By Paul Kiefer
As the Seattle City Council wrapped up their 2021 budget deliberations, representatives from King County Equity Now’s (KCEN) Black Brilliance research Project held a press conference on Monday afternoon to announce an ambitious slate of potential city investments and social programming aimed at replacing police and improving community safety in Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities.
The Black Brilliance Project, which KCEN announced in September, encompasses the preliminary research for next year’s proposed public safety-oriented participatory budgeting process. The project will be funded through a $3 million grant to the Freedom Project, which will subcontract with KCEN; the city has not yet finalized and published the contract.
The council is poised to adopt a 2021 city budget that allocates $30 million to participatory budgeting, and programs identified through that process, next year, including $18 million reallocated from Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposed $100 million Equitable Communities Initiative.
Despite the lack of a finalized contract, KCEN research director Shaun Glaze said the organization has already fielded nine research teams to conduct interviews, surveys and community meetings to assemble a list of priorities for public safety spending. Based on the presentations on Monday, the research teams are using a broad definition of public safety—one that encompasses secure housing and land ownership, physical and psychiatric health care, and employment, in addition to emergency response services and crisis management.
Some of the concepts announced Monday include a proposal $2 million in “paid employment and mentorship opportunities” for Black youth, which could include positions for youth on advisory committees for city departments; a “Seattle Equitable Internet Initiative,” which Glaze described as a project to improve and expand internet access “city- and countywide”; and a $1 billion “anti-gentrification land acquisition fund to support the redevelopment of a Black cultural core in the Central District, including both housing and social services.
Glaze said KCEN hasn’t identified a specific revenue stream for the $1 billion—an amount equivalent to two-thirds of the city’s general fund budget, and nearly one-third larger than the city’s budget for public safety.
The members of the Black Brilliance Project team also presented several more immediate public safety-related proposals, largely centered on emergency response teams and neighborhood-based community safety “hubs” in places like South Seattle and Aurora Avenue North. These hubs, Glaze explained, would require the cooperation of volunteers and nonprofits to provide food, COVID-19 testing, internet access and other essential services on a neighborhood scale. “While this doesn’t mean that every neighborhood would get its own hub,” they said, “it does mean that we are looking to build and fortify existing support networks.”
Arguably the most robust proposal was for a three-step, holistic emergency response system that would be largely independent of the city’s first responders. According to Black Brilliance Project representative Imani Dinish, the group hopes to assemble a “proactive” response system that uses “community outreach patrols and canvassing” to connect those in need to emergency housing and relocation funds. That service, he said, would be accompanied by “crisis triage centers” staffed by medical, psychiatric and psychological professionals, as well as an emergency response team that would respond to 911 calls “in lieu of or alongside the Fire Department, [paramedics] or SPD” to serve as “mediators, arbitrators, intelligence-gatherers, [and] witness-interviewers” at the scenes of crises. Community Passageways’ Critical Incident Response Team is an existing model for that type of emergency response unit, albeit on a more limited scale.
Dinish said that KCEN also hopes to provide follow-up services for survivors and their families, including case management, advocacy, and access to a center that would provide “life skills classes, spiritual advising, physical therapy, [and] holistic healing,” among other services
While Dinish said that he and his fellow team members hoped to have the preliminary services off the ground “within the coming year,” the sheer scale of the Black Brilliance Project proposals—and the costs of realizing them—make that timeline optimistic. The council has only proposed to allocate an additional $10 million to scaling up existing community-based safety programs in 2021, though council member Lisa Herbold told PubliCola that $18.5 million of the proposed $30 million for next year’s participatory budgeting process is intended to pay for projects recommended in next year’s process.
But Glaze and KCEN don’t see the massive price tag as a reason to forego the organization’s ambitious proposed social programs. “We want to create a world where we can thrive,” Glaze said, “and anything short of that reflects a government that doesn’t value the demands of this summer and the demands of our youth who have been marching every single day, and the work that’s been going on for decades prior.”
A previous version of this article stated that the city will contract with the Marguerite Casey Foundation, not the Freedom Project; the article has been corrected and updated.