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Protesters call to defund Seattle Police Department, invest in community based solutions

Protesters sit on the step of Seattle City Hall to listen to Mayor Jenny Durkan. (KIRO Radio, Nicole Jennings)

Unlike the daily protests and rallies that have been gathering en masse since the weekend, Wednesday afternoon’s rally on Capitol Hill featured speakers who are experienced organizers and well-known social justice advocates in Seattle. The rally and march was focused on a single topic: a call to defund the Seattle Police Department.

The march was co-sponsored by No New Youth Jail, Decriminalize Seattle, Block the Bunker, Seattle Peoples Party, COVID-19 Mutual Aid, Trans Women of Color Solidarity Network, Asians for Black Lives, and many others.

“One of the major demands of our movement right now is to defund and demilitarize the police,” community organizer, attorney, and former Seattle mayoral candidate Nikkita Oliver said to the Seattle City Council earlier in the day. “Seattle Police Department is unleashing flash bangs, mace, tear gas. They’re running into protesters with their bikes, they have very large sticks, they’re wearing riot gear. So the only option is to begin to defund and demilitarize. We’re calling for a 50 percent defund of the Seattle Police Department and we demand that those dollars be invested in community based alternatives to incarceration, community based alternatives for public safety.”

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Over the span of 48 hours, 17,000 people signed a petition urging the city to cut the police budget in half. Oliver says that money would be better spent on affordable housing, community based anti-violence programs, universal childcare, free public transit, and mental health services. She believes community programs are better suited to solving social problems than a police force.

“We know that when people are affected economically, when there is mass poverty in a community, it only promotes more struggle, more pain, and the criminalizing of the things that we have to do to survive,” Oliver said.

Dr. Jacqueline Helfgott is a professor and director of the Crime and Justice Research Center at Seattle University.

“No, we don’t need to defund the police, we need to stop blaming the police for all of the problems we have in society,” Dr. Helfgott said.

She argues that a percentage of police money has already been diverted to social programs and work is being done to reform police departments.

“Nothing that’s been implemented is changing the fact that George Floyd was murdered by police,” said Dr. Helfgott. “Nothing in any of the police reforms that we’ve been doing has changed the fact that person after person after person of color has to feel like they can’t trust the police. However, an enormous amount of work has gone into creating change and policing systems in the United States. Is it perfect? No. Is it widespread? No. Yes, we are making gains. We are nowhere near where we need to go, but if we throw it all out now we’re never going to get there.”

She says Seattleites are given a public safety survey every year, asking them to rank their concerns related to crime and public safety.

“Every single year people in Seattle are saying that we have a lack of police capacity,” Helfgott said. “People are identifying that we have issues across the city, but one of those issues is that we need more resources going into police and public safety, not less. We actually have data that people want to see more police on the street.”

The petition to defund the police states: “Police reform efforts — from Minneapolis to Seattle — have failed. To stop police violence, the police must be reduced in size, in budget, and in scope. The police have never served as an adequate response to social problems. They are rooted in violence against Black people. In order to protect Black lives, this moment calls for investing and expanding our safety and well-being beyond policing.”

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