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Our Moral Compass:  Responding to Charlottesville, DACA and Taking Regional Action  

The visible hatred on display in Charlottesville in August was a shock felt around the world.  Journalists, academics, activists, engaged community members and many thoughtful politicians in our nation — as well as those of us who have learned from history — continue to think about the implications.

Despite the ugliness, the response has been significantly uniform in condemning the mostly-white men who carried torches, who chanted Nazi hate speech, who displayed Confederate flags on the streets around the University of Virginia.   Their racial hatred and anti-Semitic slogans chanted together were designed to make them feel powerful and in charge.  They weren’t powerful; they were shameful.

Their actions were intended to create a sense of control for themselves and intimidation and distress for others.  We won’t buy into it.  By standing against these actions with clear-eyed vision of what we can do as a city and region, we claim the values deeply important to us. Unity over division.

I feel kinship with those who blame our 45th president for his failure to respond consistently to the truly abhorrent acts of racism in Charlottesville and for his total lack of moral compass whether he is dealing with racism, medical care, or DACA.  As far as I can see, he has no moral compass whatsoever.

But with this stated intention he gives us the chance to show ours.

I am thankful for the 40,000+ people of Boston who, several weekends ago, showed up to protest the White Supremacists intending to march there.  Boston’s founders would have been proud.

I stand with the brave Dreamers and their families across the country who are impacted by Trump rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. You are part of our communities’ fabric, please know that I will fight for you, your families and your dreams.

I extend my thanks as well to the heads of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Marines, as well as the business leaders who separated themselves from Trump.  These are people who have shown Trump what it means to have honor.

The events of Charlottesville – and Trump’s small-minded decision to end DACA  — are yet other reminders that the history of racism, anti-Semitism and white supremacy remains pervasive in pockets across our nation. Those of us who are elected, and others who are leaders across neighborhoods, faiths and organizations must take this opportunity to stand against racism and anti-Semitism and stand united in support of all people in our city.

Here are three principles on which we can stand on in Seattle to recalibrate our local moral compass.  Our moral compass will define a region where every individual will be valued and given a real opportunity to fulfill their potential. I believe that change starts with our own actions, caring for our families and our communities, but it cannot end there.

 

Principle 1:  Recognize the truth that people aren’t treated equally.

We live in a nation that continues to give advantage to those of us who were born with wealth or with white skin. A woman from Magnolia driving a Porsche is very unlikely to be stopped for driving with a tail light out.  The star UW athlete hailing from Laurelhurst is highly unlikely to get stopped by police if he is out walking late at night; and as one speaker asked me after Charleena Lyles’ death, “Were you ever worried that your blond sons would be shot by a cop?”    My answer was absolutely “no.”  She told me she was afraid of that possibility every single day of her adult life.  This question and answer opened my eyes like nothing else that evening.

Being conscious of these differences in treatment is a necessary move toward recalibrating our collective moral compass.  I hear from many that we are too politically correct for deeply honest conversations in Seattle, or that some people want to retreat from discussions about race and identity because they hate being told they are ‘privileged’.  Hang on.  Recognizing that the way we live — whether we are discussing homelessness, drug addiction, jail, immigration or health care is stacked very much in favor of some of us and very much against others — is the first step toward that critical recalibration. If we can recognize injustice and acknowledge that many of us have benefited where others have not, we can address it.

 

Principle 2:  Public safety starts with social stability.  Everyone needs a decent place to live.  

Thousands of people are homeless in our city and region, and thousands more are unstably housed. I hear from some my housed friends and neighbors how much they dislike seeing people in tents, the garbage strewn about, and unkempt people walking the streets with their belongings on their back. I acknowledge this frustration, and have also spoken to many about how those people in the tents feel about their conditions.

The solution is to this problem is to expand our affordable and low income housing stock significantly to create a continuum of options, starting with 24/7 shelters.  In the past I’ve written about managed encampments, tiny homes, the navigation center, modular housing options, and fast-tracking our housing levy investments. These are important starting points and we must move faster to implement them.

Housing First.  We say it repeatedly; people need and deserve to be housed. And, those whose lives have been disrupted need our help the most. Whether they’ve lost a job, a home, their family, or their health we can offer real help.

To make effective changes, the data points the pathway forward: people of color disproportionately experience homelessness in our city due to systemic, historical, and economic factors.  In Seattle the percentage of people of color are experiencing the challenges of exposure to weather, displacement for clean-ups, and the increased likelihood of being the victim of a crime. We must make room for everyone.

To increase housing stock, we have tools with a track record of success. On Council, I support adopting zoning changes that allow for creative options including more backyard cottages and accessory dwelling units (ADUs), increased building height so more low- and mixed-income housing options can be built in our urban centers and along transportation corridors across the city. I support funding for historic preservation and recreating single room occupancy spaces (SRO’s) and micro-housing in every multi-family neighborhood    This may mean inviting low income housing at Fort Lawton, adding at least one managed encampment in each Council district, and identifying safe zones where RVs can park with agreed upon rules.

I agree that neighborhoods also need protection from waste and needles. We are addressing these problems with a coordinated approach with city departments, All Home, and King County.

 

Principle 3:  Our inequitable justice and social systems can change.

The data points don’t lie.  On average, African American males are disproportionately incarcerated for the same crimes committed by white men; their terms in jail and prison are significantly longer when compared to white men.  The Black Lives Matter movement has hit the nail on the head on this point: law and order is not the same in every neighborhood. The White Supremacists in Charlottesville want “order” as they define it.  Their vision is a far cry from genuine safety for all.

Once we see with fresh eyes our own histories and acknowledge that institutional bias is real, we can then proactively address the systemic problems that have created disparities in the first place. This approach is a true moral compass reset, and can be done in Seattle through numerous policy changes I have supported and will support again this year.  Here are my budget and legislative priorities for 2018 that will take steps to reverse the disparities:

 

  • First, Housing and Human Services: Increase targeted funding for housing and needed human services as described above and in Pathways Home.  Coordinate our investments with King County, spending our city and county money on regional solutions to address our homelessness crisis.

 

  • Secondly, Education:  Increase funding and coordinated programs to support education for our students from pre-school into early college years. We want healthy, well-adjusted kids, and ensure they have the skills needed to ready themselves for college and quality careers.  Keeping kids in school and out of detention is both right and effective.

 

  • Third, Mental Health and Restitution Programs: Invest our mental health dollars in healing and restitution programs rather than lengthy hospitalization or prison terms.   Yes, we need to separate people who are truly dangerous, but our investments should be in strengthening individuals for a fair shot at life, not warehousing them.  Some of our programs focusing on mediation and relationship restoration are showing promising results.  Judges in mental health and drug courts report that emphasizing personal responsibility coupled with consistent community support empowers those with mental health issues or convictions to change their lives for the better.  We need more of these restorative programs.

 

  • Fourth, Drug Treatment on Demand: Make drug treatment-on-demand the accepted community response for opioid and other drug addictions, not a jail sentence.   Deaths from overdoses are becoming commonplace in every city across our nation. We know treating addiction like a disease, not a crime, can reverse this pattern.  Putting treatment before jail; offering help not judgment.  This year in our budget we must expand health care through our public health clinics and mobile medical vans.  Offer naloxone, methadone and buprenorphine at these clinics, and make more available in every district of our city and region.

 

  • Fifth, Healthy Food Availability: Ensure everyone has access to healthy food. Hunger and poverty are disproportionately experienced by people of color. Recent reports confirm that African-American households are twice as likely to be food insecure and immigrant families headed by farm workers are almost seven times as likely as other Americans to be food insecure. And seniors are not exempt from this.  We know that the numbers of seniors who visit food banks in our region has increased nearly 30% over the past few years.  Northwest Harvest has called on their fellow emergency food providers to strengthen efforts to end hunger by addressing systems that reinforce racial inequality. This month, providers will be participating in the “2017 Closing the Hunger Gap Conference” whose purpose is to move hunger relief organizations toward strategies that promote social justice and address the root causes of hunger, using the lens of racial and economic equity.  This conference will be another step toward healthy living, including state and federal efforts toward Medicare for all.

 

  • Sixth, Eliminate the Death Penalty: On the state level, eliminate the death penalty. The death penalty is both immoral and ridiculously costly, and we are the only wealthy democracy remaining that allows a state to put a convicted person to death.   Changing our State’s death penalty law requires action by our state legislature and governor. Our city council made our position known again this year.  2018 should be the year we abolish the death penalty in the State of Washington.

 

Lastly, I will continue to support our DREAMERS, protect and advocate for them as best I can.  These investments will re-enforce our ideals, and will make our city a more just place to be for all of us.  I am committed to seeing these priorities enacted.

As Chris Hayes states in his new book A Colony in a Nation, African Americans living in less affluent neighborhoods seem to live in a totally different country than their wealthier white neighbors.  Hayes says, Order is a slippery thing; it’s in the eyes of the beholder and the judgments of the powerful.  Safety is clearer; it’s freedom from violence and intrusion.”

Freedom from violence and intrusion is a right to be bestowed on every person in our city.   Taking the important steps described above is my commitment to you.

 

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