June 27. “Say Her Name” march, Othello neighborhood. Liberation photo.
Since May 29, people in Seattle have engaged in the nationwide uprising against racism every single day. The horrific car attack on the Black Femme March on July 4 that killed Summer Taylor and gravely injured Diaz Love has not stopped protests nor has the shooting death of Lorenzo Anderson or the police sweep and closure of the Capitol Hill Organized Protest zone. In the more than a month since this uprising began, over 200 protesters have been arrested in Seattle. Police have used patently brutal and unsafe practices on demonstrators, such as kneeling on people’s necks and deploying tear gas, flash bangs and rubber bullets.
In summary, despite the united efforts of Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and Police Chief Carmen Best to make people go home and stay home, the protests, often several in a day, show no signs of abating. In fact, a re-occupation has started of the Colman school site spearheaded by elder and organizer Omari Tahir.
The uprising has already yielded some concrete gains in Seattle:
The Seattle Police Department has been under a consent decree since 2012 for unconstitutional policing and excessive force. The city has tried to create enough cosmetic changes to warrant the lifting of federal oversight; the onset of the uprising led the city to withdraw this request on June 4. This followed the filing of some 12,000 complaints about police abuse related to the May 30 protest in which police peppersprayed a small child in the face, deployed flashbangs and repeatedly kneeled on the necks of arrestees among other abuses. (ACLU)
On June 12, a federal court imposed a temporary restraining order banning the use of chemical weapons on protesters for 14 days in response to a suit filed by the ACLU on behalf of King County Black Lives Matter. City Council also endorsed the ban. SPD again used these weapons in sweeping the CHOP on June 29.
The Seattle Police Officers Guild was expelled from the King County Labor Council. This was a stunning rebuke to the notion that cops are workers or have any place in the labor movement.
The Seattle School Board has indefinitely suspended its contract with the SPD. The issue of the racist brutality of non-police security guards in schools has not yet been addressed.
After days and nights of curfew-defying protest, police were withdrawn from the East Precinct and the CHOP was established. While the area is no longer a protest zone free of police, its existence represented people’s hopes for a future free of racist police terror.
On July 6, Seattle City Council passed the “Jumpstart” tax in which companies with annual payrolls of more than $7 million will be taxed on their pay to employees making more than $150,000 per year. The tax rate will range from 0.7 percent to 2.4 percent, with tiers for various payroll and salary amounts. It is estimated to raise more than $200 million a year for COVID-19 relief and affordable housing.
The editorially conservative Seattle Times noted in its coverage of the vote: “This year, the COVID-19 crisis and Black Lives Matter protests have shaken up local politics, deepening inequities and highlighting community needs.”[Update: In additional, unfolding process, a majority of City Council members have endorsed a plan presented by Decriminalize Seattle, a community group, to reduce funding for the SPD by 50 percent, and redirect funds to community needs.]
Demands of the movement
The movement in Seattle is united behind these basic demands: Defund the police by at least 50 percent; Redirect thesefunds to oppressed communities and services for the most marginalized; Free all protesters and drop the charges. Protesters are also drawing attention to Seattle based cases of police brutality such as the recent killing of Sean Fuhr, the case of Charleena Lyles, Darius Butts and others.
Another demand is emerging for the resignation, removal or recall of Mayor Durkan. A former U.S. Attorney, daughter of a prominent state politician, she is in a co-parenting relationship with an extremely wealthy woman. That she is a lesbian is of no concern to the people in the streets. Thousands marched on her mansion in North Seattle on July 3 led by LGBTQ people. Her arrogant attempts to manipulate the movement and pit groups – especially Black-led groups – against eachother are entirely transparent. In addition to standing behind the brutality of the SPD against protesters, she has approved ongoing “sweeps” against homeless encampments during the COVID-19 pandemic, in direct contradiction to CDC guidance.
It is clear that militant protest wins results far beyond those obtained solely through electoral means or through the courts. What seemed impossible yesterday becomes possible today in the context of a nationwide rebellion against racism. The issue is that of power. When police departments blatantly defy the new state police reform law, when they continue to kill Black and Brown civilians, when police use chemical weapons, despite the opinion of a federal court that such use likely violates the 4th amendment rights of protesters, how are the police then held accountable? The perpetrating officers must be fired and then prosecuted and punished for their crimes against the people. The murderous fascist vigilantes must be prosecuted and locked up too. The very beginnings of this level of accountability have only been achieved as a result of the uprising, not through the goodwill of elected officials and prosecutors.
The people are just starting to realize their true power through this rebellion. Racist police terror is the raw edge of systemic racism: the reality that Black and other people of color can’t feel safe to walk down the street or drive a car or even sleep in their own homes! Systemic racism and capitalism are part and parcel one of the other. To dismantle racism we need to dismantle capitalism which was built on the foundations of genocide and slavery and has profited on racism at every turn.