Durkan Announces Members of Proposed $100 Million BIPOC Task Force, Drawing Criticism From Activists

by Ben Adlin  

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced Wednesday the initial members of a new City taskforce to recommend ways to spend a proposed $100 million in funding aimed at benefiting Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities.

Coming in response to energetic Black Lives Matter protests throughout the spring and summer, Durkan first made the $100 million proposal last month as part of her budget plan for the coming year.

The mayor said the 28-member task force addresses “deep disparities caused by systemic racism and institutionalized oppression.” But some racial justice organizers say her plan overshadows demands made by protesters and could ultimately turn communities of color against one another.

Members of the new task force include religious leaders, labor representatives, environmental activists, and members of various local equity organizations, including Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County and the Seattle King County NAACP. A full membership list is included on the mayor’s website and at the bottom of this article.

Christina Wong, director of public policy and advocacy for Northwest Harvest, is among the new members. In an email to the Emerald, she described the task force’s creation as an opportunity for matters around race and systemic inequity to be “meaningfully heard and considered.”

“I’ve so far participated in one meeting with this initial group of taskforce members, all of whom bring a variety of lived and professional experience and community voice advocacy in the communities that are targeted for investments,” she told the Emerald in an email. “My lens for this work will lead with the voice, experience, and concerns of BIPOC communities.”

Durkan announced the $100 million proposal amid calls to resign over her handling of police officers’ violent response to protests this summer in response to racism and police brutality. Activists, led by Decriminalize Seattle and the King County Equity Now Coalition, had called for a 50% funding cut to the Seattle Police Department.

While the mayor has so far dismissed activists’ calls for major cuts to the City’s police budget, she has said she believes “we must significantly redefine community safety by reimagining the role of police, build up community-based alternatives, and most importantly, actually invest in parts of the system that have failed our communities for far too long.”

Critics of Durkan’s proposal allege the $100 million investment is little more than a strategic gesture — a PR-friendly way for the mayor to act as though she’s taking action on equity while failing to address root causes, such as racial bias in policing. They’re skeptical the plan will meaningfully benefit BIPOC communities. 

That skepticism has led some community organizers to turn down invitations to be part of the mayor’s task force. In a guest column last month in the South Seattle Emerald, Sean Goode, executive director of community nonprofit Choose 180, said he declined the opportunity to be on the panel because it seemed to be at odds with his goals.

“Any investment that does not align with a corresponding divestment in policing doesn’t actually create the change we need,” Goode wrote. “Imagine Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center funding both cancer research and the spread of the disease. Sounds ridiculous, right? Yet the mayor plans to spend $100 million to resource BIPOC communities while continuing to spend several times as much on the very thing that perpetuates inequity throughout BIPOC communities.”

Goode also criticized the plan as being “designed to divide communities of color,” noting that if BIPOC funding doesn’t come from cuts to policing, it will likely diminish other programs that already work to benefit vulnerable communities.

Durkan’s proposal would pay for the $100 million investment by making cuts across departments, tapping into emergency cash reserves, and using revenue from JumpStart, the City Council’s new tax on big businesses. The task force would recommend precisely how those dollars be used.

Activists and organizers, however, balk at the idea that a Durkan-created task force will adequately reflect vulnerable communities.

“A task force hand-picked by the mayor is not a participatory budgeting process,” Goode wrote, referring to a budget process whereby community members help make funding decisions. “For the outcome of the process to truly reflect community needs, the process itself needs to be community designed and controlled. … You can’t begin with chairs selected by the mayor and then get to the community voice part on the back-end.”

Angélica Chárazo, an organizer with Decriminalize Seattle, welcomed cooperation from the City task force but described Durkan’s $100 million investment proposal as a “disturbing move.”

“Against community opposition, the Mayor has announced members of a small, hand-picked task force charged with distributing $100 million in funding she originally promised to Black communities,” Chárazo said in an email. 

“It is time for Durkan to right her missteps and commit to distributing the $100 million promised to Black communities through a community-led, city-supported participatory budgeting process carried out in the first half of 2021.”

Emijah Smith, an anti-racist organizer who has worked with some of the task force members, urged the task force to be transparent in their recommendations, worrying that some of the well-meaning activists were being recruited by Durkan to help prop up anti-Black policies.

“It breaks my heart to watch community leaders be used by the mayor in this way,” Smith said, “but now that they’re there, it is imperative to be accountable to the communities most impacted, in particular Black communities.”

The following members of the BIPOC task force were announced Wednesday:

  • Pastor Carey Anderson, First AME Church  
  • Sean Bagsby, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 46 
  • LaNesha DeBardelaben, Northwest African American Museum 
  • Marlon Brown, Black Lives Matter Seattle and King County  
  • Maggie Angel-Cano, Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition 
  • Andrea Caupain, Byrd Barr Place  
  • Mahnaz K. Eshetu, Refugee Women’s Alliance  
  • Ollie Garrett, Tabor 100 
  • Lynda Greene, Southeast Seattle Senior Center  
  • Chris Lampkin, Service Employees International Union 1199NW  
  • Dr. Sheila Edwards Lange, Seattle Central College  
  • Paulina López, Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition  
  • Esther Lucero, Seattle Indian Health Board 
  • Michelle Merriweather, Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle  
  • Trish Millines Dziko, Technology Access Foundation 
  • Donna Moodie, Marjorie Restaurant  
  • Estela Ortega, El Centro de la Raza  
  • Carolyn Riley-Payne, Seattle King County NAACP  
  • Rizwan Rizwi, Muslim Housing Services  
  • Victoria Santos, Young Women Empowered   
  • Steven Sawyer, POCAAN  
  • Michael Tulee, United Indians of All Tribes  
  • Ray Williams, Black Farmers Collective  
  • Sharon Williams, CD Forum  
  • Pastor Lawrence Willis, United Black Clergy 
  • Maiko Winkler-Chin, Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDPDA) 
  • Christina Wong, NW Harvest  
  • Beto Yarce, Ventures 
  • Sophia Benalfew, Ethiopian Community in Seattle
  • Ex officio — Debora Juarez, District 5, Seattle City Councilmember 

Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based journalist.

Featured image by Susan Fried.

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