The Solidarity Budget, a coalition of community groups pushing to defund the Seattle Police Department and to implement an equitable city budget, hosted a "teach-in" event yesterday to debrief on the newly passed Seattle City Council budget.
Nikkita Oliver, an attorney and an organizer with Decriminalize Seattle, said the purpose of the teach-in was to "celebrate our wins" and also to "be forward-thinking about where we go in the future."
The council trimmed SPD's budget by nearly 20% and made wide-ranging investments in Black communities and policing alternatives. They are also spending $30 million on a participatory budgeting process, which will empower community groups to choose how and where budget money should be spent.
However, the reduction is far from the 50% cut activists spent six months advocating for. More work lies ahead for groups such as Decriminalize Seattle, King County Equity Now (KCEN), Black Action Coalition, Morning March, Every Day March, the Engage Team, and others. Going forward, activists will fight to reduce the number of cops on the street, to reduce punishments for misdemeanors, and to make sure Mayor Jenny Durkan implements the budget.
Last week the daily protest group, Morning March, called Council President Lorena Gonzalez a "clout chaser" for voting against a police hiring freeze this fall after having expressed support for a 50% SPD budget cut last summer. (For the uninitiated, to "chase clout" is to do something just to increase one's own popularity. A Morning Marcher said another word for it was "opportunistic.")
On 8/6/2020 @CMLGonzalez said she was going to cut gun and badge positions and the council was going to listen to communities most effected by police brutality..on 11/19/20 she voted to hire 114 new officers. MAKE IT MAKE SENSE!!! @CMLGonzalez you a liar, a clout chaser or both? https://t.co/lQUCvmVJdh
— Morning March Seattle (@morningmarchsea) November 20, 2020
Though the council is cutting funding from vacant positions in SPD, those actions haven't reduced the number of "officers on the street right now policing our communities," Angélica Cházaro with Decriminalize Seattle said during the teach-in. The council also ordered 35 out-of-order layoffs, but those will need to be bargained with the police union.
Councilmember Tammy Morales introduced a proposal last week to prohibit SPD from hiring any more officers this year. That would have taken $9 million more from SPD's budget. The council voted the measure down. A last-minute amendment yesterday ensured that SPD won't be able to hire any net-new officers. Still, that doesn't go far enough, Cházaro said.
In the post-budget season glow, Cházaro said the Solidarity Budget groups will focus on "really pushing the mayor and the [SPD] chief" to implement a hiring freeze. Meanwhile, activists will keep "our physical eyeballs" on council proceedings in the next year, since council members receive monthly staffing reports from SPD. A Gonzalez-sponsored proviso allows the council to dictate how up to $5 million from SPD layoffs can be spent.
Cházaro stressed it was important to "keep up the pressure" on the council in case they "give in" to future requests from SPD to increase hiring.
Around $12 million saved from cutting those abrogated positions will go into the participatory budgeting process. Those funds, plus $18 million the council relocated from the funds for Durkan's ill-conceived Equitable Communities Initiative Task Force, create an "unprecedented" investment in community-led budgeting.
The goal of participatory budgeting, said LéTania Severe with KCEN, is to shift city budget money "to community priorities." The Black Brilliance Research Project, a Black-led effort launched with $3 million from the council's 2020 rebalanced budget, will lay the groundwork for what those community priorities are.
Severe described this effort "as part of the strategy to make sure we never return to the era of bloated police budgets, and we move forward to creating a city that truly celebrates Black lives."
One failure during the budget process was Councilmember Lisa Herbold's proposed legislation to amend Seattle's municipal code around misdemeanors. The legislation was born out of the defund movement, Cházaro explained, to make it "harder for prosecutors to put people in jail for behavior related to living in poverty, related to using drugs, or related to struggling with mental health."
The legislation, as Capitol Hill Seattle Blog reported last month, "would make poverty, mental illness, and addiction possible defenses for people accused of misdemeanor crimes." In doing so, the city could save on jail costs and keep people out of the jail system.
Herbold introduced the legislation in a budget committee at the end of October, but the rest of the council chose to shelve the conversation until early December. Cházaro said that legislation "really is the unfinished business for the defund movement" and urged members of the Solidarity Budget to help advocate for the bill to pass.
While Katie with Morning March wasn't impressed with the council's "clout chasing" over the summer, she could still see the impact of the protests on the council's decisions in the budget. The changes the council implemented were "still huge and historic," she said.
"Some of the packages they’ve put forward have the words Black in them," Katie said. She referenced Gonzalez's proposal that allocated $550,000 to study gaps in programming for Black girls, young women, and Black queer and trans youth. "I do think things are starting to change."
Even though Durkan indicated she'll sign the budget, Oliver stressed the movement would need to "hold Mayor Durkan accountable" so that she spends the budget money the way the council instructed.