Public Blocked From Entering Seattle City Council Chambers By Security Officers
(Video by Mark Taylor-Canfield posted at his Youtube channel.)
Extreme Irony: On the same day that a federal judge endorsed the Black Lives Matter movement, the Seattle City Council used physical force in a failed attempt to block BLM protesters from entering a public meeting.
US Federal Court Judge James Robart has sided with the Black Lives Matter movement during the city's contract negotiations with the Seattle Police Officers Guild. Robart pointed out in a hearing on August 15 that African-Americans make up 41 percent of casualties at the hands of police but only 20 percent of the population. He told attendees at the federal court hearing in Seattle:
"Black lives matter."
Community Police Commissioner Enrique Gonzalez:
"I'm very encouraged that a federal judge has actually said that black lives matter, because now we know that not only is this movement happening in the streets...a federal judge has acknowledged that people of color have been on the receiving end of police brutality and this needs to change." www.thestranger.com/…
Judge Robart also stated that he would not allow the Seattle Police Officers Guild to hold himself and the City of Seattle "hostage" during current contract negotiations. He was referring to the SPOG's resistance to much needed reforms of the department. The Stranger newspaper quotes Judge Robart 's forceful statement:
“I think the entire city of Seattle would march behind me in that position.”
It remains to be seen whether Judge Robart will actually lead a protest march but he did leave that option open, at least rhetorically.
Robarts also called for the formation of a permanent Community Police Commission to provide public oversight of the SPD, a proposal that every city in the nation should adopt immediately.
Recent US Department of Justice investigations of the Baltimore Police Department found a policy of unlawful stops and excessive use of force. The need for public oversight and accountability has been a demand of many civil rights campaigns throughout the country following the deaths of so many African-American men at the hands of police officers.
Judge Robart's endorsement of the movement comes at a time when Seattle city leaders are entangled in a very controversial confrontation with local Black Lives Matter activists. As communities across the country mobilize to challenge police brutality and address accusations of racism, the Seattle City Council is facing a showdown with many of the folks in the city over a new proposed police station.
On the same day that Judge Robarts sided with Black Lives Matter activists on the issue of police reform, Seattle’s City Council faced a major rebellion led by police accountability activists and local BLM organizers.
The city council meeting on August 15 was interrupted numerous times by protests from individuals and various groups, including Black Lives Matter. At issue is the city's proposal to spend somewhere between $149 - $160 million on a new police station which local civil rights activists are calling "The Bunker".
Major critics include The Seattle Times which claims that it will be the most expensive police station in the United States. www.thestranger.com/...
The campaign against the project is using the hashtag "#StopTheBunker", which was trending at Twitter.
Both the Seattle City Council chambers and the Bertha Knight Landes room were overflowing with concerned residents of the city who oppose the expensive building project. Hundreds of people began chanting "Black Lives Matter!" in both locations as members of the public testified against the council's decision to fund the new North Precinct police station.
The impression of many folks in the city is that the new station project represents an increasingly entrenched police department which has been under review by the US Department of Justice. In their report, DOJ found a "practice and policy" of the use of excessive force by the SPD. Allegations of racial profiling have also been investigated. The Seattle police are now working under court ordered reforms to address these problems.
Many members of the public have questioned the city's support for this expensive building project at a time when both Seattle and Martin Luther King County have declared civil emergencies due to an unprecedented increase in homelessness. In some areas of Seattle rents have increased 300% over the last two years, resulting in what I have defined in previous articles as a "serious economic refugee crisis".
Some of the richest men in the world live in the area, including Jeff Bezos, Paul Allen and Bill Gates. But apparently none of this wealth is being used to help provide affordable housing, reduce poverty, provide for K-12 pubic education, or assist in offering low cost public transportation or healthcare.
Despite the current incredible tech gold rush happening in this region, corporations like Amazon and Google have declined to offer any compensation to the community for the economic displacement they have caused by pushing the cost of real estate and rents through the roof.
Thousands of longtime residents, including the elderly or disabled and poor families living in “The Emerald City” are being evicted because they can no longer afford to live here. Considering their lack of response, I can only conclude that these multinational businesses really don’t give a damn about the average citizen because they are only interested in one overriding priority — collecting billions of dollars for their shareholders and CEO’s.
Washington State is currently experiencing a K-12 public education funding crisis. The Washington State Supreme Court has fined the State Legislature $100,000 per day for failing to adequately fund education as required by the state’s constitution. kuow.org/...
Given the lack of funding for affordable housing and education, many members of the community are critical of the cost associated with the proposed North Precinct headquarters. They claim the problem stems from the city’s skewed budget priorities. The Seattle Times has criticized the city for it’s zealous effort to become a “world class city”, which has resulted in many hypocritical and problematic budget decisions.
One has to ask the question:
“How can Seattle become a ‘world class city’ while 10,000 people have no permanent shelter and 4,500 people are living on the streets?” crosscut.com/...
As a partial response to critics of the new police station, the city council passed a resolution that includes a request for a "racial-equity" analysis and more research on lowering the expense of the project. But despite public opposition to the new station, it is clear by their vote at the meeting that the city council intends to go ahead with the project no matter what.
Sharp exchanges took place between council members and folks testifying during the public comment period. Obviously, these public servants are not used to being openly challenged at their meetings. Most of the councilors were visibly angered by the interruptions and accusations of racism coming from folks who were testifying.
Even the usually open-minded new progressive council member Lisa Herbold seemed upset by the public’s reaction.
City council president Bruce Harrell lashed out at demonstrators saying:
"I don't need anyone to remind me that Black lives matter! I am a black man and my children are black."
Council member Lorena Gonzalez, a former civil rights attorney, had a few insulting remarks for the protesters during her speech:
"I was raised to respect people. You were not."
Of course intolerant and condescending comments by city council members only served to further incite the crowd who had been demanding access to the meeting. Many members of the public were initially blocked from entering the council chambers by Seattle City Hall security officers who used physical force in a shameful and dangerous attempt to keep demonstrators out of the room while folks inside shouted:
"Let them in!"
Although I had identified myself as a journalist covering the event, I was also barred from entering the room by security officers and city hall staff who told me that the room was filled to capacity. At least one hundred people were ushered into an overflow room where no one could speak to the council, so we watched the proceedings on the city's Seattle Channel.
However, when members of the public interrupted the meeting by trying to enter the chambers, the Seattle Channel cut their live coverage and shut off all cameras.
(A large media presence was there to document the events but most of the TV news stations left the room after the meeting while folks were still demonstrating and making speeches. I witnessed KIRO TV interviewing Black Lives Matter activists at that point live on Youtube, but most of the media didn't seem interested in sticking around, partially because folks were being threatened with arrest if we didn't leave the area.)
For the record, I refused to leave the council chambers until I was able to conduct some interviews with the demonstrators. As naive as that may sound, some journalists still believe in freedom of the press!
Here's the Seattle Channel video of most of the meeting, including my public testimony: www.seattlechannel.org/…
It's not surprising that Seattle police officers were not in attendance at the meeting during the protests, and they did not arrive to make arrests even though City Hall security announced that we would all be taken into custody. Clearly, if SPD had made arrests, a riot may have ensued. At the very least it would have added more publicity and media coverage to the event, something the city did not want to encourage.
During my public testimony I told the city council that the public’s lack of trust in police departments was a national phenomenon and more protests should be expected if we cannot solve this issue in Seattle.
"There is a problem between the community and the police department."
Some residents of the city stated during public testimony that they were afraid to call the Seattle Police Department for assistance due to their impression that Seattle law enforcement officers are racist and dangerous. When a protester asked how many people in the room had been harassed or assaulted by police I counted at least ten raised hands.
I feel it necessary to add here that the only real violence I witnessed during the city council meeting were attempts by security officers to physically block protesters from either entering or leaving the chambers during the protest. I filmed that incident so it has been well documented. Security personnel tried to close the large metal and glass doors on people while they were trying to enter the room. This pushing and shoving by security officers actually resulted in some minor injuries to a young Latino woman inside the council chambers but she chose not to give her name.
Council president and chairman of the Public Safety Committee, Bruce Harell, intervened and placed himself between security guards and members of the public who were trying to join the demonstration or speak to the council during the public testimony period. This was a very courageous move by the councilman who could have been injured during the incident, but he also complimented security officers who were trying to close the huge doors on people entering the council chambers. His comments seemed to send a contradictory message to observers.
Eventually Harell was able to calm the crowd down by speaking to them directly from his seat at the podium. He was willing to negotiate on some points, but Harell said he would not allow any more public testimony although nine people still wanted to speak, including myself. I responded to councilman Harell by stating that I thought folks should be given a chance to speak if we all promised to keep our comments brief.
As a result of my request and pleas from other members of the public, the president of the council gave us exactly 30 seconds each to present our testimony, which was obviously not enough time to adequately address the issues being brought before the council.
I must also report that there was one member of the public who began shouting out white supremacist epithets during the public testimony period.
Mike O'Brien was the only Seattle City Council member to vote against the resolution on the new police station. O'Brien spoke directly to the protesters and said that he did not think there had been enough dialogue and discussion surrounding the proposed project.
Rumors are flying around town that O'Brien may challenge Mayor Ed Murray during the next election. Mike O'Brien has been one of Seattle’s most progressive council members. He was quoted in the Seattle Times referring to the new police station:
"In a fiscally constrained environment, there needs to be some bounds around what we do."
Seattle Times editorial columnist Brier Dudley wrote:
"Design ambitions must be balanced with budget realities. Unless you’re working for the city of Seattle, which always finds money for showpiece projects.” www.seattletimes.com/…
(As a side note, Socialist council member Kshama Sawant does not support the proposed police station. She was not present at the meeting since she was travelling in India. Taking into consideration her previous outspoken campaigns for the $15 hour minimum wage and rent control, I am convinced that she would have supported the rebellion which took place in the city council chambers.)
Apparently the majority of the Seattle City Council now considers the new police station as simply a budgetary item, while much of the rest of the community sees the costly building project as an ongoing attempt to enforce the institutional militarization of police departments across the US.
Police accountability activists call the project "The Bunker" because they are worried that the design of the building will create a military style fortress that will only lead to a more isolated and unresponsive police department hiding from the critical public behind steel reinforced concrete walls. With armored cars, concussion grenades, assault rifles, and an overzealous SWAT team, the Seattle Police Department is already starting to look like a local army.
Plenty of money is being made by military defense manufacturers who are now attempting to expand their markets by providing local police departments with weapons, vehicles, surveillance technology, cell phone jamming equipment, drones, etc. When former Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn cancelled the city's drone program, SPD was forced to return their drones which had been funded by money from the federal government. www.youtube.com/...
With these issues facing the city government, a new regime might be called for to address reforms in the police department and at City Hall. Expensive building projects for law enforcement during a time of mass homelessness in the city, a police guild resisting civil rights reforms, and an unsympathetic city council may spell political suicide for some of the folks at city hall. If the public and the city government/law enforcement agencies continue this divisive trend, new candidates will step up to challenge the entrenched incumbents.
I am at a loss as to why the Seattle City Council members refuse to see the writing on the wall. Their position seems to be that they are just trying to do their job and they accuse the public of being ungrateful. I must respectfully inform the council members that this attitude is not a winning strategy for re-election. Yes, holding political office is often a difficult and under appreciated job, but the voters aren't interested in supporting office holders who take criticism and opposition personally to the point where they speak or act in an insensitive and arrogant manner towards their own constituents.
Now that a federal judge has sided with the Black Lives Matter marchers, will Seattle city officials finally relent and listen seriously to the public allegations of racism, brutality and elitism within the police department and the city government?
If these last few confrontations with Black Lives Matter activists are any indication, I'd say that the answer is still "no".
Even candidates elected on a reform platform showed anger and frustration with the protesters at this latest city council meeting. Only council member Mike O'Brien seems to be accurately reading the mood of the voters. If he continues to provide a sympathetic ear, he will most likely benefit at the ballot box if he chooses to run for the mayor's office.
We must face the fact that something is seriously out of balance in Seattle politics. This kind of animosity between members of the public and their representatives in city government can't be good for the city. There is a perception among Black Lives Matter activists that this so-called "progressive" community is still suffering from institutional racism and political intransigence. When our elected representatives present themselves as too thinned skinned to handle the criticism gracefully, they are unwittingly making themselves politically obsolete.
People in Seattle have been pushing the envelope on these issues for many years but the local government structure seems too week to accommodate such a grassroots effort.
One thing is clear - protests will continue whether the city officials like it or not.
Folks are not going to go home and keep quiet anymore. The city council will hear from Black Lives Matter and other vocal critics, so they might as well get used to it and stop acting like hurt little children. No one respects that kind of immature response from a public official. What most people in the US want right now is to hear from truth tellers, not another mealy mouthed politician!
Even if some of the activists are loud and raucous, local government officials should not resort to panic and lash out with aggressive actions by security guards. Also, hurling insulting remarks at demonstrators will not resolve the tension in the community. A solution won’t be accomplished through condescension and prejudice. Democratic representatives in government should be able to handle uncensored freedom of speech. If we are honest then we must all admit that we have a lot to learn about freedom and justice from the dissidents in our midst. Besides, if you can't handle serious criticism, whether you agree with it or not, you probably shouldn't be running for a political office!
Seattle city officials should take a lesson from Mike O'Brien who did not frown, act offended or insult members of the public during the controversial council meeting. He and Kshama Sawant are the only council members who have gained some measure of respect from Black Lives Matter protesters.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and City Attorney Pete Holmes are expected to present police department reform legislation to Judge James Robart for review by September 5th. If the mayor drops the ball or delays in responding, he may find himself with a lot of free time on his hands after the next city election.
If Seattle City Council members can’t cool themselves down a bit in the face of criticism from Black Lives Matter protesters, they might as well hide themselves away from the public in their own personal “bunkers” and kiss their political futures goodbye...
(Mark Taylor-Canfield is a guest columnist at The Capitol Hill Times, Contributing Editor for Democracy Watch News, and a weekly guest journalist on The Jeff Santos Show - FSTV.)