A summer of protests and years of organizing have led to a long-awaited moment for community leaders: the opportunity to direct the Seattle City Hall in reallocating police spending toward social services.
On Friday, coalitions King County Equity Now and Decriminalize Seattle held a virtual news conference in response to the Seattle City Council vote to slash about $3 million in funding from the Seattle Police Department’s $409 million budget this year. The Seattle City Council also is allocating $17 million, primarily with a loan from the city’s constructions and inspections department, to fund budget research and community public safety programs.
While the council votes fell short of the coalitions’ demand that the city immediately defund the police by 50%, their hope is that a blueprint for a community-led re-envisioning process could put money and power in the hands of marginalized groups.
This summer, the coalitions joined forces to create a budgeting process for the 2021 budget cycle that aims to hire Black and brown community members to conduct extensive research and decision making in community health and safety.
Their vision draws on a process called participatory budgeting, which has roots in a South American labor party. Started in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 1989 and now adopted by over 3,000 governments throughout the world, participatory budgeting enables residents to discuss the future of their cities and funding priorities. Seattle began using participatory budgeting on a small scale in 2015, and has relied on the process in the execution of several projects, including street improvements.
“We know that those closest to the problems are closest to the solutions,” said LéTania Severe, of Plumb Research Services. “Those who have been harmed by policing have specific wisdom, expertise, and leadership needed to explore what would create true community, health and safety.”
Severe worked with King County Equity Now to create a 13-page 2020 blueprint for police divestment and community reinvestment, which was presented to the Seattle City Council and used in this week’s budget rebalancing decisions.
The open-ended blueprint’s research methodology involved the collection of qualitative and quantitative data from the city of Seattle, examining models on community safety, and interviewing communities targeted by disproportionate policing.
In January 2021, the coalition envisions launching its citywide participatory budgeting process.
“It’s crucial that in 2021 we take the brilliance that comes out of our community-led participatory research process and allow it to inform the future investments that are made in our community,” said Shaun Glaze of King County Equity Now and Inclusive Data.
Transparency would be ensured through a steering committee consisting of community members who apply for the role. “Defunding the police department by 50% remains our goal,” said Glaze.
During the virtual news conference, community leaders expressed hope for the creation of Black and brown-run hubs with case managers and staff from the communities they serve who are trained in de-escalation tactics.
“People of color have been paying unfair taxes to this nation with our blood, sweat, tears and deaths for centuries, and we’re still being taxed in all these ways along with our finances,” said the Rev. Martin Lawson of Community Passageways and King County Equity Now. “Yet our finances are not being used to build and develop our communities in a fair and equitable way.”
Nikkita Oliver, an attorney, community organizer and former mayoral candidate, concluded the news conference with a new demand for Mayor Jenny Durkan: that her earlier pledge to invest $100 million in Black and brown communities go through a participatory budgetary process.
“If she’s truly committed to supporting BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) communities, she’ll let the BIPOC communities design and control the process which guides where this money goes,” said Oliver.