Black Lives Matter protesters showed up in big numbers at yesterday afternoon’s city council meeting to denounce city plans to build a new police station in North Seattle at 130th and Aurora.
The station is slated to replace an aged-out, smaller station that serves North Seattle at 103rd and College Way. Protesters took the microphone during public testimony to denounce the planned precinct as a tool of police oppression and as a militarized bunker (the station design comes with a large officer training facility and protesters wore black shirts that proclaimed “Block the Bunker.”)
"Right now in this country there's a war against black and brown people going on. You have a choice to make. You can decide what side of that war you want to be on. If you vote for this bunker you have decided what side you're going to be on, and we're going to know that, okay?" one (white) protester in a t-shirt that listed names of historical victims of racial violence, starting with Emmett Till, said. He concluded: "You cannot be in favor of Black Lives Matter, racial equality, better policing, blah blah blah, and support this bunker."
At one point, council president Bruce Harrell, who told the crowd he didn’t need to be “hammered with ‘black lives matter’," temporarily adjourned the meeting as the overflow crowd, chanting “let us in,” upended the proceedings, demanding that more people get a chance to testify. (Harrell is half African American and half Japanese American and is married to an African American woman—and raised three children.)
After order was restored, the meeting continued, and several more protesters spoke out against the station and the police, saying the money should be spent to house the homeless and used for social services like safe injection sites. One woman gave heart breaking testimony about the SPD’s menacing response to her recent report of sexual assault.
Council member Mike O’Brien suggested holding the resolution to give the council more time to vet the project. Harrell, who—despite his one prickly comment about raising an African American family himself—had been making a point of accommodating the crowd and seconded O’Brien’s motion after the crowd itself began chanting “we second that motion.”
O’Brien’s motion was voted down 6-2, though (O’Brien and Harrell were the yeses), and eventually, with O’Brien as the sole no vote, the council voted 7-1 in favor of moving forward with the precinct. The controversial $149 million price tag, however, was left TBD during this fall’s upcoming budget negotiations. (Socialist council member Kshama Sawant, a stalwart ally of the Black Lives Matter movement, was absent during the vote, “spending time with family,” according to council communications staff.)
It was fascinating to see the campus culture wars of 2016—where the current young generation’s sense of identity politics and social justice is jarring traditional academia’s sense of free speech—emerge yesterday in Seattle City Council chambers with women of color, such as council members Lorena González and Debora Juarez, along with longtime social justice leader council member Lisa Herbold, playing the role of the startled and defensive college professors.
“I wasn’t raised the way you were apparently raised… I was raised to listen” Juarez, who’s part Blackfoot Native American and grew up on the Puyallup Reservation, told the crowd as they shouted over her pro-precinct testimony. (“Don’t flip me off,” she sighed at one point as the crowd continued to heckle her.)
Juarez represents the 5th Council District, North Seattle, home of the planned station, and she said: “It has to do with public safety. Every district in this city has police station.” And going on to cite the large population in North Seattle (“40 percent of the city’s population”) and the coming increased density with light rail, she characterized the station as “delivering an essential governmental function [and] governmental service that is public safety for everybody.”
The crowed reacted swiftly to Juarez’s ornery quip, drowning her out with a round of deep boos. “Respect, respect,” Harrell intoned, using a word that has both potency as a Civil Rights era mantra, but can also seem condescending coming from people in power sitting up at the dais. “This is what fascism looks like,” the crowd chanted back.
Herbold, a longtime ally of the social justice community, cited the price tag as a problem and expressed sympathy with the protesters’ cause. But, in voting to support the precinct with the caveat that the price tag was still TBA and that the city was committed to doing a racial justice analysis of the project, she also challenged them to make their case clearer.
“What makes this building a bunker?” Herbold asked. “Is it the size? In considering the size of this facility, I think it’s very important to recognize… that the training center in the proposed facility will fulfill an obligation identified by the Department of Justice that…requires police officers to receive five times the amount of training than in the past. The training facility in this building will be used for training all SPD officers throughout the city not only north precinct officers. I hope we can turn what the community is telling us is a symbol of police brutality into a symbol of police accountability.”
After the vote, mayor Ed Murray, hitting similar themes as Juarez, issued a statement supporting the precinct, saying:
"Even today, the federal judge overseeing the consent decree reiterated that the Seattle Police Department is becoming a national model in use of force and accountability policies that have become best practices in policing. Seattle must also lead the nation by being an equitable city, with continued targeted investments in education, employment, health and justice for the communities that we have neglected for far too long."
Erica C. Barnett has pointed out another problem with the design—it flouts the city's employee commute trip reduction goals.