There is funding enough to start the process of bringing a successful alternative to old-school drug policing to Capitol Hill and the Central District. But the future of the movement is murky.
Thursday night, City Council District 3 representative Kshama Sawant and the Capitol Hill Community Council held a forum at Miller Community Center in Capitol Hill on the Law Enforcement Diversion Program, or LEAD, and how to expand and implement it in her council district encompassing Capitol Hill and the Central District. The forum was approached as an opportunity to discuss mass incarceration and how programs like LEAD fit into broader efforts to roll back the impacts of the war on drugs and tough love policing.
Featured panelists included one of the original architects of the lead program, Lisa Daugaard, director of the Public Defender Association, LEAD program supervisor Najja Morris, Scott Lindsey, the mayor’s Public Safety and Police Reform Advisor, Turina James, a LEAD participant and former heroin user, along with Sheley Secrest of the NAACP and executive director of the Gender Justice League and statehouse candidate for the 43rd Legislative District, Danni Askini.
While praise for the LEAD program was abundant, speakers routinely stressed the importance of building on LEAD’s successes with more investment to ensure Seattle’s budding experiment in harm-reduction policing doesn’t fade away.
Last year, Mayor Ed Murray allocated one-time funding in his 2016 budget to help expand LEAD into Capitol Hill. Additional expansions and enhancement of LEAD services will require more money.
Advocates said that LEAD needs to be expanded equitably into areas like South Seattle and the Central District, and that more robust services for LEAD like housing for participants who are still actively using drugs is needed to fully realize the program’s potential. In line with her usual rhetoric, Sawant framed societal problems of drug addiction, mass incarceration, and homelessness as systemic ills of capitalism, and called on the audience to advocate for LEAD and other services and to “hold every politician at city hall accountable.”
Here’s more of what CHS heard at Thursday night’s forum.
- “There are activists who may be uncomfortable with the authority that LEAD places in individual officers to decide who is good for LEAD and who is not,” said Sawant. “Remember that SPD is still under investigation of the consent decree of the U.S. Justice Department. We have to remember that we are not arguing for this program as a license to whitewash the systemic issues we have in the police department.” Continue reading