Tempers flare over police precinct at Seattle council meeting

Aug 16, 2016, 6:46 AM | Updated: 12:15 pm
Gerald Hankerson, north precinct...
Seattle NAACP President Gerald Hankerson speaks to the council in opposition of building a new north police precinct. (Seattle Channel)
(Seattle Channel)

Seattle City Council President Bruce Harrell stopped the council’s Monday afternoon meeting when the packed chambers flooded with people opposed to a proposed north precinct for police.

“I am unable to maintain order,” Harrell said. “We are going to recess for 10 minutes until I can restore order.”

Related: Todd Herman asks Democrats to stand up for cops

The council eventually passed a resolution that called for a Racial Equity Toolkit to inform the future decision to fund the new police station.

The resolution — worked on by council members Debora Juarez and Lorena Gonzalez — puts into action the use of a Racial Equity Toolkit. The results of that toolkit will help guide further funding decisions for the north precinct as the council continues to find ways to save money on its construction.

It was a tense meeting. Those opposed to the north precinct call it a “bunker” and have filled the council chambers for the past two meetings — passionately speaking in opposition. On Monday, the chambers could not hold all of the crowd, and many more swarmed outside the building. At one point, that crowd made it to just outside of the chambers, flooding the hallways. That is when Harrell halted the proceedings.

This came after Harrell extended time for public comment past its original 20 minutes — first by an extra 20 minutes and then by another 20 minutes. Eventually, he said he would continue public comment until all who were signed up were able to speak.

Harrell did appear stressed at one point — while he was attempting to clarify who was to speak next, he was interrupted by the crowd.

“Calm down. Jesus. In order to listen, it has to be quiet,” Harrell said.

At one point, an unknown man in the back of the room broke through the public comment yelling “white lives matter.” His calls were muffled by the crowd who yelled “black lives matter,” and “remove this man” in response. The man was removed by security.

All this was before the council could begin its business. The agenda included a resolution to support funding for construction of the north precinct in the next budget. After about 10 minutes, the council returned to the dais.

Opposing a police ‘bunker’

Time for public comment was repeatedly extended for the north precinct. The general message from the crowd was to not build the “bunker,” and use the proposed millions of dollars for other purposes, such as addressing homelessness, drug addiction and housing. While the meeting was halted the Block the Bunker crowd posted on social media that they “took city hall,” and “the people will not be controlled.”

“It is despicable that we have to come down here to have a conversation with you on something that the entire country objects. Not just Seattle,” Seattle-King County NAACP President Gerald Hankerson told the council. “I’m really disappointed that Ms. Gonzalez is not down here today to confront her. Because I feel like she’s being a coward to not face the people who object to this horrendous idea.”

Council member Lorena Gonzalez was at a meeting with the Department of Justice regarding the consent decree the Seattle Police Department is under. She joined the meeting for the north precinct later on.

“As we talk about this today, Milwaukee is burning,” Hankerson said. “Is anyone paying attention? Police are killing us as they have been for the past 200 years, and we are talking about building them some damn infrastructure. It’s stupid that we have nine people considering building them a fortress. ”

But Hankerson was not alone among the crowd who took more than an hour and a brief recess to finish commenting.

While it is nice that you, Councilmember Juarez, are not afraid of a building or the people inside of it, we are. So we are going to change the narrative. Our story is that it is not a police precinct. Our story is that it is a police bunker. And it is there to militarize our police force. It is your investment, the city’s investment, into white supremacy instead of black lives. I’ve heard many people say that the police have been waiting for this since 1998. Well, we as black people, have been asking that the police stop killing us for hundreds of years … You tell me, who has been waiting longer?

I urge – no, I demand that you do not invest in white supremacy and stop this war on black and brown lives.

We don’t need police that are better marksmen. They are doing an excellent job of killing people already. Maybe a few of them need to know how to shoot a gun. But we don’t need all these trained killers on the street. The problem is militarization, it’s not just a building.

When my daughter does something bad I don’t buy her a new iPhone 7. And when police do unacceptable things, we should not reward them with the most expensive police station in the country. Council members, you have contributed to this violence by letting it get this far. You are in no position to tell us to calm down.

Seattle’s proposed north precinct

The city’s current north precinct is near Northgate Mall, at orth. It serves 40 percent of the city’s population and was built in 1984.

By 1998, the city noted that the facility built for 154 staff members was overcrowded by 30 percent. The city began to plan for a future facility. Today, the north precinct is 65 percent over capacity, according to the city. About 254 staff members work in the building.

A new site at Aurora Avenue North and North 130th Street is slated for the construction of the precinct — to begin in April 2017, if budgeted. It was originally expected to cost $160 million to build. After a series of cuts, it could now cost up to $149 million. The plans currently have the building designed to withstand a 9.0 earthquake. The city expects the facility to have a lifespan of 50 years.

Among the resolutions the council considered was a request that the city get a third party to give the building costs a second look.

It also requests that a Racial Equity Toolkit be used to analyze the design of the building. That will include obtaining community perspectives from “historically underrepresented populations, vulnerable populations, those most likely to interact with police …”

A portion of the precinct is designed to be a community center. The resolution states that it will be used to build stronger community-police partnerships.

Plans also state the building will be used as a training facility for police.

Back and forth

The council’s proceedings were largely filled with cheers and jeers — mostly jeers — throughout the meeting. The crowd continued to boo and yell at council members as they discussed the north precinct and the resolution. While the council ultimately approved the resolution, there was some who expressed they do not support current plans for it.

“I want to say that I do not support the north precinct in its current design,” Councilmember Mike O’Brien said. “I do not support the current budget for this.”

O’Brien said that he was prepared to vote in favor of the resolution but decided to vote no after hearing from the crowd. He said he wanted the public to have more time to look at the resolution. He was the only no vote.

“Quite candidly, I don’t know how anyone can support the precinct in its current state,” Harrell said. “If you are fighting passionately for Black Lives Matter, or a fiscal conservative on the far right, we have a lot of challenges with this project.”

“A lot of the public comment is heartfelt that we listen to what’s happening in the country,” he said before hearing another jeer from the crowd about Black Lives Matter.

“You do not have to tell me that black lives matter,” Harrell quickly responded, though he was interrupted again. “No you don’t. My three kids are black, my wife is black. I’m black”

Harrell was not the only one to speak back to the crowd.

“Please be respectful, because I wasn’t raised, apparently, the way you were raised,” Juarez said. “I was raised in Indian Country.”

“I was raised to listen, and to do the right thing,” she said. “On Aug. 17, 2015 this council passed a law. In that law, it said $160 million for a police station. I wasn’t here then. Five of those who voted for it, are on the city council today. Before we got to that vote, we had 11 other votes ahead of that. My job here isn’t to be called names. I’ve worked hard to be where I’m at, so has Councilmember Gonzalez – don’t flip me off.”

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Tempers flare over police precinct at Seattle council meeting