This op-ed is written by Seattle City Council member Lisa Herbold, chair of the Public Safety and Human Services committee.
This op-ed is written by Seattle City Council member Lisa Herbold, chair of the Public Safety and Human Services committee. Photo by Christopher Frizzelle


It’s long past time for us all to take collective responsibility for the violence that has occurred in the CHOP since it was first established over two weeks ago.

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In the spirit of taking collective responsibility, I’ll begin with my own. I’m sorry that I did not publicly express my concerns about the placement of hard barriers. Instead I did so privately, to Police Chief Best on June 7 and Chief Scoggins on Monday June 8. My concerns to Chief Best were focused on my belief that hard barriers would result in further escalation of the conflict around the East Precinct. My concerns to Fire Chief Scoggins were focused on my understanding that hard barriers would be an impediment to Seattle Fire Department response in the event of an emergency.

I asked SPD and SFD to change their tactics and engage with protesters to remove the barriers, and offered my help in negotiating to these goals. My offer of assistance wasn’t accepted, and I regret that I didn’t spend the necessary hours and days in the CHOP to develop the relationships to be useful in that endeavor.

The decision to barricade the East Precinct was attributed to what was described as a “credible threat” from the FBI to the East Precinct.  My conversations with Chief Best have revealed that the FBI threat was not specific to the East Precinct.
"The decision to barricade the East Precinct was attributed to what was described as a 'credible threat' from the FBI to the East Precinct. My conversations with Chief Best have revealed that the threat was not specific to the East Precinct." Photo by Christopher Frizzelle

In spite of my position of power, I have never felt so powerless. I regret that I didn’t publicly urge protesters to work with the City to change conditions to end prevalent nighttime display of and reliance on guns until after the death of Lorenzo Anderson, a young Black man who just a day before had graduated from high school.

Ultimately, the Executive bears much of the responsibility for creating the conditions that have led to armed protestors patrolling the CHOP’s perimeter in an effort to provide security and safety to people within and nearby. And there are many troubling, unanswered questions about the Executive’s decisions that created those unsafe conditions, including the militarized response to protestors over a two-week period that demolished trust between the city and protestors; barricading streets and ultimately abandoning the East Precinct; and refusing to provide emergency services within and near the CHOP.

The decision to barricade the East Precinct was attributed to what was described as a “credible threat” from the FBI to the East Precinct. My conversations with Chief Best have revealed that the FBI threat was not specific to the East Precinct; rather, it appears to have been a generalized assessment of threat to “police and government structures” in Portland, San Francisco, and Seattle.

The June 8 SPD Blotter report released at 4:30 p.m. states: “The East Precinct will remain staffed”; yet for reasons that remain unknown, all SPD staff left the building, and did so based on an order, for which the origins are also unknown. Both the Mayor and the Chief have denied giving that order, and have not identified who did. I’ve asked the Office of Police Accountability to open an inquiry into who directed SPD staff to abandon the East Precinct, and under what authority.

I also have serious concerns about the failure of first responders to come to the assistance of people shot outside the CHOP perimeter. An SPD email sent to officers was widely reported on Sunday June 13. The email directed officers to only respond to the CHOP “red zone” in the instance of a mass casualty event. How can direction like this—for officers not to respond to people needing help—not contribute to the violent circumstances like we see in the CHOP today?

I promise to center protestor demands to fundamentally re-envision community safety.
"I promise to center protestor demands to fundamentally re-envision community safety," says Herbold. Photo by Christopher Frizzelle

Finally, it’s with a heavy heart that I say that I wish that CHOP organizers—when informed by SFD on June 8 and again on June 13 that people in medical crisis within the CHOP (whether protesters, neighborhood residents, workers or patrons of neighborhood businesses, or visitors) would have to be brought to the CHOP perimeter to get help—would have recognized that it was too much responsibility to bear.

Hindsight is 20/20, and as explained above, I believe the Executive has responsibility for creating the conditions that led to others taking responsibility for emergency medical care. However, I wish that organizers, then, would have realized that they could not possibly be able to care for people in all of the ways that people need to be cared for in a medical crisis. Or if not then, that they had finally accepted it after Lorenzo’s death. Death by gun violence, death at the hands of police, and death by natural causes are all deaths that are disproportionately deaths of Black people. Continued operations with street barriers and volunteer armed security ultimately puts Black lives most at risk.

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I agree with Council President González when she said in yesterday’s Council Briefing that we have a crisis of gun violence. But I don’t believe that what has occurred is the result of gun violence in a vacuum. This specific gun violence—and the deaths of two young men—has occurred because of the specific conditions in the CHOP; conditions for which we have collective responsibility for creating and we share collective responsibility to end.

I want to be clear, again: None of this absolves the City or the Council from responding to the just demands of protestors to urgently address the problems of over-policing and violent policing that have led to the deaths of so many Black men and women here in Seattle, in Washington state, and around the country. As Public Safety Chair, I promise to center protestor demands to fundamentally re-envision community safety by ensuring that the Council takes on the work of rebalancing the city’s 2020 budget and rebuilding our community safety in mind over the coming months.

It’s on all of us to end the conditions in the CHOP that are leading to violence and death: Council, Executive, and CHOP protestors and leaders. In my role as Public Safety Chair, I can no longer stay silent and I call on the Executive and CHOP leaders to act urgently. You have the power and the opportunity—right now, today—to change the conditions that are leading to violence and death in the CHOP.

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