What “Defund the police” really means

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

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.

A few things Washington State Democrats ought to do next

1.CANNABIS CONVICTION REPARATION

Eminently achievable: Retroactive clearance of all marijuana misdemeanors.

Seattle actually already did this through City Attorney Pete Holmes earlier this year.

It may be more difficult for the legislature to do, or they might need to direct the state attorney, but unlike HB 1260 – 2017-18: “Providing for the vacation of misdemeanor marijuana offense convictions“, the focus should be on providing for this automatically instead of requiring often under-informed people to go through a process that necessarily is time-consuming and often costly.

Stretch goal: Extend clearances to felonies

This is a tougher sell because folk with say only “bad guys” got felonies but we know that’s not true, and undoing this harm would have an even bigger impact on housing and jobs.

Whether ounces or pounds, people shouldn’t continue to be punished for something we reward folk for doing now (i.e. Uncle Ike’s vs who used to stand on 23rd and Union)

Ultimate goal: Divert recreational cannabis tax funds to a stipend for people with marijuana convictions

The exact formula would involve some tough math, but it ought to be proportional to their punishments: the most severe the punishment, the larger the ongoing payments.

While this would be helpful to lots of people whose lives were derailed by what we now know to be unjust convictions, it’s going to make a radical difference in the lives of the poorest people. Because the drug war has disproportionately targeted people of color, so will the benefits.

Continue reading “A few things Washington State Democrats ought to do next”

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Bone and Sinew of the Land’ recovers some American history that actually has been erased

When it so happens—more regularly now than before but never yet regular enough—that a cheap zinc or bronze cast of some semi-famous slaver is yanked from its pedestal in the middle of a city night, or when a suburban school board in broad daylight votes to no longer compel students to adorn their bodies with the name and imagery of a particular child trafficker, invariably there rises the cry:

“You’re erasing history! You’re censoring our Confederate past! You’re rewriting collective memory to sanitize it!”

This, of course, is worse than nonsense and akin to defending the maintenance of NAMBLA-installed plaques to Jerry Sandusky. It should be regarded as such whether it’s an argument being made by angry, open bigots in Facebook comment sections or under the auspices of the National Review.

But some worthy portions of our history have indeed been buried, erased, and minimized. Harvard’s Anna-Lisa Cox’s latest book The Bone and Sinew of the Land is an example of what it actually looks like when that sort of history is excavated for a popular audience, and what a positive effect that can have.

Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Bone and Sinew of the Land’ recovers some American history that actually has been erased”

Sports facilities, mass transit, and desegregation

HUMAN 0
St. Louis will never have an NBA team again. We literally have no basketball culture here.

There are more parks with hoops in the middle of Missouri than there is in all of the parks in St. Louis.

HUMAN 1
By design. I had a hard time finding a basketball court whenever I lived there. They have tennis courts, golf, and baseball diamonds in forest park but not one basketball court which probably has the smallest footprint of any the mentioned sports… well maybe not tennis.

Our city is actually divided into St. Louis County and St. Louis City. Suburbs are totally normal, but I’ve never have been to a city that is literally divided into a County and a City.

So much so that we don’t have a proper metro system because people in the county don’t want crime in the city brought to their suburbs.

Media likes to portray St. Louis as a crime ridden city, but the real problem is this city just seems barren. I’ve been to a few major cities in the last year, and their downtowns are thriving on random Tuesday nights. We just don’t have that here.

There’s a parallel in mass transit to what happened with community swimming pools.

A lot of racist jokes exist about black Americans not knowing how to swim, but it has a basis in fact, and it’s not a coincidence. Children weren’t allowed to swim in segregated community pools then once the Supreme Court ruled segregation unconstitutional, cities and counties decided to shut them all down or make them private, or make it so that only people who were wealthy enough to have their own backyard pools could swim.

I don’t think you can underestimate how much racism plays in even to something like opposition to mass transit. All transportation is public transportation, but everyone can use mass transit to get around a city or region. Without it, there’s a barrier for travel put up so that only people who can afford cars, including registration, maintenance, gas, and parking, get the benefit of roads. Which means you have to be even more wealthy already if you want to live in the suburbs and work in the city. It’s an invisible wall for the gated communities out there.

Not every place is dense enough for mass transit to make sense, but I’d argue the largest reason American cities lack the sort of infrastructure cities in European and Asian countries have is that everyone gets to benefit from mass transit, and that’s exactly what people who benefit from racist inequality don’t want.

To take it back to sports directly, but in a less well-thought-out way, this is the major motivation behind moving stadiums and arenas out to less-accessible suburbs like the Atlanta Braves did. They were trying to solve the ‘problem’ the Hawks have of black people attending their games and wanted to go to a place where it was less accessible to MARTA, with both versions of the acronym being appropriate.

Likewise, I think Seattle as a predominantly white city is a major factor in mass transit and stadiums that are downtown and easy to get to via that mass transit.

‘What do you think of gentrification?’

Gentrification is a problem because it flows from historical discrimination, and the power dynamics tend to fall along those lines.

If everyone had equal wealth, or if wealth really were distributed according to merit, gentrification might just be some unpleasant but necessary feature of changing economies, labor markets, and urban life.

But instead what we have in the United States is a society where some groups have been robbed of wealth generation after generation, and others have been gifted that wealth and allowed to inherit it instead. So even if most de jure racism either is no longer on the books or can’t be openly enforced, we still have the equivalent of grandfather clauses operating all over the place.

Continue reading “‘What do you think of gentrification?’”

Without a windbreak in the country, Hollywood liberals will destroy America

Donald Trump is and remains president-elect despite earning, to this point in the counting, 1.7 million fewer votes than his opponent nationwide, or roughly every man, woman, and child in the Dakotas.

So despite having a plurality of the electorate, Democrats and the left have 0 percent of the power in federal government, and full control of six state governments compared with 26 for Republicans.

Part of this is by design: voter suppression and gerrymandering are ongoing efforts to disenfranchise minorities and other Democratic voters. But it’s a lot easier when people you don’t want to vote move to places where it doesn’t matter whether or not they do.

Continue reading “Without a windbreak in the country, Hollywood liberals will destroy America”

This is why people in Seattle go shop in Bellevue

I’m working another season in retail, selling games to people looking for ways to make their children smarter.

That’s the way the bitterest way to describe my job responsibilities. The more charitable and more common feeling is that people come in looking for ways to make happy the people in their lives, and it’s my job to understand the sort of thing they already enjoy in order to find them a new thing they’ll also be pleased with.

Doing my job right means I listen to or tease information out of people, have a good understanding of the products we have to offer, and demonstrate what I like about it well enough they can easily imagine the gift-receiver enjoying, too.

It’s fun. It feels like a net-positive to the universe. But it’s also a far cry from being a journalist.

Continue reading “This is why people in Seattle go shop in Bellevue”