Crowd of Black Lives Matter protesters calling for police accountability and defunding the Seattle Police Department

OPINION: Seattle Activists’ Continued Fight for Mutual Aid, True Equity, and Defunding SPD

by Luna Reyna

One-quarter of the entire 2020 Seattle city budget was allocated to the Seattle Police Department (SPD). While last summer’s protests over anti-Black police violence and calls to defund the police resulted in an 18% decrease in the 2021 SPD budget, $364 million was still allocated to SPD. This is an affront to community-led organizations like King County Equity Now (KCEN) and so many others who have been providing much-needed community support and succeeding in creating real public safety

KCEN, which started as an informal coalition of over 60 Black-led community organizations like Africatown Community Landtrust, Community Passageways, and Blaq Elephant Party, is now a formal, pro-Black 501(c)(4) dedicated to achieving equity for all Black peoples across all measurable metrics, including, wealth, health, land ownership, safety, college matriculation rates, organizational control, and more. 

In the ’70s, the Central District’s population was 75% Black, but as a result of Seattle’s tech boom and resulting gentrification, the CD is now only 15% Black. 

“My family was gentrified from the Central District in 2003,” said TraeAnna Holiday, an organizer with KCEN. “I remember wondering why my family couldn’t stay in our neighborhood. This was our neighborhood; I knew it in and out.” 

KCEN’s current proposals include a decommissioned fire station set to become a cultural innovation center called the William Grose Center, a Seattle Housing Authority Operations site to become affordable housing itself, Paramount Nursing Home to revert to Black-community ownership, and a vacant Sound Transit lot to become a Youth Achievement Center. 

“These are our spaces in the CD. All of this work is really about reclaiming that,” Holiday said. “It’s really a beautiful thing to witness because we have lost a lot of land. We lost a lot of property. That’s a lot of equity that we need to bring back into the Black community, into Black ownership.”

Two Seattle organizers who asked to be referred to as Ashley and Tatii and the collectives that they were a part of have been working on creating equity with a focus on community service. A major driving force behind this work is helping community members realize their part in the wellness of their communities. Organizers have focused on services like providing food to assist the houseless as a way of pushing back against capitalist and classist narratives promoting the idea that those who have less or have experienced misfortune just haven’t worked hard enough.

“It’s about how we can come together and best support each other. You don’t have to be a Black organizer in the Black Lives Matter movement in order to help out your community,” said Ashley. 

During last year’s “wildfire crisis” the region’s air quality dropped and made any time outdoors a health risk. Tatii and others obtained hotel rooms for the houseless and with the help of community donations, collected and dispersed tents, food, and clothing for Seattle residents without homes. Tatii and others also coordinated a back-to-school drive for Black and Indigenous youth that included laptops, hotspots, and tablets for those in need during virtual learning. 

Through engaging and uplifting the community, activists and organizers hope to inform the public about what can be accomplished through mutual aid and community-oriented solutions and proactively garner support for police accountability and Black people before they become victims of police violence.

“It’s important that people understand that Black people aren’t just angry and screaming in the streets. We’re actually helping the community,” Ashley explained. 

Unfortunately, many media outlets haven’t supported activist’s calls for police accountability. Coverage of SPD responses to the protests have amplified police claims of victimhood, focused on ways in which the police can prosecute protesters who they claim vandalize the city, and even report on police use of force by accounting for how many officers claimed to have been harmed without mentioning the countless peaceful protesters harmed by SPD’s “crowd control” methods. 

“There is a real strong sense from protesters that there was just an abuse of power from police,” Holiday explained. 

SPD officers have been caught on camera kneeling on the necks of protesters, attacking citizens and arresting them without cause, attempting to run over protesters with their vehicles, and countless other violent offenses. Far from intimidating activists into silence, however, this has only strengthened activists’ resolve. 

“Why is all of this money being funneled into police departments for these mostly white straight men to exert their privilege when we have people on the streets? We can do food services, we can put in our best effort, but we are everyday people,” said Ashley. “What we need is a major reallocation of money into the community. I don’t believe that an establishment that can kill Black people with no ramifications should have more money than our education system.”

These Black activists and organizers continue to work under the threat of police violence, knowing their names could be the next viral hashtag. The leading cause of death for Black men and boys is police violence — 1 in every 1000 Black men and boys are killed by police. 

“That sense of danger is there, but we’re going to keep on pressing forward to ensure that our communities are informed,” said Holiday. “That to us is really the key.” 

KCEN’s efforts encourage people to set aside a white savior mentality and instead bring their skills to organizations that are already doing the work as a more effective means of support. For many activists, the goal is active collaboration in support of Black lives, rather than allyship. Andrew Hong with Youth for Defunding Seattle Police Department (SPD), a youth-run group that works with other activists groups to compile Seattle-based petitions, scripts, protests, and more to take action to defund SPD, notes how the word ally has become co-opted by people who are more concerned about how they’re perceived, rather than what they’re actually doing to help. Ashley agreed, noting how often white people in these areas of the city don’t seem to know any Black people or have much interest in knowing how to support them. 

“We need people in the workplace with Black people who call out racism and call out inequity. That is being an accomplice, that is being a comrade,” Ashley said. “We need people who see how a Black woman is being treated at the cash register for using food stamps and call that out and support them.”    

In a city that is only 7% Black and almost 70% white, Holiday finds hope in the willingness she’s seen from folks outside of Seattle’s Black community to listen, participate, and collaborate with activists. For Holiday, the energy, connectivity, and support from Seattle’s non-Black residents have been something she hasn’t seen across the rest of the nation. 

“White folks are like, ‘Wait a minute. I didn’t realize how much I’ve been a part of the oppression of other folks or just my ignorance,’” Holiday said. “These spaces are open for that kind of connection, for that kind of collaboration. It’s time [for white people] to dig in deep, find where you can bring your skills and talent, and understand that these spaces are welcoming.”

Luna Reyna is a South King County-based journalist. She is deeply invested in shifting power structures and centering the work and voices of marginalized communities. Whether investigating the impact of environmental racism or immigration, interviewing an artist whose work sheds light on the casualties of war, or covering restorative justice efforts as a self-described “Cannabis Chronic-ler,” her work is in service of liberation and advancing justice.

📸 Featured Image: Black Lives Matter protesters calling for police accountability and defunding the Seattle Police Department on June 2, 2020. (Photo: Alex Garland)

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