Coalition of Black activists reviews the state of Seattle's defund movement
After a momentous week in Seattle politics and policing, several Black community leaders and organizers held a news conference Friday to respond to all that’s happening and discuss the path forward.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Paige Browning: KUOW’s Eilis O’Neil covered the event and reports that activists are still pushing for a 50% reduction in the Seattle police budget, and have a new demand as well.
Eilis O’Neil: The main message was that they don't want the Black Lives Matter movement in Seattle to get bogged down or distracted by Chief Carmen Best’s retirement announcement. Instead, they want to continue the process of cutting the police department budget by 50%.
Shaun Glaze is with the nonprofit King County Equity Now, and is also employed by the City of Seattle as a data advisor. Glaze said: “Defunding the Seattle Police Department by 50% remains our goal. All of the participatory processes in the world won't truly generate true public safety and public health for Black community members, for our black and brown community, unless we are divesting from the Seattle Police Department, the courts, the jails, at the same time that we take that money and we reinvest in community, we reinvest it where we know the solutions are.”
Glaze and other leaders went on to outline a new demand that they have for Seattle, in addition to the demands they've been publishing for a while. Back in June, Mayor Durkan committed to investing $100 million in community programs for Black youth and adults. Local activists want her to commit to distributing that money through a community-driven budget process. They spent much of the press conference (which was held over the phone) describing that process.
As Glaze detailed: “It's not enough to invest in our communities. If you're not allowing communities who are most impacted by disinvestment to direct those investments. We are the experts in what will keep us safe, and what will make us whole. We live this, we breathe this, and unfortunately, too many times we have died because of this. It's crucial that in 2021, we take the brilliance that comes out of our community-led, participatory research process and allow it to inform the future investments that are made for our communities.”
Chief Carmen Best said this week that she's retiring. What was said about her decision to step down?
Their main point about Chief Best was that dismantling systemic racism was always too big a task for one person, and they want to make sure that that work continues despite the change in leadership.
Here's Emijah Smith, who's also with King County Equity Now: “First and foremost, I just personally want to say to Carmen Best, I want to say to you that you did well, and your achievements and your accomplishments, to make it that far, to have that level of positional power, that is a huge accomplishment, and it is historic as a first Black woman. I just want to say that I honor you, and that this day today is not about one individual. This is about policing institutions across our land.”
What vision for the future did these Black community leaders have for Seattle?
The leaders on the call threw out some ideas for what public safety could look like, or how to reinvest the dollars they hope get taken out of the police department budget.
Reverend Martin Lawson is also with King County Equity Now: “We're seeking to leverage long standing, established community relationships to not only respond to critical incidents, but work to prevent those incidents by providing our youth with access to practical education of self, as well as society; also, vocational training, employment opportunities, addiction and mental health services, then alternative methods of correction that focus less on incarceration, and more on personal development and rehabilitation.”
One of the biggest themes of the press conference, beyond these specific ideas that they had, was that the Black community is not a monolith, and the best way to move towards a better future is to ensure community control of budget line items and city contracts.
From what you heard today at the press conference, do they believe the city is making progress?
They did say they view what has happened so far as progress, they just want to build on that momentum.
Here's Nikkita Oliver with Decriminalize Seattle: “We've seen many city council votes that are starting to make strides in the right direction, and we are still far from the 50% cuts and reinvestments that we are demanding.”
Oliver went on to say that the progress that's been made so far is thanks to a community-driven movement, not to elected officials themselves. She pointed out that so far, about $4 million have been allocated to community programs, and what they're looking for is something much, much bigger than that, which is $100 million for community programs.
Listen to the full discussion with Paige Browning and Eilis O'Neill by clicking the play button above.