open in HSD, it will be held open for people in the homelessness division who want to transfer, which will happen after January 1, 2021, when the RHA officially replaces HSI.

Support The C Is for Crank
The C Is for Crank is supported entirely by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy the breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported, ad-free site going. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job, so please become a sustaining supporter now. If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for keeping The C Is for Crank going and growing. I’m truly grateful for your support.

By effectively promising jobs to every homelessness division worker who sticks around, HSD could theoretically stem the exodus from the department.

“The Lateral Transfer strategy does not guarantee a placement for every HSI permanent employee,” Johnson wrote. “However, after extensive and 1 on 1 conversations with existing staff and extensive analysis of current and future job opening across HSD, we believe most staff that are interested in staying at HSD will be placed—should they desire to pursue this option.”

Council members have expressed frustration publicly that HSD has not been forthcoming about how many employees will lose their jobs in the upcoming transfer. Judging from the number of people who have left the department or who have reportedly put in their notice in recent weeks, they aren’t the only ones who are frustrated.

2. The city’s widely emulated Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, whose 2020 funding remains in limbo pending a consultant’s review of the program, is a law enforcement program that’s categorized by the city as a homelessness intervention, even though its main goal is reducing recidivism among low-level offenders, not getting its clients housed. Only about 70 percent of LEAD’s clients are homeless, and most of them score low on the county’s standard housing assessment, making then virtually ineligible for most housing when units do become available.

The city has decided to address this issue, which LEAD has brought up year after year, by moving LEAD next year to the division of Youth and Family Empowerment, which “supports positive youth and family development through strategic investments in community safety, youth employment opportunities, mentoring and educational supports, affordable living, family support, food and nutrition, and behavioral and mental health programs.” Continue reading ““Lateral Transfers” at HSD, Nextdoor Comes to Cops’ Phones, Council Staff Unionizes, and More”

Morning Crank: “Please Be Respectful of the Art”

Photo by Tim Harris

1. The recent shooting at Third and Pine in downtown Seattle was a tragedy, but it has also served as an opportunity: For right-wing radio hosts chasing the latest inflammatory headline, for TV newscasters eager to keep frightened viewers in their chairs, and for law-and-order advocates, who used the violence as a justification to renew calls for more “active” policing of people suspected of low-level criminal activity downtown.

Late last October, the Downtown Seattle Association, which is responsible for managing Westlake Park, put up signs instructing people not to sit or lie on the stairs, pink granite slabs, fountain, and other sculptures that make up the “Westlake Star Axis/Seven Hills” installation that spreads across the triangular park.

The sculptures were never intended to be static objects for reverence and observation from a distance.

The signs read: “Maki’s Art: Do not sit or lay on sculptures. Created by Robert Maki with landscape architect Robert Hanna in 1988, Westlake Star Axis/Seven Hills is a series of sculptures made specifically for Westlake Park. The seven works include a granite column and six rectangular structures meant to represent the geography of Seattle. … Please be respectful of the art and do not sit or lay on the structures.” 

However, the sculptures were never intended to be static objects for reverence and observation from a distance. The seven sculptural elements, which include the “water wall” fountain at the northwest corner of the park, symbolize the seven hills of Seattle. According to a 1995 Seattle Times article praising the sculpture as a great example of public art, “Tourists, pamphleteers, chess-players, downtown workers and homeless folks share the space, and on a sunny afternoon you can almost feel like you’ve stepped into someone’s clubhouse or living room. A 24-foot-high rectangular arch at the north end of the square has become Seattle’s de facto Speaker’s Corner, while the pink granite cubes/columns at the south end — representing Seattle’s seven hills — serve as seats for other activities.”

In a statement, the DSA said that they had “taken action to update the language on our signage about the Seven Hills sculpture in Westlake Park, asking that park patrons be respectful of the art. … We provide ample seating within Westlake Park for all to use, as our goal with this space is to ensure it’s a park for everyone to enjoy.”

Photo by Tim Harris

Last week, the DSA wrote a letter asserting that Third Avenue “has been taken over by criminal activity, including drug dealing, gang warfare, rampant retail theft, daily overdoses, acts of violence, sexual assaults and robberies” and demanding “an aggressive safety strategy for downtown.” The shooting apparently occurred after a dispute outside the McDonald’s at Third and Pine, an area that is frequently described as an “open air drug market:; however, there is no specific evidence yet that it was related to “gang warfare” or drug dealing. 

Support The C Is for Crank
The C Is for Crank is supported entirely by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy the breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported, ad-free site going. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job, so please become a sustaining supporter now. If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for keeping The C Is for Crank going and growing. I’m truly grateful for your support.

At a meeting of the city council’s transportation committee last week, DSA transportation policy director Emily Mannetti suggested that people will no longer “try transit or choose walking and biking if they feel like they could be a victim of violent crime just by coming and going” through downtown Seattle.

Maki’s daughter, the artist Andrea Maki, denounced the DSA’s directive on Facebook as “absolutely unacceptable and antithetical to the artwork, space, design and intent of Westlake Park” and “utterly disrespectful of the art and sculptor. … Interaction with the public and functionality are inherent, hence this signage, the garbage cans and fencing speak to absolute ignorance.” (Andrea Maki did not respond to a message seeking comment.)

The city of Seattle bans people from sitting or lying on downtown sidewalks or camping in downtown parks, but Real Change director Tim Harris, who posted about the signs on Facebook, said “it would be a reach” to interpret the ordinance as banning people from sitting on the bench-height granite sculptures.

2. A CityClub “Civic Cocktail” event last Wednesday featuring the four new city council focused primarily on downtown safety, with a majority of the questions from moderator Joni Balter and one of her two co-moderators, KING 5 reporter Chris Daniels, centering on whether there are enough police downtown and whether the city is doing enough to eliminate drugs and crime in the area. (As Crosscut has reported, the Seattle Police Department increased patrols in downtown Seattle by thousands of hours in the past year—one reason police were able to get to the scene of the shooting almost immediately.)

Alex Pedersen, who represents Northeast Seattle, said “we do need more police officers” to make people feel safe downtown, and added that the city is failing to prosecute enough people for misdemeanor crimes. (Felony crimes are handled by King County Prosecutor Dan Satterburg). Tammy Morales, who represents southeast Seattle, said the city needs to look upstream at “underinvest[ment] in neighborhoods” like those in District 2, which are more diverse and less wealthy than other parts of the city. And Lewis, who has already suggested opening a new storefront mini-precinct near Third and Pine, elaborated on the idea, saying that the area is “an ecosystem that has a McDonald’s, a check cashing place, and a smoke shop, so we need to provide into this ecosystem… more options for folks at Third and Pine who need services.”

3. At the full council meeting this afternoon, Lewis plans to propose an amendment to council member Kshama Sawant’s that could ameliorate concerns from landlords who say they can’t afford to go without income from nonpaying tenants five months out of the year. (The legislation would prohibit landlords from evicting tenants between November 1 through April 1, or nearly half the year.) The amendment would create a mitigation fund that low-income tenants and providers of low-income housing could access to pay rent during those months if the tenant would otherwise be evicted. Pedersen has also proposed an amendment to the bill, which would limit the eviction ban to landlords who own more than four units of housing.

Afternoon Crank: Slightly NSFW Edition

1. Monday’s city council meeting featured the official swearing-in ceremonies for all but one of the council’s seven reelected and newly elected members—the odd one out being District 3 council member Kshama Sawant, who is holding a special ceremony for herself in a week. Sawant still took the opportunity to give a speech denouncing “big business,” Amazon specifically, and other opponents before describing her charge as head of the council’s new sustainability and renters’ rights committee—implementing rent control, placing a moratorium on winter evictions, and passing a tax on Amazon. The council’s new rules will require Sawant (and all other committee chairs—sorry, Andrew Lewis) to convince at least two of their four fellow committee members to show up if they want to hold a meeting, because committees can no longer meet without at least three council members present.

The council also adopted its new committee roster without amendment, preserving an apparent power imbalance among the council’s newcomers that I pointed out last week. While Alex Pedersen, who joined the council in November, will oversee several of the city’s largest departments—transportation, City Light, Seattle Public Utilities, and IT—and Dan Strauss will chair the important land use committee, Tammy Morales will lead a once-monthly committee overseeing community economic development, and Lewis, as mentioned, won’t chair any standing committees. One thing Morales and Lewis have in common: Both were out of town for much of December, the critical month when council members typically negotiate their committee assignments.

Although attendees were reportedly told that performer Beyonce St. James was volunteering her time at the annual All Home conference on homelessness last November, King County confirms that she received $500 for the performance, paid by Department of Community and Human Services director Leo Flor out of his own personal funds

2. Pedersen’s primary and general-election field manager, Joseph Rouse, got into a social-media scrap with several Pedersen critics a few days ago, posting a link on the District 4 Facebook page to a piece by Safe Seattle leader David Preston that revealed where one of the Pedersen critics lives and works. The link to the doxxing post was removed by an administrator, but not before several group members pointed out that Rouse edited and wrote for a conservative campus satire publication called the Oregon Commentator when he was a student at the University of Oregon several years ago.

Rouse wrote for and held a variety of positions at the paper, whose mission statement endorses a “political philosophy of conservatism, free thought and individual liberty,” between 2011 and 2013. The publication, which is now defunct, ran numerous articles endorsing guns (“If women are to actually prevent rapes from occurring, and actually protect themselves and not ‘women’ as a social construct, then it is time we discussed women equipping themselves with firearms”), taking potshots at women, left-wing students, and people of color (“As I approached one hall, I could hear people speaking Spanish. So I walked up to one of the students and naturally said, ‘Hey, so are you guys waiting to water some begonia or what?”). How edgy was this publication? SO edgy that they ran a hardcore porn money shot as a full-page ad (page 15, and obviously NSFW).

At the end of one of his columns, which seems to be a confusing parody of the concept of “rape culture,” Rouse described himself this way: “Joseph Rouse is the publisher of Oregon Commentator and has a bitch tied up in his truck right now.” In another, trashing a proposed campus ban on smoking, he and a cowriter decry “the promotion of diversity and suffocating political correctness”  and the whole “back-patting, cum-spouting” smoking ban proposal. “Because blacks, whites, gays, straights and many others use tobacco, it can’t be grouped into a minority and, hence, isn’t worth shit. Well, fuck that,” Rouse and his coauthor wrote.

Pedersen said in an email that he was not aware of Rouse’s views or writing, and that the writings do not reflect his values. (Pedersen, notably, did not hire Rouse as a council aide.) Rouse has not returned messages seeking comment. But he has continued to aggressively argue with Pedersen critics on Facebook, where he says he “invested seven months of my life getting [Pedersen] into office and “actually know[s] the man.” (Rouse confirmed on Facebook that he wrote for the publication but said it was not a “right-wing periodical.”)

According to campaign records, Pedersen paid Rouse a total of $3,500 for “campaign operations work” in August and November. Rouse’s local campaign contributions include $75 to Pedersen and $25 to Pat Murakami, who ran unsuccessfully for the District 3 council seat last year.

Support The C Is for Crank
The C Is for Crank is supported entirely by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy the breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported, ad-free site going. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job, so please become a sustaining supporter now. If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for keeping The C Is for Crank going and growing. I’m truly grateful for your support.

3. Mike Solan, a Seattle police officer and vice president of the Seattle Police Officer Guild who has carved out a niche for himself as the voice of the far right wing of the Seattle Police Department, is running to lead the SPOG on a campaign focused on “thwarting the anti-police activist agenda that is driving Seattle’s politics,” “Fundamentally chang[ing] the activist narrative,” and… pepper-spraying anti-fascist demonstrators? Continue reading “Afternoon Crank: Slightly NSFW Edition”