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caption: Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan sent a letter to supporters in which she endorsed candidate Mark Solomon for Seattle City Council District 2. She said two other candidates would "cause more division in our city."
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Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan sent a letter to supporters in which she endorsed candidate Mark Solomon for Seattle City Council District 2. She said two other candidates would "cause more division in our city."
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Seattle Mayor on deescalating protests and Covid-19 help

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan joins us for her weekly check-in.

This is an edited transcript of the conversation between Jeannie Yandel and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan on Thursday, July 30, 2020.

Negotiations over a new congressional coronavirus relief bill are at an impasse and what that means is millions of Americans will likely lose their $600 per week enhanced unemployment benefits starting next week. And you've mentioned one way you're helping Seattleites -- by stopping evictions. What else is the city doing to support people, particularly people who will lose those benefits?

This is just a devastating blow for families and workers that Congress hasn't been able to move forward on direct aid to people that need it the most.

And I've got to say it's shocking, given what's happening in America right now and how many people it's impacting. City of Seattle's doing all it can do directly. We're also working with the county and the state and outside organizations.

So the city has stopped, like you said, prohibited any evictions. We also stood up a program to help people with direct rent relief -- that's through King County United Way. Some good news is they got a large donation from McKenzie Bezos this week to help direct funding for people and I'm hoping a lot of that goes to rent relief and to groceries and to food security.

We've seen that over the last several months, very early on knew that we were going to have to change how we did business. So we give direct food benefits to families, and we've given thousands of families grocery vouchers, and they're being used. They're desperately needed. They're being used. We're also delivering hot meals to seniors.

We're providing a whole range of things that try to protect small businesses and workers. Losing this federal aid, though, is is really going to be devastating for families here in Seattle and across the country.

We also know that unemployment claims here in Washington state are still at a historic high. We learned today that the US gross domestic product shrank nearly 33% last quarter, which is the biggest GDP drop ever reported. What do you think this economic news means for restaurant owners, small business owners here in Seattle who are trying to figure out what a phased reopening would look like, in a way that is financially sustainable for them?

I think it's really challenging and it's going to be challenging for some time. I think we all hoped that when we flattened the curve and started to reopen, that we would be able to control spread of the virus through testing, contact tracing, good mask wearing, good hygiene. But we are back to the same numbers almost as we were at the end of March. They're right now mostly in young people, but we're seeing that move now to older people and to people who are vulnerable, which requires more hospitalization.

eattle's done better than most of King County but our numbers are going up too. And we see that there is a good chance statewide that we may have to roll back some of the openings. And if so, it's gonna make it so much harder for those small businesses who are just reopening and brought workers back.

I'm very concerned. The virus is increasing. It's increasing nationwide. I met yesterday with -- every week I meet with public health, King County to figure out where we are and I also have a group of national and international advisors who are very tied in to what's happening nationally -- the projections aren't good. And I hate to say that, but you know, in best case scenario, we won't have a vaccine until sometime next year. And that means for the next six months, we're going to have to be phasing in and out of these kinds of restrictions, which is so hard on workers, on small businesses, on people being separated from one another.

So we're in this for a very long marathon. And we're trying to think of ways that we as a city can provide more support for people through this really difficult time.

At what point might you decide to to make more restrictions on your own? Or are you waiting for leadership from the state on this? I know that the mayor of Shelton made some decisions to tighten things up more than the state said he needed to. What is your thinking on this?

So the good news is for people is we found that for public health and all elected leaders to speak with one voice, you ended up having better public action and having a better fight against the virus.

So throughout this, we've been working closely together with the governor, the King County Executive Dow Constantine, Seattle King County Public Health, but also with the State Department of Health, and the leadership from both Pierce and Snohomish County. Because we tend to move as a group in Puget Sound. And so we are talking all the time about what we may need to do and what we restrict.

I'm going to use this time to pitch people if you don't mind. Please, please, please wear a mask. Wear a mask when you go out,wear a mask when you're in a public place. Wear a mask when you're in the park.

Data is starting to show that masks are a good protection both against getting infected but also for people are asymptomatic. Limit your trips. We're still in that phase, particularly if you're over 60, limit your trips out to public places, including grocery stores. Make sure you're washing your hands as often as possible. Those are the best defenses we have right now, because we don't have a vaccine and we don't right now have very effective treatments.

Shelly in Capitol Hill: What is being done to help people with disabilities? I know some of them don't qualify for unemployment and I go to DVR, but right now none of their services are available. What's been done to help them in this time?

So when I said about how we had to shift our services to give for example, seniors used to come to our senior centers where they'd have both companionship and programming, but also a hot meal. Well, when we had to close the centers, we had to find at least some way to get them their hot meal. We also see that with people with disabilities that lack mobility or ability to get out.

So we're trying to have a series of ways, for example, to deliver nutrition or see if they need to get to a medical appointment. Working with the county on that front, too. But it is still a challenge and we you know, any input from the communities we've been talking to to say, where are the biggest hurdles that we in the city can help with?

Michael in Federal Way: I've been one of these people of color that went out protesting because of injustice, as a person of color who has experienced working for construction union Local 242. There's a large amount of people of color with [unintelligible] it to the city of Seattle that were getting discriminated and after all of these years of getting discriminated, it still takes place. And we still have to deal with discrimination and no help from the city of Seattle. We protested in Beacon Hill, we shared that our union Local 242 was not doing anything for us. I would like to know what the city could do to help us deal with that.

Look, there is no question that that racism exists in every system we have. In policing, in who gets jobs and how they're treated at jobs, and that we as a government have to do all we can to step up.

So there's a number of things: if you're working on a job site that is in the city of Seattle, it is required to not discrimnate. If you're not getting the relief that you need through your own union membership, you can make a complaint with our Office of Civil Rights. And we will take steps to investigate.

You can also make a complaint with the EEOC or with the state equivalent. So there's a number of avenues that you can go to. If you go to the city of Seattle website and go to the Office of Civil Rights, there's a web page there that tells you which place you might be able to bring a complaint, depending on the nature of the complaint.

If it's outside the city of Seattle, the city of Seattle, of course, has less ability, but there's still state and county resources. So if you don't find what you need, email me at jenny.durkan@seattle.gov and we'll try to get you to the right place.

As you know, Black Lives Matter Seattle King County and other groups have filed a claim that Seattle Police should be held in contempt for using pepper spray against people last weekend during protests. What is your response to that?

Yesterday, the city of Seattle filed its response for Judge Jones to consider to say why they believe that the city of Seattle is not in contempt. I want to make a couple points: number one, every officer was informed about what Judge Jones' order required of them, as well as what City of Seattle, Police Department policies require, with regards to the use of any weapons and munitions at a protest.

Number two, if anyone violates those, they will be investigated by the Office of Police Accountability. And if they're found to violate the rules, the chief will hold them accountable. Individual officer actions will be investigated and held accountable.

I think that if you look at what we filed with the court yesterday, it's clear that many of the complaints that people make are based on some short videos they see on the internet that sometimes don't depict the whole series of events before or after. And so the city yesterday, presented to the judge some differing ways to look even at what the evidence was. And so we're looking forward to the judge looking at that information, hoping he denies the complaint. But if he needs a full hearing, there'll be a full hearing.

But most importantly, people should know, the Chief of Police, Carmen Best has made very clear what her expectations are for the department. As have I. And it was a very dynamic, very fluid, and very difficult series of protests.

You saw on Saturday, thousands of people marching peacefully, and then fires and destruction started to happen. That's the first time you saw police interact with the protesters. Thousands of protesters went home and we had a press conference yesterday showing that there was a van seized and searched in and around the protest that was filled with fireworks and spike strips and nails and things like that, that were used against officers during the protests.

There were smoke bombs, sparklers, pepper spray, there was a lot of different stuff in there. Is it illegal to have those items?

It depends on what they're being used for and how they are used. So I think the investigation is ongoing. I can't prejudge what that investigation will show. But clearly, it showed that there was a number of things people will bring to a protest that showed that their intent was one that was malicious. It wasn't there to be peacefully protesting and frankly, I don't think advanced the message of what we need right now is the focus on racial equity and really dismantling racism in our systems.

You pointed out that some of these claims about how police use crowd control weapons, are based on these short videos so you may not have the entire context of what happened before and after. One of the things that we have seen time and time again in these protests, though, is that when police use crowd control weapons, it tends to escalate things. So even if the weapons aren't banned, why are police still using these weapons?

One thing that is really good about the Seattle Police Department system is we have the most robust, independent civilian review system. There's an Office of Inspector General that looks across all the systems and how police conduct their activities. There's the Office of Police Accountability that looks at individual officers to see if they violate policy. And then there's the Community Police Commission, which brings community's voice to all the policies at the Seattle Police Department.

Right now those three entities are reviewing the course of events during these protests to see whether there actually was a larger issue related to how crowd control techniques were used, and to give their recommendations on what can happen in the future.

What kinds of specific deescalation steps are police officers expected to take at protests before using crowd control weapons?

There's a series of things that will happen depending on how dynamic it is. And I'm not an expert on crowd control techniques. But based on what I do know is, you will hear that the police will ask people to disperse or leave an area or they will declare that a protest is has either become a riot or has become something else that is escalated. And when they give that command, then people are supposed to leave the area or at least follow the dispersment order.

And one of the things that both OPA and OIG will review is to make sure that those kinds of orders actually are given before the crowd control techniques are used.

There are also studies showing that -- and one of the things we need to look at not just locally but nationally is -- how do we get better crowd control techniques, because if you look over the history of Seattle in the last five years, we've had hundreds of protests where there hasn't been an issue.

I marched in the Women's March, both the first one when the President was inaugurated and others. That was 250,000 people, not a single problem. The last month there's been a different dynamic to some of the crowds and I think we saw that and we saw that in Portland as well.

And based on some of the evidence seized in that van, we know that there are people who come to the protest to instigate and start fights. Now police have to be better about not letting that escalate. But it does make the dynamic in a crowd control situation very difficult if someone is throwing explosive devices or frozen bottles or rocks at the police.

Chris on Capitol Hill: Oftentimes, violent resistance has led to positive social change in US history. And at the press conference earlier this week, Carmen Best showed all of the things that were seized in the van and many of which were just over-the-counter items which can be purchased at a local store. How do you refute the facts? These are misinformation coming from Carmen Best and we want to hear facts from the mayor. Can you please speak to the facts around what is going on in our city and why our police are being so overly militarized?

First, I do think that we've got to make sure that when people protest, we have to support and protect first amendment rights. Protests are not just part of our national heritage, they make us better. And the voices being raised in the street in Seattle and across this nation are urging us to really address systemic racism, which has been ignored for generations, and is pushing us to change that. And that's a positive thing.

There are also some people in those crowds who are there for a different reason. And that reason is, they may also have their views that are anti-government or views on what the government's doing, but that are different and not centered around Black Lives Matter.

The materials that were seized in that van, were being used to disrupt. We had we had buildings that were burned with Molotov cocktails. We had commercial properties with windows smashed and fires started and there were residential units above those businesses. The fire chief said how quickly those fires can develop and how much danger they present to the people in those buildings. We also know that in that van, there were spike strips with nails driven through foam that was used to try to pop tires on bikes. There's communications equipment, there's fireworks wrapped together that the bomb squad guy said, would have the same force as a quarter of a stick of dynamite.

So I think when we talk about the facts we have to say yes, absolutely, first amendment rights have to be protected and protests are valued. I've been in hundreds of protests my life. I've marched on the streets in Seattle and Washington, DC. But peaceful protesters don't bring those kind of weaponry to protest.

I wanted to ask about the Seattle Police Department subpoenaing the Seattle Times, King 5, KIRO 7, KOMO and Q13, to hand over raw video footage taking taken during a protest in late May. The police say they plan to use that video as evidence of arson theft of a firearm. Will you direct the police chief to cancel this order given that it sets a dangerous precedent for freedom of the press to cover these protests?

I believe they were in court today. A couple of things: one, a mayor or elected executive does not get involved in specific criminal investigations and is not a person who reviews specific warrants or subpoenas. And I don't think we want a mayor or elected officials to do that. Donald Trump does that and shows us how dangerous it is.

I know that the shield laws is very important. We have to protect the first amendment right now, not just for people protesting in the streets, but for our journalists. I think that we have seen over the last four years how important journalism is, and particularly as journalists are documenting protest, it raises a double issue of first amendment protections.

I understand that the judge weighed those arguments again today. And he made the decision, I believe, at the recommendation of the city, but I wasn't there so I don't know, that the that the judge himself should review material to determine whether there was anything of significance and whether it should be turned over. So it gives an additional protection for the media and I think that's important.

Do you agree with the subpoena?

I have not reviewed the subpoena. And again, I don't believe you want the mayor to be reviewing individual search warrants and subpoenas in specific investigations. That's for the Chief Police working with the legal team.

I think the judge was presented with arguments. And there's always going to be a -- if there is a public safety interest that the judge has to weigh, the shield law makes clear that you have to limit the ability. I started, when I was a young lawyer, some of my first cases were representing reporters who received subpoenas. I believe strongly in that that should be a very rare instance, and should be very carefully tailored, and should not happen most times. And there has to be a very compelling public safety factor that you look at, because that's true generally, it's even more true now, because of the heightened importance of first amendment rights by both journalists and by protesters.

I think the judge has to weigh those factors. I've not reviewed all of the pleadings and arguments there, but I do believe they should come down on the side of making sure that we're doing all we can to protect the first amendment. At the same time, we've got a fully automatic suppressed rifle that's missing, that the court was very concerned about.