City Council hears proposals for Seattle Police changes, strong public support for #defundSPD during budget deliberations

With reporting by Lena Friedman — CHS Intern

The Seattle City Council continued its inquest into the Seattle Police Department budget Wednesday with organizers outlining suggested cuts and changes that could include overhauling the way the department handles 911 emergency calls and how money should be reinvested into the Black community.

Nearly 45,000 people have signed a petition in line with demands from protesters of systemic racism and police brutality, which include defunding the SPD by 50%, redirecting money into community solutions, and freeing protesters arrested during demonstrations, according to a presentation from Decriminalize Seattle. Four council members, including Kshama Sawant, have indicated support for cutting the SPD budget in half and others have said they support some reductions.

“We’re talking about dramatically changing what it means to create a public safety network,” Teresa Mosqueda, who chairs the council’s budget committee and has said she supports a 50% redirection of the SPD budget, said Wednesday. “We know that this world we are currently working within is not actually creating the health and safety that’s been promised.”

Wednesday, Mosqueda and her council counterparts heard strong support for the defunding efforts during public comment on the deliberations. Massively reducing spending on policing has been at the center of demands during weeks of protests and demonstrations around Seattle in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis.

The debate over how exactly to #defundSPD will come to a head as the council reshapes the mayor office proposal for changes to the city’s budget in the face of the expected COVID-19 economic crisis. The council is scheduled to hold a final vote on the rebalance on July 20th.

Angélica Cházaro, a law professor at the University of Washington and organizer with Decriminalize Seattle, said cuts to the SPD could come from various aspects of the department, including cutting its training budget, freezing hiring, and reducing patrol staff, among ten specific cuts that could be made. Continue reading

Seattle City Council debates tax on big business to bridge COVID-19 budget gap as #defundSPD waits in wings

The push for Black Lives Matters and #defundSPD goals beyond 12th and Pine moved back into the Seattle City Council’s chambers Wednesday with the political battles to reshape the city’s budget in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis moved to the next stage overshadowed by SPD’s morning clearance of the protest zone around the East Precinct,

The #defundSPD budget fight is set to shape up as the council’s budget committee digs in on Mayor Jenny Durkan proposal to make $20 million in midyear cuts to the Seattle Police Department budget — about 5% of the department’s $409 million budget.

This week’s debate will be centered on filling the expected massive hit to tax revenues brought about by the COVID-19 crisis as the council works to shape Teresa Mosqueda’s plan for a tax on big businesses to help Seattle overcome its forecasted budget shortfalls due to COVID-19 and to fund affordable housing, equitable development, and economic support for small businesses. The session will include discussion of more than 20 proposed amendments to the proposal. Continue reading

Seattle City Council responds to protest violence with restrictions on police use of tear gas, chokeholds, and badge coverings

Responding to the violence from three weeks of protest, the Seattle City Council voted Monday to ban the Seattle Police Department from using crowd control devices including chemical agents, dangerous chokeholds, and mourning badges that cover an officer’s badge number.

The three measures, two of which were sponsored by council member Kshama Sawant representing Capitol Hill and the Central District, passed the council unanimously. The legislative changes join a roster of progress for the protests against police violence — though many of the larger goals around equity and Black Lives Matter have yet to be achieved.

Within the legislative victories, one prohibits the SPD from owning, purchasing, renting, or using crowd control weapons, such as tear gas and pepper spray. Such devices have been used several times in the past few weeks in Seattle to break up protests of police brutality.

“Here in Seattle and around the country, demonstrators have been grievously injured by these weapons,” Sawant said. “The police and the political establishment simply cannot be trusted with them.” Continue reading

Third week of protests begins with thousands marching and a CHAZ CHOP rally targeting the ‘affluent white communities of Seattle’

Massive crowds marched down E Madison for a rally at the beach

Massive crowds marched down E Madison for a rally at the beach

Protesters against police brutality and inequity were marching east on Madison Friday afternoon when they passed tall fencing and finely pruned bushes.

It was the gated Broadmoor community and the main goal of the march, which started inside the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone and ended about three miles away at Madison Park Beach, was to engage rich, white neighborhoods in Seattle’s ongoing protests.

UPDATE: You can still call it CHAZ if you like but the name that the community has chosen is CHOP — the Capitol Hill Organized Protest. “We are not trying to secede from the United States,” speaker Maurice Cola said Saturday afternoon.

Broadmoor served as a perfect foil for what these protesters said they wanted to do Friday; mobilize affluent white people with power to spur change that would benefit Black people. While passing, they chanted “Out of your homes and into the streets” to the couple dozen people standing on the sidewalk outside the community’s entrance.

Organizer and Seattle Peoples Party leader Nikkita Oliver highlighted the female organizers of the protest and repeated demands that the Seattle Police Department be defunded by 50%, spending increased on community-based organizations, and the protesters not be prosecuted.

She said that city leaders would try to offer some piecemeal changes to protesters, but urged demonstrators to stay in the streets until the system is overhauled.

“[Mayor Jenny Durkan] is going to try to find $100 million somewhere in the budget for 10 years to give to community, but it’s not going to be $100 million from the police,” Oliver said. “That means we have not won yet. Let’s be committed; let’s make this more than a moment. People have sacrificed things in the last 10 days; people have sacrificed things in the last 10 years; people have sacrificed things in the last 100, 200, 300 years and are tired of our powerful moments not making into a movement. It’s because we give into accepting reform.”

“Reform feels easy, but it’s not. Reform is bullshit.”

The crowd of thousands was one of two huge marches across Seattle Friday. As this group headed for Madison Park and the beach, an even larger “silent” march stretched out for blocks and blocks from the Central District to Beacon Hill. Continue reading

Sawant and protesters — briefly — occupy Seattle City Hall as Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone grows — UPDATE

Several hundred demonstrators, led by Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant, occupied City Hall downtown Tuesday night for just over an hour, calling for the resignation of Mayor Jenny Durkan and the defunding of the Seattle Police Department after a march from the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone.

Protesters entered chanting “Whose City Hall? Our City Hall” before listening to a number of speakers at the “people’s mic,” as Sawant called it, on a range of issues, from the importance of Black LGBTQIA+ women in recent protests to taxing the council member’s familiar foe.

“It is about building the kind of political representation that brings the voice of the people into the halls of power and grabs power for ordinary people,” Sawant said. Starting Wednesday, “the City Council is going to be discussing budget issues, meaning two very important demands for us: Defund SPD and Tax Amazon.”

Many protesters also stayed behind to maintain a presence in the zone around 12th and Pine. Others spoke out saying the community, not politicians, should drive decisions around the camp growing outside the large police precinct emptied of equipment and boarded with plywood. So far, the boards have remained in place.

Continue reading

Sawant goes it alone in rogue ‘Amazon Tax’ committee meeting

The inauguration night upporters couldn’t be at Thursday’s committee in person but Sawant said they tuned in with “more than 100 members of the public” taking part in the virtual meeting

There was only one Seattle City Council member logged in to participate in Thursday night’s “rogue” committee meeting on an “Amazon Tax.”

The major proposal from Central Seattle representative Kshama Sawant to tax big business to the tune of $500 million per year seemed to be moving through the council last month. It had a public hearing in late April and seemed on its way to a committee vote this month. But it was suddenly stymied as council president Lorena González tabled the tax proposal over concerns that dealing with the legislation could violate public meetings law during the COVID-19 crisis.

Sawant announced she would take up discussion of the proposed legislation in a committee she controlled despite the warnings, a rogue move in defiance of Gonzalez’s decision.

Sawant’s special meeting of her Sustainability & Renters’ Rights Committee Thursday evening continued discussion of the measure she made the centerpiece of her reelection last fall.

But Thursday night, Sawant was the only council member in attendance.

“Let’s be very clear here: the Democratic Party political establishment is trying to use the cover of legal arguments — and not very competent ones at that — to try and quash our growing movement and protect big business from taxation,” Sawant said. Continue reading

With no bike share in Seattle, sharing in the city takes another hit

Rarely does an industry have such a quick rise and sudden drop as the bikeshare business has had in Seattle. Last year it would have been odd if you didn’t see a mass of multicolored bicycles across the streets, from red Jump bikes to the yellow Ofos and green Lime bicycles.

Lime took its 2,000 bikes off Seattle streets in December and now the Jump bicycles will be temporarily absent, as well, with Lime taking over the red bike’s business operations this month. Lime acquired Jump on May 7 after Uber, which owned the latter, led a $170 million investment in Lime that “reaffirms Lime’s market strength and positions the company to build a long-lasting business that empowers people with sustainable, safe and affordable transportation options,” the company said in an announcement.

This comes as the bike rental business has fallen off a cliff during the COVID-19 pandemic. There were just 23,400 trips in April, compared to 158,600 trips in April 2019, according to Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) data.

“We recognize that the COVID-19 has impacted all areas of life including new mobility companies, and we are evaluating our options with these impacts in mind,” SDOT spokesperson Ethan Bergerson said in an email. Continue reading

Facing opposition from mayor and chamber advocates, Seattle tax on big businesses for COVID-19 relief and housing moves toward May vote

Measures to tax big business accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic took another preliminary step at the Seattle City Council Wednesday as a torn cohort of public commenters weighed in on the suite of bills.

Proponents of the legislation criticized Mayor Jenny Durkan for opposing the tax and touted its ability to address multiple issues at once, while opponents called it a “tax on jobs” and claimed it could stunt response to the outbreak that has sickened more than 6,000 in King County.

“We are on the eve of a major economic downturn and instead of negotiating over new streams of revenue for city programs, we need our city leaders help and focus on getting our local jobs and economy back online,” said Don Blakeney, the Downtown Seattle Association’s vice president of advocacy and economic development.

The plan, spearheaded by council members Kshama Sawant and Tammy Morales, would, in the long run, tax the largest 2% of businesses to fund the construction of up to 10,000 units of social housing and the conversion of homes to environmental standards in line with the Green New Deal starting next year.

But Sawant and Morales have pushed the plan forward to also create a $500 a month Seattle COVID-19 relief payment program for up to 100,000 households beginning later this year. Continue reading

Testing, testing, testing: At forefront of U.S. cities responding to COVID-19 crisis, here’s what Seattle’s mayor talked about in her first ‘virtual town hall’

A mobile COVID-19 testing clinic Friday on 14th Ave

Pounded early by COVID-19, the Seattle area has found itself an early indicator of what is to come in big cities across the country. Last week, the city’s mayor focused on Central Seattle including Capitol Hill and the Central District as part of what her office said will be a series of “virtual town halls” in neighborhoods across the city to talk with residents and try to connect communities with needed city resources.

Testing and the resources needed to bolster the effort were at the center of Jenny Durkan’s conversation as the Seattle mayor made it clear Thursday that the city does not have enough testing capability to tackle COVID-19 and likely will not have that capacity for a long time, weeks into a pandemic that has more than 5,500 cases across the county and has killed nearly 400. The city’s potential $300 million hole in its budget, of course, was also on the minds of Durkan’s citizens.

“There is not adequate testing and I wish I could tell you that that’s gonna happen soon. We don’t know when it’s gonna happen,” she said in the virtual town hall, noting the state is pushing for access to “millions of test kits.” Continue reading

With another $310B lined up, Rep. Jayapal — and Seattle small business owners — question federal Paycheck Protection Program

(Image: Sea Turtle via Flickr)

Rep. Pramila Jayapal told her Seattle constituents this week that she was torn on how to vote on a new $480 billion COVID-19 relief package, acknowledging positives such as money for desperately needed testing but said she was worried the massive package won’t address the needs of working people.

UPDATE 3:35 PM: Jayapal joined her colleagues in approving the aid package:

My constituents are desperate for help. I voted for this bill because Democrats took an insufficient Republican bill and made it better—but this package is so far from sufficient.  It does too little to respond to the public health emergency and stop the economic free fall. Every minute we do not act is another death, another family devastated, another business shuttered.

One small victory for Democrats like Jayapal concerned about large companies muscling in on the previous rounds of payroll protection funding — $60 billion of this round will be earmarked only for small lenders.

ORIGINAL REPORT: “It has good principles in it, but I have heard from all of my constituents that it is not serving the needs of too many people,” Jayapal said at a meeting of Seattle’s 43rd District Democrats via video conferencing Tuesday night. “It is not getting money to the unbanked, it is not getting money to people who are not high on the list of the banks that are out there.”

The U.S. Senate approved the package, which would give an additional $310 billion to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), Tuesday and the House is expected to vote on it Thursday. Jayapal called the small business aid program into question during the meeting, citing economists she’s spoken with who say the PPP “won’t solve anything.”

“It is not bold enough, it is not big enough,” Jayapal said. “We are trying to use systems that are from, in some cases, the 50s and other cases maybe the 70s or 80s to respond to a crisis that is in 2020 and massive.”

In an online Q&A session with Seattle small business owners earlier in the day on Tuesday held by the GSBA business advocacy organization, Mark Costello, Deputy District Director for the federal Small Business Administration, tried to relax concerns from owners who applied but didn’t receive approvals from their banks and lenders before the first round of PPP funding dried up.

“I believe your application is in there,” Costello said. “You’ve done everything you need to do. Try to have patience as SBA tries to work through the really daunting level of demand this program has spurned.” Continue reading