by Clifford Cawthon
Wednesdays are not usually seen as exciting but this morning 112 people packed into the Seattle City Council’s Gender Equity and New Americans Security Committee meeting to oppose the infamous new North Seattle Police Precinct or the ‘Bunker’. The committee meeting was meant to discuss safety issues and provide an update on budget and designs for the installation. The Block the Bunker campaign, however, came out in force in order to make sure that the design and plans didn’t go forward.
The proposed precinct building has been characterized as a symbol of racism and a ‘military-style bunker’. This wave of opposition organized by Block the Bunker came from all over the city and included the Black Book Club, residents from District 4,5, and 6, social service workers, doctors and others who work with homeless and drug-dependent populations here in the city. Councilor Lorena Gonzalez, the Chair of the Committee, noted there were ’43 and counting’ signed up to speak at the meeting.
Palca Shibale, one of the Block the Bunker organizers warned the ‘Bunker’ would put the city in debt in order to “give the Seattle Police Department a precinct that they haven’t justified, at a time when we are talking about police brutality against Black and Brown bodies in the country”. She also echoed a common theme that many of the speakers had during the meeting, “this is not just what we’re spending money on but, what we’re not”.
Kirsten Harris-Tally, a Black resident who was there with Black Lives Matter and Block the Bunker issued a statement highlighting the fact that, “88% of Seattle police commute into the city”. She went on to share her own personal anxieties over being Black in a climate of police militarization: “I’m a person of color and a Microsoft employee, I’ve worked really hard for what I have and I’m afraid every day that one bad interaction [with the police] would undo all the work that I’ve done”. Her final comments were directed to Councilor Juarez, who has previously characterized concerns as ‘changing the narrative’ away from ‘brick and mortar’ costs, by saying that, “this is not a new narrative, this is about people’s lives”.
The reoccurring theme in opposition to this new facility is clear: the money spent on this building is evidence of the council’s lack of commitment to tackling institutional racism in policing and not funding vital services. All of the speakers offered alternatives for the money being raised and allocated for the new Police Precinct, such as: housing, transportation, drug-treatment, aiding the homeless and education.
Ian Mosher, a resident who deals with homeless people in Seattle, said “we’re making a choice what to prioritize…at $10,000 per year, we could provide housing to all homeless people in Seattle”. One speaker, Dr. Kristen Hansen Day, found it “appalling” that comparable monies weren’t going to address homelessness and addiction treatment. Priya Rai, who spoke for API Chaya, suggested that the council, “take a step back and look at what you are funding, and at service providers [who] are fighting for pennies to provide basic services”.
Supporters of the new Police Precinct felt the new facility was necessary for the safety of their neighborhoods. One white north Seattle resident, Kristen McKinney stated, “I support the Police Precinct and I support Black Lives Matter”. Another Northern Seattle resident, Rudy Rissler spoke in support of the building as “a part of infrastructure improvements”. Resident Rudy Petrova said intervention by the officers of the North precinct saved his daughter’s life from a heroin overdose.
Despite, the call to change priorities and cancel the bunker project – or at least freeze it – the council did no such thing. Councilor Harrell, while expressing support for Councilor Gonzalez, still supported the installation and said that “we [the council] are not tone deaf”. Similarly, Councilor Juarez shared her own personal experiences with racist policing while supporting the installation as necessary. Councilors Herbold, Johnson, and Councilor Gonzalez followed suit emphasizing the importance of minimizing the racial impact of the facility and fiscal prudence.
Suffice to say, Block the Bunker campaigners felt that the City Council was completely deaf to their concerns today. Councilor Gonzalez moved to push a resolution put before the full council on Monday for a racial equity toolkit assessment and support a new budget for the facility at $149 million – instead of the original quote of $160 million. Gonzalez also noted that money from the sale of the old northern police precinct would be used for affordable housing as a show of understanding the concerns of the opposition campaign and the community. According to Block the Bunker, the original $160 million quote would pay for half of the recommendations from the pivotal Habitability Affordability and Livability Assessment (HALA) study.
On Monday August 15th at 2:00pm, the Full Council will be meeting to vote for or against the resolution to approve the Bunker’s new budget and findings from the update. The Block the Bunker campaign is committed to keeping on the pressure, attending meetings and urging community members to call the city council from its Facebook page of the same name, “Block the Bunker”.