Rally Reiterates Need For Defunding SPD, Sawant Says Seattle Police Officer’s Guild Not an Obstacle

by Elizabeth Turnbull

On Tuesday, over 100 people gathered on Capitol Hill for a rally and protest, in which march organizers reiterated their demand to defund the Seattle Police Department (SPD) by 50%. Council member Kshama Sawant, speaking to the marchers, specifically denied that the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild (SPOG) stands in the way of defunding. 

Every Day March organizers, who put on the rally, spoke about the current relationship between the Seattle Police force and the Black community and the need to channel funding to the Black community in order to provide better schools and equitable community development. 

“You can’t keep oppressing the people who are paying your salaries and not expect them to fight for themselves,” said an Every Day March organizer named T.K. “How do our police officers, that are supposed to be serving us, make more money than us? And we’re paying for it!” 

The City Council is expected to vote on the SPD budget cuts in early August. The Every Day March has spent the past few weeks specifically pushing for the defunding of SPD by marching past council members’ houses, postering, picketing, and leading protests every morning and every night.

At the rally on Tuesday, Councilmember Sawant provided fliers detailing a proposed $85 million budget cut to SPD for the remainder of 2020, of which $20 million would go toward affordable housing, $3 million toward community-based organizations, $700,000 toward renter organizing and eviction defence, $80,000 toward restored funding of the Green New Deal Oversight board, and a transfer of 911 call center funds out of the SPD. 

Although the sum of $85 million is merely an estimate of what 50% of the remaining 2020 SPD budget is, Sawant said that she stands by this amount.

“Our movement does not care how much money they have left over — 50% of the rest of the year’s budget is $85 million, and that’s what we’re going to be fighting for,” Sawant said.

Sawant also claimed that if, in periods of economic recession, public-sector unionized workers are forced to accept mandatory furloughs and layoffs, then negotiations with the SPOG should not result in delays to defunding SPD, since similar negotiations don’t take place when laying off union workers in the public sector. 

“We don’t buy into these excuses that you can’t do this because you’re beholden to the Guild,” Sawant said. “Because they sure as hell weren’t beholden to the unions who provide services for education and housing.”

Other organizations such as the Decriminalize Seattle Coalition have previously proposed reinvestment proposals that focus first on replacing the current 911 operating system with one operated by civilians, investing in community-led ways to prevent violence, a community-led roadmap to life without policing, and investment in housing for all. 

In Sawant’s fliers, she detailed how to sign up for public comment on the City Council’s budget committee meeting on Wednesday, July 29, and described other demands such as prohibiting sweeps on homeless camps and capping city executive and SPD salaries at no more than $150,000 a year, among others.  

During the evening, other organizers of the protests, such as one individual named Nicole, addressed how the size of the crowd on Tuesday night was small in comparison to the crowd of up to two thousand people who attended Saturday’s highly anticipated protest, after the arrival of Department of Homeland Security agents in Seattle. 

“I know a lot of people tend to only come out when there’s a promise of feds and tear gas and just a lot of commotion happening — and that is not you supporting Black lives, I will tell you that right now,” Nicole said. “You need to be out here right now, because I know that on Saturday, when everyone knew that things were going to pop off in some way, this whole entire corridor was filled with bodies.”

At roughly 8:30 p.m., protesters began marching downtown, chanting, “Wee ooo! Wee ooo! Bop, bop, bop! Fire All these racist cops!” and, “No good cops in a racist system! No bad protesters in a revolution!” The marchers eventually passed by the West Police Precinct near Westlake before marching back towards Capitol Hill later in the night. 

On Monday, July 27, in an effort to gain the attention of councilmembers, the Every Day March marched past Seattle City Council President Lorena González’s home, where protesters had a discussion with González about defunding the police.

In an interview with the Emerald about the discussion and visit, González said she has been working to fulfill the commitment of defunding the remaining SPD budget by 50% this year, and that she is working to make use of the remaining months in 2020, working through potential delays due to the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild and the fact that SPD spent a considerable amount of money responding to protests this summer.

While González recognized that not all elected officials may have had a positive experience with protests arriving at their respective houses, she said she supports the Every Day March’s right to march, especially as many elected officials are working from home rather than council offices, due to the coronavirus. 

“I think it’s important to continue to support their ability to peacefully demonstrate like they did at my home [on Monday],” González said. 

Elizabeth Turnbull is a Seattle-based journalist.

Featured image by Taymaz Valley (used under a Creative Commons 2.0 License).