Politically bombarded in its attempt to address protest demands with the start of a process to defund the Seattle Police Department, the Seattle City Council is now facing new criticism from the Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County organization.
The situation emerges in the midst of the confusing swirl of priorities from Seattle’s response to the summer’s protests and how public officials mix and match their use of “community” when it comes to policy and politics.
Also on display is the power of Black Lives Matter as a movement and its power for the organizations like the nonprofit that first formed here in 2018 and took the BLM name as it has fought for its versions of the cause.
The nonprofit is calling for a formal ethics investigation of the council’s actions related to the protests this summer including “potential pressure exerted on City employees and members of the public,” whether the council was “informed about safety issues around those protests,” and how the council was “influenced in recent budget and policing proposals.”
Its letter (PDF) to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission calls for an immediate investigation over a dozen points including “whether members of the City Council did question African American or other people or color employed within the City of Seattle about SPD response and actions towards protesters around the East Precinct” during CHOP.
“These are incidents that, if true, are alarming and require accountability,” Ebony Miranda, chair of Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County, says in the group’s announcement of its push for the investigation. “SEEC’s role is separating fact from rumor and holding elected officials accountable when boundaries are crossed.”
The letter singles out the statements and actions of West Seattle’s Lisa Herbold and Capitol Hill and Central District representative Kshama Sawant, two of the most active leaders on the council during its responses to issues around the protests including the use of police force and crowd control tactics and the debate over a possible 50% cut to the police department’s budget.
Sawant, meanwhile, will know Wednesday if a recall campaign against her can move forward as a King County Superior Court judge will decide if the petition in the case meets legal requirements. Tuesday, the council voted to approve Sawant’s request for the city to pay for and supervise her legal defense in the recall.
Sawant, the only council member to formally propose the 50% cut called for by protesters, activists, and community groups during the demonstrations, is targeted in the nonprofit’s letter which asks the SEEC to investigate if the council “properly” stewarded “city resources to the benefit of all residents” when Sawant “provided access to City Hall outside of operating hours and in defiance of a public health order to reduce the spread of COVID-19.” On June 10th, Sawant and hundreds of protesters briefly “occupied” City Hall during a march and demonstration.
Many of the same protesters and activists continue to celebrate Sawant’s role in Seattle’s demonstrations despite the nonprofit’s criticism.
According to state records, Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County first formed as a charity in 2018 before it was dissolved earlier this year due to failure to renew its status. In August, the group re-registered with Miranda as its new chair and founding treasurer Livio De La Cruz continuing his role. The nonprofit reported around $8,000 in donations in 2019, mostly through contributions from its website donation pages, according to the state filings.
The organization has a busy history in the area joining in opposition to the new youth jail, protesting the mayor’s decision to cut the Youth Violence Prevention Initiative, and speaking out on issues like gun violence in the Central District. This summer, the group also made headlines by announcing it would stay out of the growing protests in Seattle citing concerns over COVID-19. The group has also taken what some might see as counterintuitive positions on Seattle’s protests and their fallout including criticism of those celebrating the resignation of SPD Chief Carmen Best, the city’s first Black woman to serve as chief who stepped down amid debate over her department’s budget and criticism of her officers’ heavy handed response to protests.
Now BLMSKC stands at the center of a Seattle controversy: Black Lives Matter calling for the investigation of Seattle officials over their support for Black Lives Matter.
“While making no accusations, the issues outlined above are gravely concerning to Black Lives Matter Seattle King County,” the group writes. “Seattle has an opportunity to lead by creating policies and committing resources to undoing decades of institutional racism. This investigation is essential for the community’s understanding of government conduct—and it adds much needed transparency to the critical budget process that’s underway.”
The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission has not yet responded to the investigation request. Its next regularly scheduled meeting will come in October.
BLMSKC representatives were not immediately available for comment.
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