“This is personal for many of us and many of us are survivors of this system of oppression,” Council President Lorena González said. Screenshot of the Seattle Channel
The Seattle City Council spent the bulk of its Monday morning briefing responding and reacting to the weekend’s protests against the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the extreme use of force in policing nationwide.
The fallout from the demonstrations was punctuated over the weekend by empty consolations by politicians. Mayor Jenny Durkan, who is in the midst of detangling the Seattle Police Department from the consent decree within its union contract, nearly shed tears over the damage to property downtown. She described Saturday as having two protests—one violent, one peaceful—a sentiment that activists and protest-goers rejected.
Police used tear gas and pepper spray, flash bombs, and rubber bullets to disperse crowds without a clear dispersal order, all while their badge numbers were covered, a symbolic mourning “in honor of people who’ve lost their lives,” according to SPD Chief Carmen Best.
City Council President Lorena González started the first meeting of the week on Monday morning with her own response to the weekend’s events. She held back tears as she talked about the video of Floyd’s death where he used his “last breath to call for his mother,” her own baby crying in the background. González spoke candidly and clearly about the anger and frustration on the streets of Seattle this weekend that were a “product… of years of oppression, of being left out of economic systems, of being subjected to violence in our own communities, of having fear of the very thing that is supposed to be there to protect you.” She mentioned her own experience with “police violence” and empathized with a community yearning for empathy and for change.
The rest of the council issued their own statements on the weekend’s events.
Councilmember Lisa Herbold, the chair of the public safety committee, was at the protest. She spoke about the dichotomy of being at a peaceful protest while flash bombs went off a block away without “receiving advanced notice or orders to disperse which are required under city law.”
She urged people to send complaints and videos of abuse to the Seattle Office of Police Accountability. There will be a public safety committee meeting to discuss the protest on Wednesday. The time for that has yet to be determined.
Councilmember Kshama Sawant said:
Mayor Durkan, and other establishment politicians who claim to be saddened by the murder of George Floyd, have enabled the systematic racism and violence from the Seattle Police Department. There hasn’t been any accountability, actually. Ask community members. They don’t agree there has been any accountability. Where is the outrage from politicians over the killing of Charleena Lyles? Che Taylor? Shaun Lee Fuhr, the 24-year-old who was killed by the police a few weeks ago while holding his baby. None of these killings at the hands of the police have been prosecuted or punished. The outrage on the streets represents the deep community anger about police violence.
Councilmember Dan Strauss said, “To my fellow white folks we must believe people when they tell us about their experiences with racism and we must confront them.”
Councilmember Andrew Lewis said:
Our community is benefiting from the massive and righteous airing of the extreme inequality and the extreme systemic racism that underpins our criminal legal system in the United States.
We can’t let the actions of a few people who engaged in looting distract from the core message of those millions of people who took to America’s streets to demonstrate. Looting can’t be the narrative and what we’re talking about. What we need to be talking about is that racial bias in policing is real and it is ongoing and it often results in the tragic loss of life in this country. We can’t abandon, like the president has, our role in this historic moment as leaders with the unique opportunity to demand change as a city council. Because we as a city council have immense power to continue to reform American policing.
Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda compiled some of the videos from this weekend that showed abuse by SPD including one where a child was allegedly Maced and one where an officer had his knee on a person’s neck, the same move that killed Floyd.
Mosqueda described the fear and chaos that people experienced at the hands of SPD. “Being angry is not illegal,” Mosqueda said. “It is not illegal to be upset with the police and it does not warrant the type of response we saw escalated in the streets.”
Councilmember Tammy Morales, who represents District 2, the most diverse district in Seattle, lamented, crying, “My constituents are tired, my staff is tired, and as an ally, I will continue to check in with the communities I represent, the communities most impacted by this, and will leverage my position in office to call for real change and real accountability.”
On the topic of that real change, Morales went on:
It’s true we need transformative change at the national level but that’s not entirely in our control. What’s in our control is how we act here in Seattle as local elected officials and here’s how we lean into our anti-racist values as the mayor suggested yesterday: we withdraw the motion to terminate the consent decree, we restore the police accountability measures that community fought so hard for, we re-allocate our budget to improve community conditions that can close the opportunity gap and repair the harm done to our black and brown communities, we invest in economic development and prosperity for our black and brown communities in a credible and thoughtful way, we dismantle generational land ownership through community ownership, we fully fund the Office of Civil Rights and the Race and Social Justice Initiative program. The work of these city employees is critical to the way the city operates and the principles embedded in [the RSJI program] need to show up in the decisions we make about the police force.
Councilmember Alex Pedersen said, “I couldn’t have said it better than all of you who have spoken before me and I just want to let you know I stand in partnership with my council colleagues on all of this. I pledge to be a genuine ally.”
Councilmember Debora Juarez said:
It may not seem like that now, but I do see some hope and some light. COVID-19 made us look within and look at ourselves and humanity. As a people and as a nation, we can overcome this. The death of George Floyd made us aware of how the world sees us, sometimes as a very violent racist people. That is one dimension of us but that’s not us. I’m hopeful that we can all move forward, that we don’t repeat the mistakes, that we make that change, and that we continue to embrace that humanity. We do have this trauma in our DNA, we do know how this country was founded—my people certainly know the ravages of genocide and racism—and I stand here today as a 60-year-old Native American Latina knowing we got this. We’re not afraid. I have my moments of anger but I have more moments of compassion and empathy.
In response to this weekend’s events, Durkan ordered a mandatory curfew in the City of Seattle for 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. That Saturday curfew was announced 15 minutes before the curfew started. A 6 p.m. curfew was just announced for Monday. The council has an “ongoing concern of the efficacy of curfew renewal,” according to González.