City Councilmembers show the leadership our city needs + Mayor Durkan should resign

EDITOR’S NOTE: Seattle Bike Blog supports the Defund Seattle Police effort initially led by a large group of community organizations and leaders, including No New Youth Jail, Decriminalize Seattle, Block the Bunker, Seattle Peoples Party, COVID-19 Mutual Aid, Trans Women of Color Solidarity Network, BAYAN, La Resistencia, PARISOL, CID Coalition, Asians for Black Lives, APICAG. View the demands and sign on here. King County Equity Now has more demands and proposals from Black-led community organizations, including specific ways to invest in Black community.

Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda wearing a mask amid a large crowd of people recording a video on her phone.

Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda pleads with SPD Chief Carmen Best to deescalate a tense stand-off Saturday. Screenshot from King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay’s Instagram stream. Video of a separate face-to-face interaction with Chief Best, which I watched live and reference in the story, is not posted to his account.

Saturday night, King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay streamed an extraordinary live video from the front lines of the protest at 11th and Pine on Capitol Hill as he and other elected officials desperately tried to convince the Seattle Police to deescalate and stop attacking the crowd.

The police had already attacked the crowd once that evening, using violent flash-bang grenades and “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Tear Gas” on thousands of people in Seattle gathered to stand up for Black lives and call for deep change to the police department. Omari Salisbury of Converge Media filmed the police violence from the front lines, and officers hit him with a flash-bang grenade while he was trying to tell them that there was a person in a wheelchair in the area they were about to attack. Police bombed the medic station, an act of exceptional evil amid an overwhelming show of violence. The attack was a police riot, carried out seemingly to hurt people of Seattle who are critical of their violence. It was unhinged and undemocratic, the act of a police state.

After the attack, Salisbury called for elected officials to join the front line. And many answered the call. Seattle City Councilmembers Lisa Herbold, Andrew Lewis, Teresa Mosqueda and Dan Strauss joined along with State Senator Joe Nguyen and State Representative Nicole Macri. As the police took an aggressive stance, clearly preparing to attack again, King County CM Zahilay’s stream showed these leaders standing up for the protestors. At one point, Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best approached the barricade and spoke to the elected leaders face-to-face while they desperately tried to convince her to deescalate the situation and get her officers to move back and stop their attack. At first it appeared ineffective, but the police eventually stood down.

It was an extraordinary display of leadership, but it should not take a line of elected officials to stop police violence against a crowd of people. It was clear in that tense moment that Mayor Jenny Durkan either did not have control over the Police Department or she wanted them to attack. Either way, she showed that she should not be Mayor of Seattle anymore. Thankfully these other elected leaders were there to do the job she should have done.

Throughout the night, protestors chanted “Jenny Durkan must resign!” Seattle Bike Blog agrees. For the good of the City of Seattle, Mayor Durkan must resign.

On June 4, Seattle Bike Blog wrote:

Unless Mayor Durkan asserts some level of power over our police department, the Council may need to take extraordinary action to assert the will of the people. We did not vote to have SPD run our city. Seattle is not a police state even if the police are treating it like one. The crisis this week is existential for our city’s democracy.

In the days since, she continued to fail. Even after she tried to say that she wanted some reforms, they didn’t happen on Pine St. It was amazing to see protesters reclaim Capitol Hill Monday as police finally stood down. But that doesn’t erase the mayor’s misconduct during the eight days earlier. She shouldn’t get more chances. Protesters have already sued Mayor Durkan and SPD Chief Best for “unnecessary violence,” the Seattle Times reports:

“On an almost nightly basis, the SPD has indiscriminately used excessive force against protesters, legal observers, journalists, and medical personnel,” the lawsuit says. “For example, SPD has repeatedly sprayed crowds of protesters with tear gas and other chemical irritants—including as recently as (the early hours of) Monday, June 8, just days after the city pledged a 30-day moratorium on the use of tear gas.”

These are not the actions of someone who should hold the city’s highest office. Her last opportunity to reform herself as Mayor passed by many tear gas clouds ago.

A letter signed by over 11,000 (and growing) Democratic Party leaders and Seattle residents is calling for the Mayor to resign. And Monday, the massive UFCW Local 21 representing supermarket workers called on Mayor Durkan to resign, citing the “massive deployment of chemical weapons” and writing, “The distance between Mayor Durkan and the values of the membership of UFCW 21 is growing clearer each day.” I expect the list will keep growing.

Several City Councilmembers have also said the mayor should consider resigning, including Councilmembers Tammy Morales, Mosqueda and Kshama Sawant. And keep in mind that as we learned when Ed Murray resigned, the city’s mayoral succession process is not favorable to the Councilmember who takes on the role of interim Mayor. City rules require either the Council President (Lorena González) to become interim Mayor or for the Council to choose a different sitting Councilmember to assume the role. That Councilmember then must resign their Council seat. Then both the Mayor and the Council seat would be up for election, possibly this November according to Seattle City Council Insight (though it’s too late to hold a primary, so it’s not clear how this would work). So whoever becomes Mayor may need to take a big political risk and face reelection a year or more sooner (whether they run for Mayor or their old Council seat) than they would otherwise. And they would have very little time to get a campaign ready let alone get a functional Mayoral staff in place. It’s hardly a power grab for Council to go through this process. But these are extraordinary times.

Mayor Durkan has shown she either can’t or won’t protect the people she is sworn to serve. She has not only lost the confidence of the people, she seems to have lost the confidence of many members of the City Council as well. The Council is already taking steps to assume some of her biggest mayoral duties. CM Mosqueda, Chair of the Budget Committee, announced Monday that the Committee does not intend to follow the Mayor’s proposed SPD budget. Instead, she has called for an inquest into the police budget to outline exactly where tax dollars go so that the Committee can decide how to allocate those funds.

If the Mayor is failing the everyday task of preventing the police from attacking people and will be cut out of the process of proposing the police budget, then why is she even in office?

Sunday evening as Mayor Durkan was unveiling her watered-down police reform plans and lamenting that police were “too quick to deploy of flash bangs, pepper spray and deployment of the National Guard,” SPD was once again gearing up to attack the crowd of protesters. A woman reportedly nearly died after police hit her in the chest with a projectile and then attacked the medics helping her. They again used tear gas and flash-bang grenades to injure people on Pine Street and in nearby residences. The Department either didn’t care what she had to say or was given different orders when the Mayor’s mic was off. Either way is cause for someone else to take charge.

At the time of publication, police have abandoned the East Precinct on Capitol Hill, and the streets are reopen for the people. Protesters have set up barricades to prevent car attacks, but people are moving freely through the neighborhood for the first time in more than a week. The Seattle Bike Brigade, which has been serving a supporting role to control traffic for the protests to keep people safe, stared down someone in a Lexus who was being threatening. Luckily, nobody was hurt and the person drove away. I am hopeful that the tide has turned. Deep, systemic changes must happen, and they must happen now. The police are just the beginning of our deeply racist “criminal justice” system.

Protesting is an act of deep community love. People do not put their bodies in the path of police tear gas if they don’t love the community they are standing up for. Folks are risking covid-19 and police violence to make their point and make change, and that takes serious courage. You also see this love in the structures of community support within the protest group, including medics and supplies for staying as sanitary as possible amid the outbreak, food distribution, community safety efforts and more. Several local businesses have joined to help provide water and bathrooms or by helping to stock and distribute supplies.

Tear gassing those protesters from behind a riot shield? There’s no love there. You don’t throw a flash-bang grenade at people you love. And you also don’t order people to throw flash-bang grenades at people you love.

There’s no going back. Seattle Bike Blog thanks everyone who has tirelessly put their bodies on the line to stand up for Black lives and for justice. And we call on prosecutors to drop charges against arrested protesters, as the Defund Seattle Police effort demands. Seattle Bike Blog has signed on to support that effort, and you can do the same.

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3 Responses to City Councilmembers show the leadership our city needs + Mayor Durkan should resign

  1. bill says:

    I am with you on everything except opposing a new youth jail. The very unpleasant fact is that some kids simply are sociopaths. We need jail as a last resort for the worst of them, and I am sure no one thinks kids should be in adult prisons.

    • Peri Hartman says:

      Bill, the reality is we have too many jails. Building more is not a good use of limited taxpayer money. A transition is not easy, but helping people lead better lives and not incarcerating people for non violent infractions would lead to emptier jails.

      I do agree that incarcerated children should not be mixed with adults. Maybe we could strive to dedicate an existing facility for children instead of building a new one. But foremost, I believe that social programs to mend broken people is much better and that’s where we need to put a lot more funding.

      • bill says:

        Peri, my understanding is the existing youth jail is decrepit. The optics of building a new jail may be poor, but continuing to imprison kids in a run down facility is hard to defend.

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