Interim Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz speaks at a July 26, 2021, press conference as Mayor Jenny Durkan looks on.

Mayor Durkan Announces Community-Based Programs, Responding to Gun Violence Spike

by Lizz Giordano and Andrew Engelson

As shootings spike in King County, disproportionately impacting Communities of Color, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced last week the City will distribute $12.4 million to organizations working to curb gun violence and improve safety in BIPOC communities. 

The year 2020 was particularly deadly for Seattle, recording the highest number of homicides in more than a quarter century. This past weekend, a series of shootings in Belltown, Pioneer Square, the Chinatown-International District, and Yesler Terrace left five people dead and nine injured according to the Seattle Police Department (SPD). In a press conference on Monday, July 26, Durkan said the violence was part of a surge in homicides across the United States. 

“This weekend delivered a sober reminder that Seattle is not immune from gun violence,” Durkan said during the press conference. “This is a national crisis. Over the past week, from Chicago to Minneapolis to Washington, D.C., there have been over 900 shooting incidents.”

At Monday’s press conference, interim Seattle Chief of Police Adrian Diaz noted that the number of shooting incidents in Seattle increased dramatically over the past year, and he lamented the decline in the number of SPD officers during that same period. “We’ve seen a 40% increase in the number of shots fired this year compared to the same time last year,” Diaz said.

“We do have diminished resources,” Diaz continued. “I have 115 fewer officers on patrol than I did a year ago. I have 38 fewer detectives to follow up on reported crime. And as the mayor said, we’ve lost almost 300 officers over the past two years.”

At Monday’s press conference, Durkan pointed to community-based programs unveiled last week that could help free up police officers to respond to the most serious incidents, including a new county-based “regional peacekeepers” program and a new triage response team designed to offer an alternative to police response for non-criminal 911 calls. But Durkan was also adamant about defending and increasing funding for SPD.

 “Even as we look to alternatives to sworn officers’ response and prevention, this past weekend serves as a reminder there are many times … types of 911 calls that require a traditional sworn officer to respond. … As a city we cannot continue on this current trajectory of losing police officers.”

Durkan said at the Monday press conference she would offer a plan to the council in August to increase alternatives to police-response 911 calls. 

“We’re putting forward this new triage entity, we want to make sure we hire additional CSOs [community service officers],” she said in response to the Emerald’s question about alternatives to police response. “We’re trying to create solutions in this community space that can actually be responsive to community emergencies. In the [request for proposals] we put out for $10 million, we got some great proposals back and we will be funding some really important community-based initiatives. But none of them replace [the] response to 911.”

At a press conference last week with city and county leaders, Durkan said the City will invest $12.4 million aimed at improving safety in BIPOC communities.

Two million of the $12.4 million will go to King County’s Regional Peacekeepers Collective. The pilot program plans to dispatch “violence interrupters” to work with youth thought to be most at risk of becoming victims or perpetrators of gun violence. 

Last month, King County said it will direct an additional $1.47 million to gun violence prevention strategies, including funds for the Peacekeepers Collective.

Derrick Wheeler-Smith, director of the Zero Youth Detention campaign, called the violence interrupters “a new kind of public health worker” during the press conference. 

In the first three months of 2021, at least 69 people were shot in King County. Nearly 80%

of these shooting victims were People of Color, though they account for less than half of the county’s total population. According to data released this week by the King County Prosecutor’s Office, this year there have been 84 homicides or potential homicides that police responded to in King County, which exceeds the complete total for 2016 and 2017, and is on pace to be higher than the 146 incidents responded to in 2020.

Dominique Davis, founder and CEO of Community Passageways, a felony diversion and incarceration prevention program, wants the City and the County to act on gun violence with the same urgency that was employed for the pandemic.

“All of a sudden, a plethora of resources came out of nowhere to address COVID[-19] at a very high level, which was very much needed,” he said during the press conference. “But we still were struggling with gun violence and the uptick in gun violence.”

“We are excited this is happening, the collaboration of the County and City, and other groups,”  Davis added. “Now it’s not just the community having to put it on their back and solve the issues that racist institutions put in our community.”

Another $10.4 million will fund community-led solutions for increasing safety in BIPOC communities. Funding is going to 33 organizations, ranging from mental health and addiction care to pedestrian safety and restorative justice. 

Collective Justice, a restorative justice organization, received $275,000 of that funding. The organization primarily serves a BIPOC population. 

“They represent the communities most impacted by violence in King County and least likely to have access to adequate services in the aftermath of violence,” Martina Kartman,

a coordinator for the Collective, wrote in an email. “After decades of disinvestment, our Black and Brown youth, Women of Color, and LGBTQI populations in King County are living in communities without the resources and services needed to prevent violence or address the aftermath in a culturally relevant and meaningful way.”

“The folks we serve need material support such as rental, food, and bill assistance. They also need access to culturally relevant healing services, community support, and platforms to have their voices heard,” she added. 

The $10.4 million is part of $100 million investments in Black and Brown communities “to address the systemic harms caused by racist policies and generations of disinvestment,” Durkan promised following last summer’s protests fueled by the death of George Floyd. She has pledged to put another $100 million for similar investments in next year’s budget. The City Council ultimately approves the budget. 

Councilmember Tammy Morales called the $10.4 million a great start but wants to see the one-time funding become more permanent, which she said would allow for more long-term programming.

Morales represents the city’s South End residents.

“Given there w[ere] 70 applicants and only 33 organizations received funding, I would like to see our investments in this space increase, because all of these groups creating community alternatives deserve to be funded,” she said in an emailed statement. “We shouldn’t be asking them to compete for resources to serve our Communities of Color — that’s institutionalized white supremacy.”

Lizz Giordano is a freelance multimedia journalist based in Seattle’s Rainier Valley focusing on transit and housing. She can be reached on Twitter @lizzgior, and more of her work can be found on her website.

Andrew Engelson is a Seattle-based writer and editor who lives in the South End.

📸 Featured Image: Interim Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz speaks at a July 26, 2021, press conference as Mayor Jenny Durkan looks on. (Photo: Andrew Engelson)

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