OPINION: The World We Need Must be Built by Community Not Courtrooms

by Sean Goode

As a child, my family was always on the move — 12 different homes in 12 years of school. It was always something: hiding from my abusive father, getting evicted, or that time we owned a house and the bank foreclosed on it. I learned many lessons while constantly acclimating myself to new spaces. The most valuable of them is that nothing lasts forever. The transient nature of my upbringing gave me terrific respect for the miracle of each day and a faith that has allowed me to unapologetically hold on to a hope for a better tomorrow. 

I will admit that there have been many moments when I wanted to let go and relinquish this hope into the hands of despair. Losing young people to the disease of violence, watching jails be built to put kids in cages, and listening to the prophetic voices of protest be dismissed by those in power only to have their vision stolen and embedded into political platitudes — these are a few of the many reasons it has been difficult to hold on.  

In this time of social unrest, because of many of you, I have found new strength — a strength derived from the kind of power that can only be found in our togetherness. The rhythm of our feet marching together in the streets, the sound of our voices shouting out together in pain and promise for Black lives, and the countless public comments that together held City Council accountable are all examples of the power that lives in the collective “us.” Together, we have begun not only to dream but to do what needs to be done so that this dream may live outside the womb of our hope and imagination. As James Baldwin would say, we are all midwives and it is our shared responsibility to bring this new world into existence. 

A World That Relies on Community and Not Courtrooms

Collective Justice, Creative Justice, Community Passageways, and CHOOSE 180 have worked together with the Department of Public Defense to co-create an alternative to the juvenile court system that has been written into the King County Executive’s biannual budget and is set to begin implementation in the spring of 2021. This process, called “Restorative Community Pathways,” will result in hundreds of young people annually having direct access to community instead of a courtroom after their behavior has been criminalized by law enforcement. This process isn’t just for the accused but also for the harmed party, as we have built out programming not just for people harmed to be made whole through restitution but also support so that they can receive resolution through a restorative healing practice. This is a huge step on our journey toward justice. But it’s at risk because the jobs that are tied to criminalizing adolescent behavior will be reduced as these positions become obsolete. Right now, the union that represents these jobs is fighting to keep the system of injustice intact. 

We need you to call your King County Representative and tell them we want children in community and not cycled through courtrooms and cages. 

A World That Doesn’t Rely on Policing for Public Safety:

For far too long we’ve asked those who have served our community as law enforcement officers to go beyond the scope of their job and fill in the many gaps that are present as a result of systemic failures. Police shouldn’t need to be counselors, social workers, mediators, or the many other roles they play when they respond to the almost 50% of calls that are not related to the commission of a crime. Additionally, many of the calls that are connected to behavior labeled “crimes” are associated with those who are using drugs, having a mental health crisis, or living unhoused. You can’t solve for these things through arrest or adjudication. We must resource the supports necessary so people have their basic needs met, can live free of addiction, receive treatment for mental health crises, and live housed. This is why we must use our public safety dollars differently and invest 50% of what would go to the practices that are not serving us into the supports that will help people live free of the conditions that led to their encounter with the criminal legal system. 

We need you to continue to call your Council members throughout our region and demand that they prioritize meeting people’s needs over policing their behavior. 

A World Where Black Lives Matter, So Black Lives Lead

King County Equity Now has rolled out their Black Brilliance Research Project where culturally fluid processes, methodologies, and practices are being used to uplift and center Black voices and experiences. This is a key first step in the often-talked-about participatory budgeting process, as it relies on the actual voices of people in community to determine the investment areas that are a priority to them. Then they ultimately create proposals to see those investments show up in the way they desire. King County Equity Now believes in this model for all marginalized communities as the most effective way for tax dollars to address the real needs of the people. The Seattle City Council is currently considering the mayor’s budget in which she is proposing to take money away from initiatives that were already slated to support BIPOC and marginalized communities to fund her own initiative, which would rely on the voices of a hand-picked few to make decisions for all of us. 

We are asking you to call your City Council members and remind them of the commitment to divest from SPD and not from the work already being done to meet the needs of BIPOC communities.  

This world is ours to not only imagine but to live into today. It will be our shared effort and commitment to one another on this journey towards justice that will allow it to come into fruition. There are many things that would seek to divide us: the semantics around public safety, politicians seeking reelection, arguing over “the right way forward,” and many other factors that are capable of disrupting the momentum we are building. 

None of these things are greater than the collective “us” when we stand together for each other with an unapologetic hope for a better tomorrow and celebrating the miracle of a new day.  

Sean Goode is the Executive Director of Choose 180.

The featured image is attributed to Guy Meyer under a Creative Commons 2.0 Non-Commercial/ Non-Dervis license.