Photo of exterior of Seattle City Hall from 4th Avenue.

Mayoral Candidates Discuss Gun Violence in Community Forum

by Ashley Archibald

On June 28, one of the hottest days on record in Seattle, a suspect opened fire at Alki Beach killing one person and injuring at least three more, according to the Seattle Police Department.

The next day, five mayoral candidates joined a forum to discuss their positions on gun violence in Seattle, a public health crisis that has taken at least eight lives in the city just this year and has resulted in nearly 400 calls to the Seattle Police Department (SPD).

The forum — moderated by South Seattle Emerald founder Marcus Harrison Green and hosted by the Alliance for Gun Responsibility and Grandmothers Against Gun Violence — didn’t reveal a lot of daylight between the candidates who predictably took stances against people getting shot in their city. However, it did provide the opportunity for community members to grill their potential mayors about their stances on guns and gun deaths resulting from police shootings as well as the search for the new police chief, political affiliations, and esoteric topics such as state preemption of local laws.

There are 15 people vying to be the mayor of Seattle, according to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission. Those who participated in the forum had at least 1,000 donors and had engaged with the organizers’ vetting process.

The forum opened with an expansive question: If you could wave a magic wand and do one thing to address the gun violence epidemic, what would it be?

Two candidates — current City Council President Lorena González and former Chief Seattle Club Executive Director Colleen Echohawk — came out of the gate saying that they would want guns abolished and/or removed from the city altogether.

Former State Rep. Jessyn Farrell used her two minutes to call for gun violence to be thought of as a public health emergency similar to the coronavirus pandemic. That meant the community getting involved and putting resources behind responses to the root causes of gun violence. Farrell is a former board member of Community Passageways, a local organization that works with young people to prevent them from getting into the criminal justice system.

Andrew Grant Houston, an architect, focused his response on redesigning systems to provide the resources that people need to prevent gun violence in the first place. Later, in response to a community question, Houston talked about harm reduction and preventative measures such as universal basic income and investing in existing programs.

Former Council President Bruce Harrell went meta, wishing to remove the impulse to take human life in the first place.

Harrell and González found themselves defending their progressive bonafides due to their time on the City Council when they voted to approve the new Seattle Police Officer Guild (SPOG) contract in 2018. Harrell pointed to the things that the Council had won in the contract, including body cameras and additional oversight and accountability for the police department.

González responded in similar form, saying there were issues with the contract but that the Council had won additional civilian oversight and pushed additional issues in front of federal Judge James Robart to ensure compliance with the 2012 consent decree that SPD is still subject to.

Other major gun violence prevention wins are tied up in court, González said, such as the requirement that Seattle gun owners put their weapons in a safe or face a stiff penalty. That case was initially tossed out by a Superior Court judge, but the Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s decision.

Farrell asked why Black and Brown communities should trust her to choose the new police chief. Chief Carmen Best stepped down in August of 2020 after the City Council approved cuts to SPD staffing and pay and interim Chief Adrian Diaz has headed up the department since. She responded that it “was about showing up” for community as she had by joining the board of Community Passageways and volunteering for Initiative 940, which created new frameworks for police accountability in the state.

One of the more raw answers came from Echohawk, who was asked about her relationship with current Mayor Jenny Durkan and how she would be different. She didn’t shy away from the question.

“I’ll be honest, I have sucked up to power. I did, and I would do it again in an instant because I have been able to do things that no one else has been able to do for my community,” Echohawk said, noting the hundreds of units of housing she got through as the director of Chief Seattle Club.

Candidates generally agreed on ideas around gun violence prevention, mentioning economic and systemic underpinnings of gun violence against other people as well as death by suicide.

Attendees of the forum were invited to vote on which candidate they considered a “champion of gun violence prevention.” Poll results put Harrell first at 34% followed by González at 27%.

Ashley Archibald is the editor of Real Change News and a freelance journalist with previous work in the Santa Monica Daily Press and the Union Democrat. Her work focuses on policy and economic development, and you can find it in the South Seattle Emerald, KNKX, and the Urbanist.

📸 Featured image is attributed to SounderBruce (under a Creative Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0 license).

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