Decriminalize Seattle Response to Mayor Durkan’s Executive Order 2020-10

In response to widespread and growing calls to defund the Seattle Police Department by at least 50%, Mayor Durkan issued an Executive Order announcing the creation of two new formations of city employees (a “Community Safety Workgroup” and an “SPD Function Analysis Interdepartmental Team”). We demand that the Mayor stop wasting our time with the fatal combination of liberal rhetoric and bureaucratic delay tactics. 

  1. The Executive Order represents an inexcusable obstruction tactic. We don’t need months of study by city employees to tell us policing has failed to keep us safe. We have all the evidence we need. Looking at the use of force complaints from this summer’s uprising alone paints a picture of a violent, out-of-control police force. We could fill libraries with the available evidence that police don’t keep Black communities safe. The evidence shows that the criminal punishment system targets BIPOC at every level – from who is surveilled, to who is arrested, to who is kept in jail pending prosecution, to who is ultimately prosecuted and imprisoned. The evidence shows that the City has invested billions in violent policing systems that hurt us, while our neighbors remain houseless, and while basic needs remain unmet. As we face COVID-19 and an economic crash that includes an impending eviction crisis, all of which falls most harshly on Black communities, the City must transfer money out of the policing system that makes everything worse and into housing, income support, childcare and health care.
  2. The Executive Order lacks any actual commitments to change that would materially benefit Black and Indigenous people. As designed, nothing can come of this order but yet another set of anemic reformist recommendations, which will be packaged as somehow new, despite the fact that previous calls for reform, regulation, training, and community accountability have failed. What’s more, even a cursory review of recent task forces and interdepartmental work groups shows the Mayor’s pattern of ignoring recommendations. These kinds of task forces are delay tactics aimed at demobilizing the uprising in defense of Black lives by pretending to address it, while ensuring that no material change takes place. 
  3. The Executive Order splits the divestment conversation from the investment conversation. The conversation about what investments are needed to build real safety and well-being in Black communities must be integrated with the conversation on divesting from policing. Police target poor people, and most “crime” prosecuted in Seattle is a result of poverty. If people had housing, we would not have special teams of cops to harass and sweep homeless encampments. The Mayor’s attempts to split the conversations, by creating this Executive Order on the one hand, and a separate (equally problematic) taskforce to distribute $100 million for Black community members, reveals her lack of commitment to truly reckon with the role police play in Seattle, and what investments would be needed to build true safety. Investments that are not coupled with divestments from government functions that shorten the lifespans of our Black and Brown community are the wrong approach.
  4. The Executive Order puts the wrong set of people at the table. It calls on the very individuals who have been responsible for creating and sustaining the current policing system, and who have vigorously resisted every effort at reform and accountability, to be put in charge of “reimagining” their role. It calls on the same people who have disproportionately harmed Black and Indigenous communities to set the agenda, and influence and direct the outcome of the process. Every prior attempt at reform has been met with extreme resistance by the Seattle Police Department and the Police Officer’s Guild. Even with three City-funded groups charged with creating accountability (Community Police Commission, Office of the Inspector General for Public Safety, Office of Police Accountability), this summer has shown we are farther than ever from curbing police violence or changing police behavior in this City. We know that the Seattle Police Department will not recommend defunding themselves. The Mayor must stop pretending otherwise. 
  5. The results of the process will be a reflection of the Mayor’s perspective – and she’s made clear she’s dismissive of the movement to divest from policing in defense of Black lives. City employees assigned to the work group and interdepartmental team serve at the pleasure of the mayor. Given these power dynamics, what’s most likely to come out of this is a repackaging of reforms that have already been tried and failed, both here and elsewhere. Even if transformative ideas somehow get developed through this process, they may never see the light of day because the Mayor has made clear her opposition to the movement to divest from policing, and she does not have to accept any of the proposals made by the work group/interdepartmental team delay tactic.
  6. The Executive Order is designed to divert attention away from community-designed and led processes already generating real plans for creating true public health and safety. If the Mayor really wanted to do something helpful, she would direct city agencies to offer technical support to this fall’s Black community-led research and next spring’s participatory budgeting. Instead of backing community-led and designed-processes, the Mayor has rejected community voices every step of the way. She vetoed the bills proposing the modest initial divestments and investments, including investments in Black-led research. She insists on running the show so she can set the priorities herself, revealing the Executive Order as yet another power play. 

The bottom line is: the Executive Order to reimagine policing and safety will do more harm than good. For many in Seattle’s Black community, the ask is not to reimagine safety; it is to imagine safety for the first time. The process of imagining and creating safety for the first time will be doomed to failure if it is trusted to the same actors who have defended and supported the racist status quo. The work to imagine safety for the first time has already begun. It’s time for the Mayor to get on board.