#BlockTheBunker Succeeded, Momentarily

by Kelsey Hamlin

In a turn of events, Mayor Ed Murray officially announced yesterday that the new North Seattle Police Precinct — otherwise known as ‘the Bunker’ — will be put on hold.

Initially, the project had a price tag of $160 million, despite many in the community very clearly finding a new precinct unnecessary and unwanted. After some public outcry, the cost was then reduced to a still-hefty sum of $149 million.

Then, on Sept. 14, Mayor Ed Murray just happened to show up at a No Dakota Access Pipeline Fundraiser at the same time Block The Bunker organizer Rashad Barber arrived to speak. Barber ended up drilling the Mayor on the decided missteps of building the new precinct.

After Barber pointed out how Murray was said to commit to racial justice, equity and consideration — especially with the task force he created — the mayor conceded that mistakes were made. And yet he still argued reasons for keeping it. But two days after this discussion, a press release came: “there are real tensions in this community about race and policing, so I think we need to back up.” He called for more time to examine the project for the bunker. Note that the mayor will also be up for re-election.

Another primary organizer for Block The Bunker, Komalpreet Kaur Sahota , said that while many media outlets are calling the change-up a win, it hasn’t been blocked. It’s been paused.

City officials confirmed a delay in the design review process, and a delay on the November votes for the North Precinct’s budget. The Mayor said the delay is also so that the Racial Equity Toolkit may review the precinct as well.

Budgetary decisions certainly won’t move forward next year, but they will happen eventually — an unknown time for now. Originally, the plan called for moving police into the new precinct during 2019. What started as an $89 million placeholder for the precinct in 2012, became a projected $149 million dollar one. For now.

But as far as cemented precinct plans go, three land parcels have already been acquired at the “preferred” site of Aurora Avenue North, and North 130th Street — which happened before Murray came into office.

Either way, the mayor said in a letter to the Council, “I still strongly believe there is a need for a new police facility in North Seattle, and remain committed to replacing the current building.”

Meanwhile, Block The Bunker has decided to also focus on the city’s decision to possibly add 200 more police officers. That being said, the movement isn’t going to stop working against the bunker. Sahota noted that the two issues are very much interconnected in the overall militarization of Seattle.

Councilmember Kshama Sawant had pointed out at a Block The Bunker community meeting just a week prior that although the Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole said the current precinct holds nearly 300 employees, the department didn’t mention that that number is broken up in three separate shifts. So not all those people are even in the building at the same time.

Sawant also called for a tour of the current precinct, which was said to be dilapidated, no longer working, and old. But numerous takes from journalists state that while cramped, the current precinct isn’t all that bad, and it certainly is still working. The councilmember also stated at the community meeting that the Seattle Police Department already pays to use another building right across from the current one, so they should have plenty of space.

Although Sawant certainly is on the Block The Bunker side, organizers are adamant that politicians are the last driving force they consider.

“They’ve been community-based from the beginning,” Sahota said of the protests. “We need a powerful community, not powerful police.”

At 4 p.m. Monday, there will be a Block The Bunker rally. Supporters will also try to fill a 2 p.m. full council meeting that same day.

Kelsey Hamlin is an intern with South Seattle Emerald this summer, and has worked with various Seattle publications. Currently, Hamlin is the President of the UW Chapter’s Society of Professional Journalists, and has a second internship with KCTS 9. She finished an internship with The Seattle Times in March as an Olympia legislative reporter, and is a journalism major at the University of Washington, planning to double-major in Law, Societies & Justice (currently her minor). See her other work on her website, or find her on Twitter @ItsKelseyHamlin.

 Photo by Cliff Cawthon