Veto-Proof Majority of Seattle City Council Pledges Support for #DefundSPD Effort

by JSeattle

(This article was originally published on The Capitol Hill Seattle Blog and has been reprinted under an agreement)

Seven of the nine Seattle City Council members say they will support the effort to reduce the Seattle Police budget by 50%, the key component of demands from activists and community groups after weeks of Black Lives Matter protests, marches, and rallies in the Pacific Northwest.

The important threshold would represent a veto-proof majority on any council action as the representatives shape major changes to the city’s budget in the face of predictions of a significant downturn in revenue due to the COVID-19 crisis — a rebalancing process planned to be finalized and voted on in the next two weeks.

The Capitol Hill Seattle Blog reported on Wednesday’s council budget committee session’s deep dive into SPD spending and the strong support for #defundSPD voiced during public testimony. Massively reducing spending on policing has been at the center of demands during weeks of protests and demonstrations around Seattle in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis.

“We’ve seen a lot of unrest over the last six weeks, much of it built upon generations of struggle for Black liberation,” activist and lawyer Nikkita Oliver said in a media conference hosted Thursday by the two coalitions driving the #defundSPD effort and a spending plan for the diverted funds “We are, though, at a very significant moment as this movement continues to grow and seeing the discussion of defund the police be more than a chant in the street.”

The Decriminalize Seattle group and the King County Equity Now Coalition have unveiled a new four-point plan that activists says would best reallocate money currently spent on patrol officers for community needs including major changes to how Seattle’s 911 system works and social initiatives including housing:

The call to scale up community-led solutions highlights and honors the expertise that already exists in community, while also drawing attention to the consistent under-resourcing of many of the organizations and projects that are actually best equipped to serve communities that are disinvested in and consistently brutalized by the police. Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now organizers believe that with appropriate funding created by defunding the police, existing organizations that already have accountable, rooted community relationships will be able to scale up, while also building from trusted relationships to create the proposed community roadmap to life without policing.

Angélica Cházaro, a law professor at the University of Washington and organizer with Decriminalize Seattle laid out a plan for the council Wednesday to replace 911 operations with a civilian-led system, increase restorative justice solutions spearheaded by the community, invest in housing, and fund a community-led process to “create a roadmap to life without policing.”

“The time for reforms is passed,” Cházaro told the council. “It’s clear to us now that more training, more accountability measures are not going to cut it. We need to move away from an armed response to social problems. We can’t train our way out of the problem of police violence.”

Cházaro said cuts to the SPD could come from various aspects of the department, including cutting its training budget, freezing hiring, and reducing patrol staff, among ten specific cuts that could be made.

Capitol Hill and Central District representative Kshama Sawant, South Seattle’s Tammy Morales, and citywide council members Teresa Mosqueda and M. Lorena González have already pledged their support to the plan. Thursday, West Seattle’s Lisa Herbold, Ballard’s Dan Strauss, and downtown rep Andrew Lewis said they would join in support of the Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now plan.

North Seattle’s Debora Juarez and Alex Pedersen representing Northeast Seattle and the University District are the council’s remaining holdouts. That duo also represented the council’s two votes against the passage earlier this month of a new $200M+ per year tax on large businesses to help the city bridge its expected budget gap caused by the COVID-19 crisis.

The debate over how exactly to #defundSPD will come to a head as the council reshapes the mayor office proposal for changes to the city’s budget in the face of the expected economic downturn. The council is scheduled to hold a final vote on the rebalance on July 20th.

K. Wyking Garrett of the Central District’s Africatown, the group leading King County Equity Now Coalition, said Thursday his organization “is rooted in the principle that dealing with making our communities safer includes addressing the violence in our community as a cultural and public safety issue.”

“Taxpayers should get a better return on their investments. Citizens should demand more effective solutions and better outcomes for the dollars invested.”

“Police don’t stop crime,” Garrett said. “They respond to crime.”

Featured image by Alex Garland