Read My Speech Against Restarting the “War on Drugs” in Our City

September 19, 2023

Thanks to everyone who demanded that the City Council vote against this legislation. 

I will be voting ‘no’ on this bill, which is attempt number two by the city’s Democratic Mayor and City Councilmembers to do the bidding of the Chamber of Commerce, and empower Republican City Attorney Ann Davison to decide when to prosecute and criminalize instead of referring someone to treatment for addiction. 

There are many words in this bill about behavioral health, addiction treatment, diversion programs, which are all important for working people and the community. However, this is aspirational language in the bill at best, and an intentional smokescreen, at worst. 

The substantive portion of this bill, the part that actually has a legal impact, is exactly identical to the “war on drugs” bill that community and union activists and my Council office succeeded in narrowly defeating in early June. We were able to do that because we clearly exposed, among other things, the disingenuousness of Councilmember Lewis, who was about to vote YES on the bill, while calling himself a progressive and labor Democrat. And who was ultimately forced to vote NO.

Just like that previous bill, the real effect of this legislation today is to allow the political establishment to prosecute and destroy the lives of those who need medical treatment, affordable housing, and jobs.

And let’s be clear. The current City Attorney Ann Davison joined the Republican Party after Trump was elected. In 2020, she recorded a video for hashtag #WalkAway, a campaign that held events supporting Donald Trump and was started by a January 6th rioter who was arrested and later convicted. She also promoted a right-wing attack on homeless people, labeling them a “COVID threat.” 

Prosecution and incarceration is stunningly divorced from the conclusions of scientific and statistical evidence that addiction is a public health issue, and requires public health solutions.

Despite press announcements from the Democratic establishment, boasting a supposed $27 million investment in addiction recovery services, this bill does not include one penny for treatment services. It will ultimately divert more and more public resources towards imprisoning poor people and Black and Brown people, rather than helping people with addiction gain access to services that have been proven to help, such as methadone clinics, let alone addressing the crisis of poverty by taxing the wealthy to fully fund education, housing, healthcare, and living-wage jobs. 

As I said, much of this bill urges Seattle Police to use arrest diversion programs, behavioral health, and referrals to addiction treatment services when possible. However, this bill does nothing to actually make that happen. Right now, without this bill, Seattle police have the discretion and power to decide whom they will arrest for using illegal drugs now, and whom they will refer to services now. That power is not being changed by this bill. The thing that changes is to which prosecutor arrested individuals are sent. The idea that the Seattle Police Department’s behavior will change based on the non-binding recommendations in this bill is simply not credible. 

Seattle Police officer Daniel Auderer cackled in response to the death of Jaahnavi Kandula, a young Indian exchange student, after she was run over by officer Kevin Dave’s police vehicle, saying her life “had limited value.” Auderer’s actions are far from an exception in police departments nationwide—under both Democrats & Republicans—which use excessive force with impunity, especially against the poor, those facing mental health challenges, women, and marginalized communities. Does anyone honestly think officers like Auderer will care about a recommendation to consider behavioral health? 

In reality, this bill shows a dishonest response to the fentanyl crisis, which has reached tragic and frightening proportions. The opioid epidemic is affecting vast swaths of the American working class and poor, but the crisis is especially severe in communities of color. From 2019 to 2020, overdose deaths increased 44 percent for Black people and 39 percent for American Indian and Alaska Native people. Most people who died by overdose had no evidence of substance use treatment before their deaths.  According to a February 2, 2022 report from the Stanford-Lancet Commission on the North American Opioid Crisis, 1.2 million people in the U.S. and Canada will die of opioid overdoses by the end of the decade without urgent intervention.

Half a century of the so-called “war on drugs” has proven one thing; criminalization of addiction will absolutely not address the nation’s raging opioid crisis.

Drug overdose is the leading cause of death following release from the criminal justice system internationally; the majority of overdose deaths are opioid related. And individuals released from prison in Washington State had 129 times greater risk of drug overdose in the first 2 weeks post-release relative to the general population. The majority of these overdoses involved opioids.

Seattle’s and Washington State’s Democratic establishment have outrageously spent decades refusing to support even minimal solutions that are statistically proven to work, such as Safe Consumption Sites (a.k.a. CHELs – Community Health Engagement Locations) and fully funded public services, let alone rent control, taxes on the wealthy to fully fund high quality public education, housing, healthcare, and living-wage jobs. 

In 2017 my office and the People’s Budget movement won a budget amendment to fund establishing a CHEL, but mayor after Democratic Party mayor has refused to use those resources for that purpose. Instead, Seattle Democrats pushed through a shameful Seattle Police Officers Guild contract that has stood in the way of any police accountability ever since. I was the only ‘No’ vote on that contract. Every Democrat on the Council that year voted yes, including the now Mayor Harrell and current Councilmembers Herbold, Juarez, and Mosqueda. 

Instead of criminalizing those caught up in the cycle of the opioid crisis, it’s time that we go after its billionaire architects.

But neither the Democrats nor the Republicans are going to do that.

Where are the criminal charges for Big Pharma billionaires who have made hundreds of billion dollars from selling dangerous opioids? Where is the incarceration of the billionaire Sackler Family, whose fraudulent marketing of OxyContin has killed thousands? 

The opioid crisis and the pharmaceutical industry’s role in it—and the refusal of the Democrats in Washington State and in Congress to fight for Medicare for All—help demonstrate the failures of the for-profit healthcare system and of capitalism itself. The need to prescribe as much of their product as possible in order to increase profits for their billionaire shareholders puts these drug companies in direct opposition to the interests of ordinary people. That is why, as a socialist, I believe that the big corporations should be taken into public ownership under democratic workers’ control.

I also want to register my opposition to the decision to push this vote to today, rather than next week when it would have naturally come to the City Council. Calling the vote one week early has caused it to conflict with the important rally organized by the coalition of City Unions, happening now outside City Hall. The Harrell administration is scandalously attempting to force City workers to accept a contract with wages that fall far, far short of the breathtaking and unprecedented cost of living in our city! I urge any media here covering today’s vote, to also talk to the essential city workers fighting for a decent contract. 

The so-called “war on drugs” was created as a weapon aimed at re-establishing the mythology and stigma of “Black criminality” that has been a core ingredient of the racist narrative in the U.S. It was also a direct attempt to undercut the radicalization of a generation of Black youth coming out of the black liberation movement of the 1960s and 70s and to prevent them joining in solidarity with radical-minded white youth for a multi-racial working-class fightback against the ruling class. The “war on drugs” ravaged entire communities and only helped exacerbate the opioid crisis.

I will be voting NO again today. I also urge the working and young people who spoke against this bill and are here in person to sign the 2023 People’s Budget campaign petition that community organizers from my office are circulating. The rich have become even richer.

The People’s Budget is demanding that the Amazon Tax, which the Tax Amazon movement won in 2020, be increased to fully fund services, housing, and jobs.

Winning that People’s Budget demand is the most immediate task of activists and union members in the next couple of months here in Seattle. In addition, working people need to fight to force the Democratic establishment to fire Seattle Police Officer Auderer, who is the Vice President of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild and Mike Solan, the President of the Guild. We also need to fight to win an elected community oversight board with full powers over the police, including hiring and firing and policies and procedures.

Last but not least, the fact that this bill is going to pass today, on a City Council with eight Democrats and one socialist, should be a reminder that the Democrats no more than the Republicans represent working people. Poll results published just today show that four times as many Americans have unfavorable views of both parties today than they did in 2002—an all-time high—with Republicans and Democrats equally unpopular. Working people in America urgently need our own political party


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