Seattle Black activists speak up in support of Police Chief Best, against 'protest of agitation'
Arguing that Chief Carmen Best is the ideal person to shepherd changes at the Seattle Police Department, members of Seattle's Black clergy and police reform activists spoke out in support of SPD's leader.
Chief Best recently announced that she is retiring from SPD in September, amid tensions between the department and the City Council. But leaders at the Thursday press conference said they want her to stay on.
“She’s accountable for us," said Devitta Briscoe, assistant director of Not This Time. Best is the first Black woman to head SPD.
“We’re not just fighting as Black women for our voices, we are fighting for our existence," Briscoe said. "It’s like the complete erasure and silence of Black women in positions of power can just be pushed out because of some small group of agitators who feel that that’s what’s best.”
Not This Time organized the event, along with Seattle Black Christian Clergy. Pastor Leslie Braxton said that he worries it will take a long time to find a replacement for Chief Best.
"Who would want to come to a city where the chief can be so maliciously targeted via the city budget? Our city right now in the public mind is an occupational hazard, for anyone who would aspire to lead our Seattle Police Department forward," Braxton said.
"Carmen is the best person to have on the inside of the law enforcement community, working with all of us on the outside, and many stakeholders, in the long, difficult, but ultimately fruitful process of re-imagining and restructuring and rebuilding a paradigm; a model of law enforcement for the Seattle community. We can yet still be a model for the nation."
Not This Time is a nonprofit working to change policing in Washington state. It was the driving group behind I-940, which addressed police use-of-force, emphasized de-escalation, and changed the standard for charging police with a crime after deadly encounters. Taylor said he had to be willing to work with diverse stakeholders to make progress.
"I believe I do not have to agree with someone 100% of the time in order to build with them," Taylor said. "That gives you a lot of latitude to build with a lot of people, which is what we did with Initiative 940. We brought law enforcement together with community, community with unions, unions with politicians. Because bringing people together works."
Taylor said the decision by the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office to charge Auburn police officer Jeff Nelson with second degree murder in the death of Jesse Sarey shows their efforts are making a difference.
"Protest of agitation"
Taylor contrasted that approach with some recent Seattle protests, which he said are more agitating than effective.
Protests for racial justice emerged around the nation in late May, after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers. Seattle has continuously seen protests organized by a range of groups. While most have marched peacefully, some protests have resulted in people breaking windows, setting cars and small buildings on fire, and throwing explosives at police officers.
"I'm very, very, very concerned about the protest of agitation," Taylor said. "What concerns me about the protest of agitation is that there is an allowance of certain violence in the protest of agitation. Because they believe this is a part of it, right? And I've never thought that the protest of agitation is anything that is sustainable."
"I know people operate the way they do, but in order for us to have built and brought people together to be the first, and only, state with a police accountability law, we did that by bringing all people together," he said.
Mixed response to Chief Best
While Chief Best has come under scrutiny for Seattle police's response to recent protests -- often using pepper spray, blast balls, and tear gas -- this is not the first time that leaders from Seattle's Black community have spoken up in support of her. In June, Black clergy members held an event to show support for the chief.
Reverend Aaron Williams previously told KUOW that Best is "a leader who has her finger on the pulse of the community, so she will be greatly missed."
Williams is the vice president of United Black Christian Clergy, and co-chair of Seattle's Community Police Commission. He said he has worked with Chief Best for 12 years and has also been on the past two search committees for Seattle's police chief.
“This is a very sad day in the city of Seattle," Williams said. "Chief Best is a shining light of leadership in Seattle and across the country. I’ve known her to be a bridge builder, always connecting people.”
The group Decriminalize Seattle has advocated for defunding SPD. They said their goal was never to oust Chief Best, but suggested her supporters put too much stock in her ability to bring change.
"We know that anti-racism is not about diversifying the police and lifting up Black women or anyone else to head SPD," they said in a statement. "We celebrate the movement in defense of Black lives and we recommit to the work ahead to generate safety for all people in Seattle."