Like many cities across the nation, people in Seattle have been protesting for over 100 days. The protests started by the killing of George Floyd have focused on Black Lives Matter and defunding the Seattle Police Department. The movement has made some headway, and the Seattle City Council recently voted to reduce funding to SPD, handing a concession, rather than an outright victory, to the people of Seattle.
Rather than meeting the demand to defund by 50 percent the SPD’s $400 million dollar budget, (a budget larger than the military budgets of 35 nations) and reinvest the savings in Black and Indigenous communities and human resources, the City Council voted for a 14 percent reduction for the remainder of 2020 totaling a cut of $22.9 million. Some of the savings came from reducing the bloated pay of the top cops, including that of Police Chief Carmen Best.
As expected the Seattle Police, not known for doing things quietly, caused a stir. Best retired in protest over the cuts. Almost immediately the cry arose from suburban upper-middle class parts of Seattle. How could the City Council cut the police budget? Who would protect the city? How could they do this to a woman of color police chief? This was asked of course while ignoring the makeup of the City Council which is 2/3 women, all but one being women of color. How could they cut her pay, and force her out?
They could do it because the City Council refactored the salaries of the command staff of the Seattle Police. The Seattle police rank and file are under a collective bargaining agreement; thus the City Council could not reduce the staggering salaries of the officers–some of whom are making, with overtime, more than $300,000/year. Rather, Council adjusted the salaries of the management of the Seattle Police including the chief (because managers are generally not covered under collective bargaining agreements). Even with the cuts, community activist Nikkita Oliver, points out that the 13 executive command staff members still “make more than every governor in the United States.” (Crosscut).
This was one reason why Best resigned: she found the pay adjustments to the command staff of the Seattle Police Department to be “vindictive, punitive, and even illegal,” noting that “no other leaders of Seattle departments were targeted by the council in a similar way.” (Seattle Times) However it should be highlighted that no other leaders of Seattle departments allowed their employees to beat and deploy chemical weapons against people practicing their first amendment rights to oppose police brutality.
Best stated that another factor in her resignation was the “overarching lack of respect for the officers.” But why should they have the respect of the citizenry of Seattle if they are not abiding by I-940, if they are selectively enforcing laws, escalating every situation and meeting protesters’ legitimate grievances with tear gas? If they act like a military occupation force, erecting cement walls topped with chain link fences around the East and West Precincts, they should expect to be met like an occupation force: with extreme distrust.
We should not be surprised that there are calls to defund SPD’s $400 million budget during a global pandemic while the City wants to cut essential services. People are losing their incomes, jobs and housing, but there are patrol officers logging exorbitant overtime hours, including one who logged 80 hour work weeks, taking home over $400,000! (Seattle Times) Meanwhile the SPD says that they have no way to even verify if that cop did or did not actually work those hours.
Union organizer and former City Council candidate Shaun Scott noted that the city has shelled out “$6.3 million in overtime wages to police officers since widespread anti-police brutality protests began on May 30. Seattle’s current annual expenditure for its Office of Civil Rights — which features dozens of volunteer appointees who advise the city council and mayor on substantial policy recommendations — is $4.6 million.” (Shaun Scott, Crosscut)
As a grand finale to Best’s exit, when a Labor Day March reached the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild building, a private building, the Seattle police blasted country music while charging out on bikes to brutalize and use chemical weapons against a peaceful protest. Following this spectacle in which two beloved activists, Tatii and TK, were brutally arrested, Seattle saw another resignation: that of Merrick Bobb, the court-appointed monitor of the Justice Department’s mandated reforms of SPD. “The Seattle Police Department’s use of force and ‘powerful and injurious’ crowd-control weaponry against protesters in recent months has cost the department goodwill with the public and ground lost in efforts to get out from beneath federal oversight.” (Seattle Times)
Ultimately Carmen Best’s protest resignation mattered little as Mayor Jenny Durkan vetoed the proposed budget cuts. It still remains to be seen whether the City Council will regroup to overturn Durkan’s veto and carry out the will of the community. Regardless of who is holding the reigns at SPD, the police as an institution exist to protect and serve the interests of the capitalist class.