Police officers in riot gear and national guard shrouded in tear gas and smoke backlit by floodlights outside of Seattle Police Department East Precinct

What “Defund the police” really means

Our police department, as we have seen last night and the night before, and the night before that, is using weapons of war on our own residents.

I heard reports last night of people being three stories up and not being able to breathe because of the gas. Last week we heard the story of the 3-month-old baby who was foaming at the mouth. We heard other stories subsequently of a 6-month-old baby sitting in the hallway with its parents trying to get fresh air.

These are stories that we must respond to, and we also have to recognize that we have a budget that allows us to maintain controls over this effort.

Source: Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda per KUOW

“I did not make up with the demand of 50 percent defunding of the police, that came from the community. … Any politician, whether they are in Minneapolis or Seattle who is telling you that police can be dismantled under capitalism is bullshitting you.”

Source: Councilmember Kshama Sawant per Periscope

There are inherent limitations of political imagination once you’re in office, but given the councilmembers’ own experiences on the barricades, their words, and their reasoning, it’s difficult to see how half-funding such an organization as they describe should be looked at as a positive result.

There hasn’t been a budget cut to the department since 2000, so I’m not sure what prior year a 50 percent reduction would take Seattle back to, but it’s likely that law enforcement was being brutal and predatory toward its most vulnerable residents at the equivalent funding level in 1999 or 1990 as well. “Defund” is not sophistry; it’s a demand because the status quo is radical and harmful to the people America has always despised.

I was not at any protests while people were being actively assaulted by the police’s chemical weapons, explosives, or maiming projectiles, but I have close friends who were, and I was observing via the livestreams of ground witnesses and upper-story neighbors as police committed those assaults. I was trying to help get information to people there about where was safest to regroup amid the explosions or to find a medical station that hadn’t been overrun and destroyed and experiencing terror for them in real time.

When I hear that the goal is fund police a bit less, it sounds something like I imagine it would to a Cold War-era East German hearing that the Stasi budget was getting slashed.

If in our own communities, a budget cut means we have fewer secret police—that is, undercover cops and armored officers covering their badges—on the streets, that is an improvement, but it’s not a victory. Having half as much poison gas that’s been banned in warfare to use on unarmed people in the community still means there’s plenty of poison gas to use on unarmed people in the community. Plus, bullets are still relatively cheap and so are truncheons.

Source: Teresa Mosqueda via The Urbanist

The most lawless things I’ve seen in Seattle in my time here have not been people unable to afford permanent shelter who sleep outside but the behavior of a bunch of (mostly) men, incredibly well-equipped, hiding their identities as they attack regular people for continuing to stand with umbrellas because those people not disperse when the armed and armored men said so. Yet if there had not been dozens of cameras and thousands of eyes on them, they wouldn’t have been on what was apparently their best behavior. One or two officers alone with one unarmed protester, those cops would have likely genuinely feared for their lives and used that as justification to brutalize that person or even kill them. And that’s not a hyperbole.

 

My union, SEIU 925, is having members forced to take furloughs due to a drop in revenue by UW Medicine. This is after being called “heroes” but being continuously underfunded and provided insufficient resources of personal protection during a pandemic.

It makes me sick to see what material resources and salaries these cowards in the Seattle Police Department have been given to misuse when the tool they actually need is respect for other residents of this city as equals.

I don’t think they’re capable of that, which is why they must be defunded and that money given to other organizations that actually make people safe from the violence of eviction, of not being able to afford insulin any longer, or of sleeping on the side of a highway in the rain because the hotel you can see from there that lights up “BLM” on the side doesn’t want to turn its vacant units into shelter for free and the government won’t force them.

King County General Fund
Source: https://kingcounty.gov/council/budget/budget_basics.aspx

I want to fund public safety, not exploding canisters. Which means, at the county level, I want to fund room, board, and medical care for people whenever they need it, not just when they’ve been arrested and sent to jail to be held against their will. Seattle police make for an easy villain because of their union, their fragility (they really tried to claim that reflecting their own floodlights back at officers with foil was a provocation), and their visibility in the city, but this is a much wider problem and Democrats everywhere are going to have to make choices about what rhetoric they’ve always meant on principle and what rhetoric was convenient to get them in office.

If someone told you two weeks ago Seattle police would abandon their Capitol Hill precinct entirely and leftists would be booing Councilmember Sawant for only promising to cut the police budget in half, you would have scoffed and called it ridiculous. So would I have. None of us should scoff now at literally defunding the police or first start looking for a way to compromise.

One more thing: A week and a half of people in the streets unwilling to compromise on the fundamental humanity of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color has done more to combat police militarization and their unaccountable violence than 30 years of Democratic governance, female, male, Black, white, gay, and lesbian.

Therefore, I support the protesters the way some people support the troops: I will not parse it between “good” and “bad” or “peaceful” and “looters”.

Demolitions are destructive, too. Dismantling the viaduct was destructive, too. If what we’re trying to construct is a better place where people are not executed for being deaf in one ear while woodcarving or executed for needing help during a mental breakdown while pregnant or abducted off the street for walking with a golf club as a cane, then we should count some broken windows and expropriated material from a department store as the controlled demolition necessary to get people’s attention where repetitive human suffering could not.

People literally risked their lives in the hope that a rubber bullet aimed in malice wouldn’t cave in their head or that panicking officers wouldn’t switch to live ammo to mow down a crowd holding rainbow umbrellas. In another week, people from those crowds and their loved ones will literally start to die from COVID-19, and they’ll die because they demanded their police not be equipped for war and allowed to kill them.

There is nothing unreasonable, immature, or impractical about being unwilling to accept half-measures for a cause so worthy that you risked so much for, and they’ll remember us for how we treat them and their concerns forever.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s