Last week, leftist organizers held two demonstrations at City Hall to pressure city council members to adopt budget demands that would fund social services with money Mayor Bruce Harrell proposed to fill unfillable positions in the Seattle Police Department (SPD) and to expand the City’s efforts to sweep unhoused people.
Though the progressive-leaning council might be more receptive to these variously cute and crushing demonstrations, so far the council’s attempts to curb the Mayor’s reckless spending have elicited a resounding “meh” from organizers.
On Halloween, organizers from the Solidarity Budget, which is the name of the coalition of activists who led the demonstrations, “haunted” City Hall dressed as “Ghostbusters” in yellow hazard suits and as “ghost cops” in bed sheets, police hats, and the iconic Groucho disguise.
The Ghostbusters and ghost cops danced to Ray Parker Jr.’s “Ghostbusters,” and instead of asking “who you gonna call?” they demanded “no ghost cops, defund SPD.” You’ll have to listen to the video to figure out how they said that on beat.
incredibly festive demonstration to eliminate ghost positions: pic.twitter.com/6oBS1nFhVd— Hannah Krieg (@hannahkrieg) October 31, 2022
While the group continues to lobby the City to divert 50% of SPD’s budget to other programs, this demonstration highlighted a clear starting place for lawmakers: cut $17 million for “ghost cops,” which are positions the City budgets for even though the department likely won’t fill them. In his budget, the Mayor proposed funding for 120 new hires to fully fund the department's staffing plan, but that’s a pipe dream in the face of a national cop shortage and the trend of SPD seeing more separations than hires in the last few years. The organizers worry the $17 million will operate as a slush fund for SPD to use on new toys when the CIty could better spend the money on human service providers, to whom the Mayor would rather give a pay cut.
No one on the council proposed an amendment to defund SPD’s ambitious hiring plan, but Public Safety Chair Lisa Herbold said she will formally request quarterly budget and hiring reports from SPD. This way, she said, if the ghost cop positions go unfilled, the council can “work with the Executive on the best uses for those savings.” The hiring incentives legislation that the council passed earlier this year also already requires this type of reporting, Herbold said in an email.
Herbold’s amendment did not necessarily get Solidarity Budget organizers to jump for joy.
Angélica Cházaro, who spoke on behalf of the coalition, said the council has required quarterly reports from SPD for two years, and they’ve failed to reallocate salary savings from SPD to other departments. This year, the council used salary savings to fund cop bonuses, and they “justified the incentives as being budget-neutral,” Cházaro said. For that reason, the Solidarity Budget would rather avoid salary savings in the first place.
The fight’s not over yet. Budget Chair Teresa Mosqueda will unveil the council’s first official edit of the Mayor’s proposal on Nov. 14. Based on analysis from central staff, Mosqueda may cut SPD funding by $1.1 million to account for the anticipated salary savings or “ghost cops”. But, hey, she's the budget chair and she could just be alpha and meet the Solidarity Budget’s demand.
Stop the Sweeps, or Else Sweep Them Out of Office
On Wednesday evening, the Solidarity Budget, joined by several organizations that advocate for unhoused people, held a rally outside of City Hall to demand “services, not sweeps.”
The organizers hung signs displaying some of the names of 191 unhoused people who have died during the Harrell administration. Mutual aid workers from Stop the Sweeps, wearing tags that read “SPD,” “Harrell Admin,” and “City Council” used brooms to brush red paint over the names to illustrate that sweeps kill.
An organizer from women in black demands that until the city provides places to live, stop sweeping people to death as organizers use brooms to sweep red paint over the names of unhoused people who have died under the Harrell administration pic.twitter.com/ipsIDoHRQa— Hannah Krieg (@hannahkrieg) November 3, 2022
The Mayor’s proposed budget would pour $38 million into two programs that help the City sweep unhoused people: the Unified Care Team (UCT) and the Clean City Initiative. About $15 million of that would count as a new expense, and $5 million of that would expand the UCT, which could “significantly increase” the City’s already relentless rate of sweeps.
Over and over again, speakers noted the cruelty of sweeping someone, effectively separating them from their community and the resources they may have connected to nearby without offering appropriate shelter or housing.
Rather than hiring more outreach workers to direct homeless people to shelters that don’t meet their needs, the lefties proposed using that money to build and acquire more affordable housing and non-congregate shelter.
In negotiations, several council members proposed funding for shelter and housing, but Mosqueda targeted Harrell’s UCT plan specifically. Her amendment would reroute money for five new, full-time UCT staff members (about $1.2 million of the proposed $5 million to expand the UCT) to the King County Regional Homelessness Authority’s (KCRHA) outreach team. She argued that the KCRHA is supposed to lead the region’s homelessness response. The authority also has a slower, more services-heavy approach to sweeps, which they call “encampment resolutions” or whatever.
According to an open letter signed by many groups that fall under the Solidarity Budget coalition, the organizers support expanding outreach and “building out the regional service model,” but only if the City also reduces and eventually ends removals so as to not tie outreach to “coercive measures like sweeps.”
Mosqueda’s amendment does not ensure sweeps will slow, but organizers at the rally on Thursday hoped their demonstration would pressure her to gut funding for removals in her balancing package, or else for other council members to take up their cause in negotiations.
If not, the open letter made it very clear that Seattle’s lefties won’t forget the council’s choices come election season. Tye Reed, co-chair of House Our Neighbors! echoed that sentiment at the rally.
Despite campaigning for some of the current council members in 2019, she’s “never been so disappointed in people [her] entire life.” She argued that the regular people helping unhoused neighbors actually do more to improve the City than any member on the council has done with their power to legislate. She called for Seattle’s left to continue working outside of the system but also to challenge incumbents in the 2023 election.