On Monday, January 12th at 9:30 am at City Hall, Chief O’Toole and other leading officials from the Seattle Police Department will answer questions from Councilmembers about the SPD‘s policing of the Black Lives Matter protests over the last several weeks. It is important that civil rights activists and social justice advocates come to this Council Briefing to show the Council and the SPD that there is widespread concern over the tactics used by the SPD.
Below is the letter I wrote to Seattle City Councilmembers requesting the briefing and listing some of the primary concerns constituents have been communicating to me about the SPD’s policing of the Black Lives Matter protests. We hope you are able to join us on January 12th at 9:30 am to make your voices heard.
As I mentioned earlier this week, I would like to request a council briefing with Chief O’Toole and other leaders of the Seattle Police Department regarding their response to the protests around racism and police brutality that have shaken Seattle, as in the rest of the country. Either a briefing on a Monday morning or a briefing in the Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology committee would be appropriate.
Seattle is engaged in an important discussion about racism, violence, and the criminal justice system. Demonstrations against police brutality also have a local context. Recently, the King County prosecutor refused to charge the SPD officer who punched a handcuffed young woman, Miyekko Durden-Bosley, cracking her eye socket.
These demonstrations have policed at a hefty cost to taxpayers. The department has reportedly spent over half a million dollars in overtime during the overwhelmingly peaceful protests. I believe it is incumbent upon elected representatives of the city to weigh in and ask for a public and transparent discussion about SPD decisions.
My office has heard many complaints from constituents who are concerned about the police response, and who feel that it has had an intimidating effect on the protesters. More specifically, the following concerns have been heard from protesters and witnesses:
• Efforts to prevent protests from marching downtown. This is where the profits of Seattle’s biggest business are at stake. Protesters have reportedly been pushed up to Capitol Hill. And officers made bullhorn announcements such as, “the protest is over” or “the protest is going east.”
• Excessive use of mace. Peaceful protesters have complained of being sprayed by police. My staff talked to one young woman who was on the sidewalk when she was sprayed.
• Excessive arrests and unjustified charges. Many people have reported to me that police officers at protests have targeted people leading chants for arrest, rather than people who break laws. I know of one young man who was arrested and then released without charge, who was grabbed by an officer from behind while he chanted into a bull horn. I also heard that someone was arrested on a case of mistaken identity.
• Unnecessary deployment of force. I have heard complaints of a waste of resources as police are mobilized to a point where they outnumber protesters. For instance, the U-Village protest was nothing more than somber carolers.
I can think of many higher priorities for the SPD. There is rampant wage theft in this city. There is a wave of hate crimes against LGBTQ people in Capitol Hill. There are murders to investigate.
How do overwhelmingly peaceful protests get this level of mobilization? It runs contrary to the democratic principles of free speech and free assembly that we hold so dear. It also is costing the City an astounding amount of money.
The amount that the has been spent on overtime to staff protests over the past few days is 10 percent of all the changes the City Council made to the budgeting of the General Subfund for all of 2015.
The half a million spent on policing the recent protests does not even include all the heavy legal costs associated with dozens of arrests, or the millions that the City could potentially be liable for if lawsuits mentioned in the news claiming damages for police action aimed at discouraging protests are upheld.
I would appreciate the opportunity to have a transparent public dialogue with the SPD about this, and I am certain other Councilmembers will also appreciate the opportunity for an open dialogue with the SPD leadership.