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Seattle City Attorney race proves a battle over reform

As City Attorney Pete Holmes battles challenger Scott Lindsay for the office, both face challenges connecting with Seattle’s communities of color where justice and police reforms remain paramount concerns.

The two attended a debate hosted by Africatown last week, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving and developing the Central District’s African American community. The audience heard Lindsay’s motto of “Seattle needs to do more” or “be better” throughout the forum. For the incumbent Holmes, his case was about showing citizens and especially communities of color he has been doing “more” all along.

The forum’s questions addressed issues facing the African American community. When  Lindsay was asked how his work as City Attorney would impact that community, he attacked Holmes’ diversion program for youth funding.

“$300,000 later, Holmes only diverted 19 youth,” Lindsay said. Moderator Wyking Garrett interrupted the candidate to ask exactly what Lindsay would do, saying Lindsay’s answer wasn’t specific to the African American community. Lindsay said he would mount “proactive outreach to folks struggling outside unsheltered” because it disproportionately affects people of color.

Holmes, on the other hand, said he would continue using prosecutorial discretion and dismissing cases involving marijuana charges.

“Then we only watched, of course, the Seattle Police Department proceed to triple arrests that year,” he said. “So it’s something that requires vigilance.”

Holmes said the Revised Code of Washington needs to change to vacate marijuana charges, and it’s something he has pushed for every year.

But he’s all about detail when it comes to civilian arrests.

“It used to be, they looked at an arrest report, is there probable cause to file, then you go ahead and file it,” Holmes said. “I made my officers, I made my prosecutors take those officer reports and look at them and say, ‘are you achieving net good for the society, for our communities, for our city?’”

Later on, Lindsay acknowledged the disproportionate prosecution of people of color selling weed, especially now that it’s legalized, and said “I don’t have the answer to that.”

Meanwhile, both Holmes and Lindsay advocated for the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program due to its effectiveness in reducing recidivism and diverting low-end drug offenders and prostitutes over to services.

Police reform is a key but nuanced element in the race. Holmes lays claim to being the first prosecutor in years to bring criminal charges against police officers even before the consent decree. He has also endorsed every initiative trying to change the malice standard for prosecuting police.

Police reform, too, is Lindsay’s primary platform drive. Lindsay was the public safety advisor and special assistant to Mayor Ed Murray for police reform. “We need to break people out of the cycle of streets, jail, streets, jail,” Lindsay said. “I’ve worked closely with the Seattle Community Police Commission and I’m very proud to have the endorsement for my campaign of all five of the current and past co-chairs.”

On homelessness, Lindsay has openly been anti-encampment and once called the previous “Jungle” encampment under I-5’s corridor a “rape camp,” per Crosscut’s reporting.

Real Change News showed Holmes is anti-sweep: “The answer to me is stop the damn sweeps, but demonstrate instead that you’re using this opportunity to engage people — show that you have gotten people to voluntarily accept services,” he said, “and that you are using a public health as opposed to a public safety approach first.”

In the Africatown forum, Holmes leaned on his repertoire of accomplishments to validate why he should be re-elected. He cited and took credit for the $15 minimum wage, and the pursuit against opioid pharmaceuticals and Monsanto (although that’s a front mostly involved Attorney General Bob Ferguson and his lawyer Noah Purcell). Lindsay, on the other hand, spent most of his time on attack, armed with statistics.

Lindsay did find time to praise Holmes for his office’s decision to stop going after marijuana drug charges.

“Mr. Holmes has been a leader in this space from the beginning in terms of marijuana reform and in terms of enforcement reform,” Lindsay said. “I would want to carry on that progress.”

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