Seattle city attorney candidate: Abolitionist platform is about ‘scaling back and building up’

Sep 28, 2021, 5:38 AM
Seattle City Attorney abolitionist Nicole Thomas-Kennedy, candidate...
Seattle City Attorney candidate Nicole Thomas-Kennedy. (Campaign photo)
(Campaign photo)

While Seattle’s mayoral race is perhaps the most high-profile showdown in this year’s election cycle, the race for city attorney could very well be the most consequential one. For “abolitionist” city attorney candidate Nicole Thomas-Kennedy, it’s also one rooted in changing how the city approaches its criminal justice system on a fundamental level.

Tectonic changes on the way for Seattle City Attorney’s office

Thomas-Kennedy worked as a public defender for King County for four years, before leaving in 2020 to take on pro bono defense work for activists amid the flurry of social justice protests across the region. A year later, it appeared as though 12-year incumbent Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes would be running unopposed just days before the filing deadline for candidates. By the time that deadline had passed, Holmes had two last-minute opponents in Thomas-Kennedy and Ann Davison.

At least at first, the goal for the former was primarily about starting a conversation.

“Some people were saying, ‘some people should run against Pete [Holmes],’ and I thought to myself, ‘someone should,'” Thomas-Kennedy told MyNorthwest. “Someone should just run against him to at least talk about what other options we could have in this city, instead of the same reform-type ideas that have led us to this moment, and someone pointed out that I could be that person.”

“I had never run for office before, I did not think I had a chance, and I was like, ‘I could do that’ so we could have this conversation,” she added.

There was also a more personal aspect as well, revolving largely around Thomas-Kennedy’s experiences as a public defender.

“Most of my theft cases were all petty theft [where someone] had stolen a block of cheese and one beer,” she noted. “Ninety-percent of the people in Seattle municipal court qualify for a public defender — they’re really only prosecuting poor people.”

That all feeds into her image as the self-described “abolitionist” candidate, a label she says is something of a misnomer.

As Thomas-Kennedy describes it, the goal of abolition at the city level is less about what’s taken away, and more about what’s built in the place of strategies she believes have proven ineffective.

“As an initial reaction, I get why there is that reaction because it sounds scary — it sounds like ‘Escape from New York,’ or ‘Thunderdome,’ or like ‘The Purge,’ but that’s not what it is,” she explained. “The whole idea around abolition is preventing harm and creating healing and repair, and we just can’t do those things while causing the trauma at the same time, and while pouring resources into causing that trauma. It’s a scaling-back and a building-up at the same time.”

In practice, she sees that diverting focus away from systems that she says criminalize poverty, and instead focusing on solutions that don’t revolve around incarceration as the first and only option.

That means putting resources into mental health and addiction treatment, and community-based responders that can lighten the load of police officers, while scaling up existing programs that already seek to address those issues, but have often been significantly underfunded.

“Abolition is scaling up community-based services and resources so we don’t have to rely on cops, courts, and jails for everything,” she described. “… Once we have a court-based solution, the option just becomes incarceration.”

Local Democrat group endorses ‘abolitionist’ city attorney candidate

In a city where so-called “prolific offenders” who have cycled out of prison dozens of times only to quickly to re-offend have frequently made headlines, Thomas-Kennedy points to that as a symptom of a problem that needs new solutions that don’t focus on incarceration.

And while some of the criticism for her positions is centered on concerns that such a policy would only serve to exacerbate Seattle’s existing problems with public safety, she sees the debate over this cycle of re-offenders as further proof that the city’s priorities need to shift.

“I think that the prolific offender question is one of the best ones around this stuff because what we’re talking about is a person who’s cycled in and out of jail multiple times, and that is not working,” she said. “The idea right now is that we have this one-size-fits-all approach: You go to jail and then you won’t do it anymore. But when we have people cycling in and out of jail, it’s obviously not a deterrent anymore.”

Thomas-Kennedy also points out that when it comes to misdemeanor cases, which are the primary purview of the city attorney’s criminal division, sentencing guidelines don’t allow judges the leeway to make “unilateral decisions to keep someone in jail for more than a year” as it is. That belies the need for restorative programs that she says “can respond with a broader range of options that can actually meet people’s needs,” whether that’s mental health or addiction treatment, shelter services, or something else entirely.

With all that in mind, what’s important to her moving forward is to come at these solutions from a place of understanding for all involved.

“We’re making a lot of poor decisions based on fear,” Thomas-Kennedy opined. “It’s not an ‘us versus them’ thing, and that’s the framework that really keeps us from solving those problems.”

MyNorthwest Blog

WWII Veterans...
Bill Kaczaraba

Dad is just one hero on this Veterans Day

On this Veterans Day, MyNorthwest editor Bill Kaczaraba remembers his dad who served in the Army during World War II.
25 days ago
Mariners Playoffs...
Michael Simeona

Relive Cal Raleigh’s magical home run that sent Mariners to playoffs

Relive Cal Raleigh's game-winning home run that sent the Mariners to the playoffs for the first time since 2001.
2 months ago
Building Black Wealth Graphic_900x506...
MyNorthwest Staff

Watch: Celebrate Juneteenth with Draze’s third annual ‘Building Black Wealth’

Seattle rapper Draze is hosting a live virtual marketplace on Juneteenth for the third annual 'Building Black Wealth' this Sunday at 9:00 a.m.
6 months ago
Mayor Bruce Harrell, Sonics...
Nick Bowman

Mayor Harrell latest to pick up the torch on years-long effort to bring back the Sonics

Mayor Bruce Harrell is the latest city leader to take the baton on a years-long push to bring the Seattle Sonics back to their home city.
8 months ago
Bruce Harrell...
Nick Bowman

Harrell aims to ‘hit reset’ on strained relationship between Seattle mayor, city council

In his State of the City address, Mayor Bruce Harrell highlighted his hope to repair the strained relationship between his office and Seattle City Council.
10 months ago
ktth, bryan suits...
KTTH staff

KTTH debuts ‘Bryan Suits Show’ weekday mornings

Bryan Suits returns to Seattle airwaves as part of a new lineup on AM 770 KTTH. 'The Bryan Suits Show' airs weekday mornings from 6–9 a.m.
10 months ago

Sponsored Articles

Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Seattle city attorney candidate: Abolitionist platform is about ‘scaling back and building up’