As PubliCola prepares to endorse candidates in the August 3 mayoral and council primary elections, we reached out to the leading candidates for mayor and City Council Position 9 with questions about homelessness, housing, police accountability, and economic recovery.
Their answers to these questions will help inform our endorsements, coming out next week. Endorsements will be based on each candidate’s record of action, public statements, interviews with PubliCola and other media outlets, and responses at the many candidate forums that have taken place over the summer.
Today, we’re highlighting Nikkita Oliver and Brianna Thomas, two of the leading candidates for Seattle City Council Position 9, the seat currently held by council president Lorena González, who’s running for mayor.
A third candidate for this position, Sara Nelson, is the only candidate in any race who did not respond to our questions.
Nikkita Oliver, an attorney, organizer, and performer who rose to prominence during their unsuccessful but well-publicized run for mayor in 2017, runs a nonprofit, Creative Justice, that offers arts programming as an alternative to jail for young people. As an activist, they helped lead efforts to stop King County from building a new youth jail, and were deeply involved in last year’s Black Lives Matter protests as an advocate for divesting from the police department and investing in community safety, including housing, child care, and intervention programs. They also support ending exclusionary zoning, investing in municipal broadband (one way of enabling more people to work from home), and scaling up participatory budgeting, a way of allowing people to vote on what gets funded in the city budget.
Here’s what Oliver had to say in response to the eight questions PubliCola posed to the Position 9 candidates.
When responding to people living outdoors, the city has historically focused on large or highly visible encampments, and reserved resources and enhanced shelter or hotel beds for people at encampments removed by the city. This focus on large, visible encampments tends to exclude many unhoused people of color, such as Native Americans, from access to the most desirable services. What would you do to improve equity in access to services for unsheltered people of color, particularly the Black and Native homeless populations?
We need to be creating radical accessibility throughout the city for our unhoused residents. We propose ending sweeps and utilizing those dollars for garbage pick-up, mobile hygiene stations (including showers and clothes washing), accessibility of public restrooms and water stations, and mobile clinics and supports that include dental and physical health. Where possible, we would like to see mobile units that provide haircuts, undergarments, and other hygiene needs.
More of the services we utilize need to be led by communities of color, especially Black and Native communities, so that they are culturally responsive and representative of the communities with the least accessibility to services. These services and supports, including the above radical accessibility plan, need to be low-barrier. Black and Native communities experience the highest rates of criminalization and have historically (and presently) been brutalized by the government; therein having a rightful distrust of government supports and services. When people access city-based or city-funded services, they should not fear being further criminalized or brutalized while accessing those supports or being forced to commit to things like religious services, addiction services, or other types of services while receiving basic needs supports.
Meeting the basic needs of our unhoused residents cannot be dependent upon compliance with receiving other types of services. Such requirements make it hard to build trust and rapport, especially in Black and Native communities, and often “turn people off” to receiving such support later, if needed. Having mobile units also allows the City to respond to different needs throughout the city and target our supports towards those most marginalized and vulnerable community members, such as the Black and Native communities. It also allows us to be flexible about how and where we show up, as many residents without homes may not always remain in the same place. Having the ability to be flexible and evolve with the needs of community members without homes is key to meeting these initial basic needs.
“More dollars to the Seattle Police Department will not make Seattle safer. It will only further entrench a violent and reactionary response to harm. It is also fiscally irresponsible, as increased investments in SPD continuously fail to deliver on the false promise of public safety through policing and punitive systems.”
It cannot stop there though. The racial wealth gap, exclusionary zoning and red lining, the lack of affordable housing and low-barrier shelters and supportive transitional housing, the continued rising cost of living in our region, and the lack of access to high-wage employment are all largely to blame for why so many of our unhoused resident are Black and Native. We need low-barrier permanent and transitional supportive housing that is, again, led by Black and Native communities because we are able to respond to the cultural and spiritual needs of our community members. The expertise to run these facilities well and sustainability may not exist throughout all Black and Native communities and so the City must commit to providing the technical support needed to build and sustain these spaces. For example, we could start by working with the Africatown Community Land Trust regarding the Keiro Building so that [the Africatown Land Trust] can launch culturally rooted supportive housing in the Central District.
Lastly, the Race and Social Justice Initiative requires the RSJI toolkit be employed in assessing our work and implementation as a City. We must take seriously utilizing all tools at our reach to ensure our work is actually aligning with our vision for the City as it pertains to RSJI. In this regard, we should employ full-time staff in each applicable department whose only role is to ensure that we are to our very best aligning with the principle and values outlined by RSJI.
In 2020, a majority of the city council said they supported defunding the police by at least 50 percent. Was it a mistake for them to make this commitment? What gaps in Seattle’s non-police public safety network can be filled on the shortest timeline, and which are the most pressing priorities?
No, this was not a mistake. I do not believe that we would have won the 18 percent defund without the movement pressure for 50 percent and the commitment of council to at least try. Additionally, Seattle Police Department’s budget has doubled since 2010 when John T. Williams was murdered. In the last 10 years we have seen a DOJ investigation, a consent decree (which we are still under), the murders of many more residents, the development of three offices related to the accountability legislation, the 2017 accountability legislation passing unanimously, the 2018 CBA [Collective Bargaining Agreement], which prevented the accountability legislation from being fully implemented, multiple uprisings in defense of Black lives, and the 2020/21 protests where thousands of protestors were brutalized.
Some would say 50 percent was not a well thought out number. I would say, considering the above, the continued outsized growth of SPD’s budget, and the lack of true public safety for all, 50 percent is well thought out and reflective of the lack of change we have seen in SPD and public safety generally since 2010 despite much investment in SPD. More dollars to the Seattle Police Department will not make Seattle safer. It will only further entrench a violent and reactionary response to harm. It is also fiscally irresponsible, as increased investments in SPD continuously fail to deliver on the false promise of public safety through policing and punitive systems.
Big picture: The City should see as many functions as possible moved out of the hands of armed officers or from being supervised and overseen by SPD officers. With some retraining away from the culture of SPD, the parking enforcement officer (PEO) workforce could take some of these tasks as outlined below. This will likely have to be tackled in the new CBA because it would be taking aways tasks currently assigned to officers.
Defund and remove all military equipment designed for crowd control and remove SPD’s responsibility for crowd control. Crowd control is a broad category which does not just include protests. There are other groups that could be accessed to do this work. When it comes to sporting events, we could work with our partners in organized labor to have trained flaggers help people and cars move effectively around the stadiums, partner with the community safety hubs (funding in the 2020 rebalance package with $4 million), bike brigade, and trained de-escalators and peacekeepers for rallies.
Lastly, to ensure some brevity in my answer, Decriminalize Seattle, who I’ve been organizing with since 2019, in our 2020 blueprint presented to the Council a blueprint for police divestment and community investment that I think is still useful as a guiding document for this work. I will still outline a few things below that I believe can happen quickly.
“As officers continue to leave the department, new hiring should be frozen, all salary savings should be recaptured and moved into funding and scaling up non-police responses to harm and meeting basic needs.”
Civilianized 911: As of June 1, 911 was no longer housed with SPD. It is now a part of the Community Safety and Communication Center—a new, independent city department. This department should house other civilian crisis response and program safety programs. We can quickly make sure the new dispatch has new training and operating instructions so that they are sending calls to non-police responders when possible. We need to expand HealthOne so that it can receive a larger volume of calls. The city is investing $10 million in an 18-month expansion of community-based responses. We need to assess those who received funding, what kinds of calls or referrals can they receive, what is the connection between other HSD programs and supports and our new civilianized 911, and what other programs or infrastructure needs to be built (based on types of calls 911 typically receives) to provide the best supports when residents are in need or crisis. As officers continue to leave the department, new hiring should be frozen, all salary savings should be recaptured and moved into funding and scaling up non-police responses to harm and meeting basic needs.
Parking Enforcement Officers (also supposed to be transferred): PEOs were supposed to be transferred on June 1st, but there is a debate about whether they should go to CSCC (the new department) or to SDOT. The PEOs want to go to CSCC, their supervisors (and the mayor) want them to go to SDOT. This move will not happen until September while the City figures out where PEOs should go. The PEOs want to take on more work that police currently do, and they think moving to CSCC will make that possible: “SPEOG union president Nanette Toyoshima, on the other hand, wrote in a letter to council last year that parking enforcement officers could take over some duties usually handled by sworn police officers, like responding to minor car crashes and enforcing red light violations, if they were in the new CSCC, according to PubliCola.”
Local elected officials and candidates have often emphasized the need to revitalize downtown Seattle as the primary focus of post-COVID recovery. What is one specific action you would take in Seattle’s non-downtown neighborhoods to promote economic recovery and neighborhood vitality?
The Seattle City Council has already passed legislation for commercial rent control for small businesses in Seattle affected by COVID-19. This ordinance provides protections for Seattle small businesses in the form of rent control, repayment plan requirements, and prohibition on late fees, interest, and other charges. One issue with the legislation is that prohibitions outlined in the legislation only remain in effect until the civil emergency proclaimed by Mayor Jenny Durkan on March 3, 2020 is terminated. Commercial rent control in a city as expensive as Seattle is generally a good thing for small businesses; I recommend we keep this ordinance in place even after the emergency proclamation has been terminated.