Op-Ed: Open Letter to Mayor Durkan During the Covid-19 Crisis

by the COVID-19 Mutual Aid Solidarity Network (Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Awareness Group, Creative Justice, No New Youth Jail, Pacific Rim Solidarity Network)


The city is entering a pandemic and a state of emergency with COVID 19. In light of this urgent public health emergency, we are recommending that the city does the following:

1) Repurposing of the city’s budget dedicated to law enforcement toward other public health efforts 

The city’s efforts to maintain public safety is most adequately addressed in this time by diverting resources and money previously allocated to law enforcement into crucial needs such as housing, hiring of cleaning and maintenance crews, provision of food and basic resources for our most vulnerable communities and aggressive community health education.

In the previous budget cycle, community members highlighted SPD’s budget that could be repurposed for social services that are crucial to public safety and health.

Seattle Police Department

  • Emphasis Patrol
  • Sworn Officer Hiring Incentive
  • Community Service Officers
  • Recruitment and Retention Initiatives
  • Navigation Team
$847,863

$813,750

$1,208,700

$1,663,683

$2,559,337

TOTAL  $7, 093333

We call on the Mayor to make an executive decision to transfer this money to boost public health efforts immediately.

2) Seattle Police Department

We understand that a significant amount of Seattle’s city budget at $400 million is allocated to the Seattle Police Department. In light of the racial profiling that SPD has been known to practice on the streets of Seattle as evidenced by the Federal Consent Decree, we are concerned about the behavior and practice of the SPD in this moment of a public health emergency. We are asking for a full and transparent discussion of SPD’s mitigation plan.

We call on SPD to:

  • Immediately suspend the Navigation Team and stop conducting sweeps on houseless communities

Conducting sweeps to clear individuals off the streets and not offering any alternative housing is cruel and exceptionally cruel during this crisis. SPD should suspend all Navigation Team operations and focus on supporting and expanding public health measures.

  • Drastically reduce arrests

In Los Angeles, California, the police reduced arrests significantly, from an average of 300 a day to now 60 a day. Similarly, in Portland, the police department has announced an emergency effort to respond only to life-threatening calls, in an effort both to protect the public and the officers. SPD has yet to release such an emergency proclamation.

We recognize that SPD is continuing to arrest for misdemeanor offenses, many of which may not be filed by the City Attorney’s Office. The arrest process leaves individuals vulnerable to virus transmission. At the very least, the city should stop arresting individuals for misdemeanor offenses that place people at risk.

  • Suspend issuance of parking tickets

The SPD parking enforcement wing has been known to continue issuing parking tickets. At this time when individuals and communities are stressed and self-quarantining to prioritize our collective health, the stress of parking tickets are unnecessary. In line with the eviction moratorium, we call on the city to stop issuing parking tickets.

  • Diverting and repurposing SPD capacity for public health efforts

In other countries, enforcement forces have been repurposed into public health efforts. In Taiwan, recognizing the shortage of masks, military support has been utilized for mask production. Masks are crucial for our community’s safety and well being. We call on a repurposing of SPD employees to engage in life-saving efforts such as

  • Mask production and procurement
  • Production of hand sanitizers & respirators
  • Installation of easily accessible hand sanitizer, hand washing stations throughout Seattle
  • Food preparation for houseless individuals and youth who are unable to attend school
  • Deep cleaning of Seattle streets and buildings to reduce transmission

3) The Seattle Municipal Court

We call on the Seattle Municipal Court to adhere to the Washington State Supreme Court ruling on emergency measures to be taken in Washington State Courts, effective to April 24th. In addition, we call on the court to

  • Suspend all probation violations.
  • Accommodate individuals who may not be able to attend check-ins with probation officers
  • Suspend the need for community service and work crew activities for the duration of this outbreak

4) King County Jail

A corrections officer who had previously worked at King County Jail was found positive for COVID 19 after having been asymptomatic for a while. We are not aware of any emergency mitigation plans from King County Jail that would significantly assure the safety of incarcerated communities inside.

We are aware that the city has a contract with King County Jail. A large number of individuals are incarcerated for pretrial detention due to their inability to pay bail, as well as misdemeanor charges for theft and shoplifting. A lot of poor people find themselves incarcerated due to crimes of poverty such as shoplifting and trespassing, with stays amounting to one to three days.

Given that social distancing and reduced exposure to other carriers is an important public health measure, this unnecessary jail churn is a public health hazard. We call on the Mayor’s office to:

  • Declare pretrial detentions and jail admissions as public health hazards. Terminate jail bookings now.
  • Release individuals currently incarcerated at King County Jail due to involvement in the Seattle Municipal Court
  • Divert resources toward reentry housing and services for individuals exiting the King County Jail

The city has a responsibility to ensure the care and well being of the city’s communities and populations. We call on the Mayor to enact bold changes that can flatten the curve in this moment.

Due to the urgency of the issue at hand, we expect a prompt response from you by Friday March 20th 12pm.

Signed,

COVID19 Mutual Aid

APICAG (Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Awareness Group)

Creative Justice

No New Youth Jail

PARISOL (Pacific Rim Solidarity Network)


Featured image by Kevin Schofield