In the ongoing debate over the three-story, $160 million North Seattle Precinct station, opponents have given the project a name: The Bunker. They say plans for the structure are overly militarized and the money should instead be spent on alternatives to incarceration. Seattle City Council Member Debora Juarez, who represents the district in which the station would be built, says she rejects that "narrative."
"This is a narrative about brick and mortar and this is a narrative about public safety," Juarez said during a council meeting yesterday. "I will not allow another narrative to conflate here. I will not allow a politicization of anything more than that we're replacing a police station."
"I don't know about the rest of the world," Juarez continued, "but I am not afraid of a building. I am not afraid of the people in the building."
Juarez's council colleague Mike O'Brien disagreed, defending the activists who've been fighting the project (some of whom have also fought the new King County Juvenile Detention Center). That kicked off an interesting council member vs. council member debate over race and fear of the police.
"I appreciate your statement that you're not afraid of the building or the people within the building," O'Brien told Juarez, "but I think it's important at least for me to say that I have heard from a lot of community members who are afraid of the people in that building and what that building stands for." O'Brien criticized the fact that the station hasn't gone through the city's racial equity toolkit analysis.
Juarez is an enrolled member of the Blackfeet Nation and grew up on the Puyallup Reservation, born to a Native American mother and Mexican-American father. O'Brien is a white guy who represents northwest Seattle, including Ballard and Fremont, and has become more focused on social justice issues over his six years on the council.
"I'm really getting tired of people taking this issue about, 'Some people are afraid of someone in a police station,'" Juarez shot back at O'Brien. "I was born and raised in a community with violence. I've been the victim. I've had families dealing with bias of the judicial system and everything else that goes with it, so from whence I speak, I have walked that road. I have lived that life."
It's an interesting exchange—and part of a debate that will heat up in the months leading up to council budget decisions in November. Juarez suggests O'Brien has lived a more privileged life than she has and that he may now be "spouting out political rhetoric to gain political points." Juarez goes on to quote President Obama on the need to "embrace" change together and says to O'Brien, "If you make this a divisive issue about that, then we will have a problem." The full exchange starts just after the 57 minute mark:
The council isn't taking a major up-or-down vote on the new precinct in the immediate future, but this issue will come up again. Council Member Lorena González is working on a resolution asking for changes to the building's design and a racial analysis, among other things. In González's public safety committee meeting tomorrow, council members will get an update on the project. That meeting starts at 9:30 a.m.