Activists and protesters who have continued to march for Black Lives Matter causes even after the City Council’s vote last week that members said would be a first step in defunding the Seattle Police Department are apparently on the right path.
The effort to defund SPD took a step backward Friday afternoon as Mayor Jenny Durkan announced she would veto the council’s 2020 budget rebalancing package to address a $300 million shortfall that called for around $4 million in cuts to SPD including about 100 officer jobs and the city’s Navigation Team charged with sweeping away homeless encampments. The vetoed plan also included about $14 million in new spending for community programs including community-led public safety organizations, youth-focused safety programs, and new participatory budgeting for public safety.
“We can and must find common ground on the vision for SPD that has been laid out by Chief Best and I,” Durkan said Friday. “We all agree that we need to make significant new investments in the Black community. We all agree that we need to reimagine policing and provide true community safety.”
Calling the plan proposed earlier this summer by her and now outgoing Chief Carmen Best, one of the “most significant plans in the nation,” Durkan Friday touted her proposal for a 20% reduction in police department spending focused on a plan to move the 911 call center out of SPD as well as shifts including moving parking enforcement to the Seattle Department of Transportation.
What a compromise plan with the council will look like is unclear. But, if Durkan’s vision for the changes to SPD wins out, the department won’t be getting any smaller.
“I don’t project that,” the mayor said about a reduced SPD, pointing to examples where reform actually grew police departments, with duties “optimized” and a stronger focus on “community resource” investment.
The council now has 30 days to either override the veto with a two-thirds majority vote as it did with the recent COVID-19 economic relief package. But even in that maneuvering, there was compromise. Crosscut reports that Council President Lorena González seems headed toward a deal with the mayor. C is for Crank was first to report the veto and also says a compromise on cuts is likely.
The mayor is also apparently in the mood for compromise. Friday, she announced a new agreement with council leaders on a re-working of the COVID-19 economic relief package that will leave more money available in the city’s emergency funds.
“I think we’ll have the same kind of discussions going forward,” Durkan said of how she sees the negotiations over compromise legislation playing out.
Durkan also said she expects changes to SPD to take longer and stretch well beyond 2020, saying the process “has to go into next year” to achieve “meaningful outreach and to go into communities to discuss possible changes and cutbacks.
The council’s plan was shaped in large part from proposals from the King County Equity Now and Decriminalize Seattle community groups.
Thursday night, activists and protesters part of the Everyday March effort crossed Capitol Hill to rally outside the East Precinct.
Before the veto, the groups said they were focused on establishing a “2021 participatory budgetary process” with city leaders this fall and have called on Durkan to commit to her pledge to make $100 million in funding available to the programs, a dollar amount the mayor claimed was being put toward Black Lives Matter goals in her own budget plans.
Friday, Durkan said there will be community discussion but snapped back at the $100 million mark and participatory budget process called for by the groups.
“It’s none of those things,” the mayor said. “I announced many months ago that I was committing to $100 million of new community investments and we would have a process so those investments would be guided by community and the voice of community. King County Equity Now wants to be the deciders in that? We will have those voices at the table but we will have a broader process.”
UPDATE: The coalition has released a statement on Durkan’s decision to veto the legislation. “We are deeply disappointed and concerned with Mayor Durkan’s rash and ill-considered veto of Black lives and against necessary investments towards true community health and safety for all Seattle residents,” it begins:
We are deeply disappointed and concerned with Mayor Durkan’s rash and ill-considered veto of Black lives and against necessary investments towards true community health and safety for all Seattle residents.
With their votes on the 2020 budget rebalancing, City Council put forth modest changes to the police budget in response to the uprising in defense of Black lives and the economic shortfall created by COVID-19. While publicly touting support and care for Black people, the Mayor vetoed and blocked a Black-led community response plan to gun violence—while providing no immediate alternative or justification.
Meaningful, racially equitable change is under way despite Mayor Durkan’s attempt to stall it. In collaboration with many stakeholders, City Council passed a series of budget bills that include—among other things—allocating resources to scale up long-standing, community-led violence intervention programs that prevent harm, not merely respond to it.
Accountable, Black-led organizations like Community Passageways, Creative Justice, Choose 180, and others currently carry the tremendous burden of serving Seattle-King County’s BIPOC communities. Despite inadequate funding to meet our communities’ substantial needs, such organizations enjoy incredibly successful prevention rates.
Our community has recently lost nearly thirty people to police and gun violence. Against this harrowing and unacceptable backdrop, City Council’s budget votes were a starting point towards generating true public safety. The bills passed reflect the first steps toward changes necessary to help save, honor, and protect Black lives.
The City’s failure to adequately fund community-led and community-driven public safety programs is literally a life or death issue for Black people and communities. Faced with this sobering reality, Mayor Durkan highlighted the “recent increase in gun violence” while vetoing the exact investment needed to prevent it—all in the same breath. In fact, $4 million that the Mayor vetoed would go directly to Black-led organizations leading effective community responses to gun violence—i.e., the very same organizations that the Mayor frequently touts as valuable partners.
The Mayor also vetoed $3 million approved by Council towards a community-led research program to conduct a rigorous analysis of what creates true public safety for all of Seattle’s residents. More specifically, this investment would fund an equity-centered research program to source ideas, data, and policies directly from the communities most affected by police brutality, policing harms, and gun violence. In vetoing this program without explanation, the Mayor contradicted her calls for diligence and thoughtful measures to inform future policy decisions.
We are gravely concerned with Mayor Durkan’s decision to halt this prudent and necessary research program designed to create and implement new public safety solutions.
Notably, despite public calls for “collaboration” and meaningful “engagement,” Mayor Durkan has shown nothing of the sort. Seattle’s BIPOC communities have offered Mayor Durkan ample opportunities to learn, discuss, engage, and lead the City towards a new normal rooted in equity. However, she’s actively avoided meeting with both of our coalitions—though over 420 Seattle organizations and over 45,000 people have signed on formally in support of our solutions. Today, Mayor Durkan not only ignored these overwhelmingly-supported budget changes but outright blocked them.
Without as much as a phone call or an email to try and understand these safety proposals or fill in the gaps in her woefully inadequate racial equity lens, Mayor Durkan chose to veto critical budget items without any real consideration for Black lives.
Equitable progress is under way. We’ve experienced far too many decades of failed promises and policies that perpetuate racist outcomes. We encourage the Mayor to join other City leaders in supporting the ongoing overwhelmingly-supported process to divest from policing and invest in true community safety.
Durkan, meanwhile, said she also has not talked with the police union leadership about the veto and effort to compromise on a plan with the city council. The mayor said she hopes many of the elements of any plans for overhauling SPD “don’t have to be bargained.”
“They’re more about how to approach this in a collaborative fashion and something based on facts and a plan.”
In Friday’s session announcing her veto and taking questions from the press, Durkan and soon to be interim Chief Adrian Diaz said the city has seen a major increase in shots fired incidents since June 1st, a trend also seen in other major U.S. cities, and discussed recent Seattle homicide investigations. Diaz called the gun violence increase “unacceptable.”
Best who announced she was resigning her post in the wake of the City Council’s vote, didn’t sound like the veto will sway her to change her mind. “I’m here for what will likely be my last press conference for the City of Seattle,” Best said at the start of her remarks to the press in which she spoke about the strong leadership qualities of Diaz.
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