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Councilmember Sawant Demands #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd, Police Accountability, COVID Relief

SEATTLE – Councilmember Kshama Sawant (District 3, Central Seattle), chair of the Council’s Sustainability and Renters Rights Committee, spoke at the #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd rally, which was held yesterday in downtown Seattle, alongside massive nationwide protests against the police killing of George Floyd.  Sawant’s speech as delivered is provided below:

George Floyd said I can’t breathe, again and again, while his last breath of life was snatched away by the Minneapolis Police Department. This is murder. It is murder at the hands of the police and the racist state, and it is commonplace in capitalist America, where we have just seen the racist killings of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.

The political establishments in Minneapolis, here in Seattle, and across the country seem surprised that ordinary people are angry. 

Yes, we are angry. We are angry that yet another innocent black man was killed. We are angry that in spite of years of protest against racist police violence, mass incarceration, systemic racism, and inequality that next to nothing has been done. That our demands for systemic change go unanswered. That the Bigot in Chief in the White House spews out hate and threatens violence. That police killers again and again go unpunished. 

Instead of answering our demands, the establishment escalates. They have called in the National Guard in Minnesota, and now threaten to send military police. This is the rotten political establishment that safeguards the capitalist system. In Minneapolis, this is the Democratic establishment carrying out this response, not Republicans – the Democratic Mayor of Minneapolis and the Democratic Governor of Minnesota. They have used absolutely brutal and repressive measures against the protesters, including tear gas, mace,  flashbangs, and rubber bullets.

We see the same thing in Seattle, where on Saturday Mayor Durkan declared a curfew after downtown protests. Seattle doesn’t need a curfew, pepper spray, and tear gas. We need an end to racist police violence. We need economic and housing security, including immediate COVID relief, housing, and jobs through the Amazon Tax. We need an end to the inhumane  homeless sweeps. We need the cancelation of rents, mortgages, and utility payments  for those who have lost income. We need an elected community oversight board with  full powers over the police, including hiring and firing.    

The outrage on the streets represents the deep community anger about police violence, on top of the profound and longstanding suffering caused by the political establishment’s failure to meet the basic needs of working people before and during this crisis. I was proud to be there and speak to the thousands at the protest action in Seattle downtown.    

Shame on Mayor Durkan for using the cover of the COVID crisis to crack down on  protesters. Durkan and other establishment politicians, who claim to be saddened by  the murder of George Floyd, have enabled the systematic racism and violence from the  Seattle Police Department. They are also preparing to carry out brutal austerity and cuts to social programs, which will disproportionately affect communities of color,  unless our movements fight back. 

Ordinary people in Minneapolis, Seattle, and in cities across this country – working people and community members of all races – are courageously fighting for justice for George Floyd. It has been powerful to see how the grassroots community has stood with the protesters. This is real multi-racial, working-class solidarity against injustice.

These nationwide protests are a historic development in the fight against systemic racism. This moment stands on the shoulders of the Black Lives Matter movement, unleashed in the wake of the murder of Michael Brown at the hands of Ferguson police. It also comes in the context of growing radicalization as ordinary people have watched the political establishment of both parties and big business ruthlessly defend the status quo, resist every demand of our social movements, and now they try to make workers die for Wall Street’s profits in this pandemic. 

We reject the crocodile tears of Seattle Mayor Durkan, Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best and the local Democratic establishment! These same police officials and politicians, who claim to be saddened by the murder of George Floyd, have enabled the systematic racism and violence from the Seattle Police Department. In 2018, the mayor and every Democrat on the City Council voted for the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild contract, which rolled back many of the limited police accountability reforms that had recently been passed under pressure from the Black Lives Matter movement. I was the only No vote on the City Council. 

Sadly, sections of Seattle’s labor leadership have also sided with SPOG against police accountability.

But in contrast, 40 labor leaders and rank-and-file union members took a stand, alongside my No vote on the contract. 

In Minneapolis this week we saw powerful labor solidarity with the protest movement. Bus driver Adam Burch, who is also a rank-and-file union member of ATU 1005 as well as a member of Socialist Alternative, has publicly refused to allow his labor to be used to bus George Floyd protesters to jail. Other bus drivers and union members joined him.

Following that, the ATU International issued a solidarity statement for Justice for George Floyd, as have the 150,000-member National Nurses United, Minneapolis teachers unions, and 32BJ SEIU, the largest property services workers union in the country, with 175,000 members.

This stands in the best traditions of the American labor movement – an injury to one is an injury to all. Fighting against racism and oppression is part and parcel of the fight for economic justice for the working class and the fight for unionized workplaces. Brother Adam Burch has also launched a petition. Whether you are in a union or not, please sign the petition.

In her message about George Floyd’s killing, SPD Chief Best said “Because of the Seattle Police Department’s high level of training, our commitment to de-escalation, and our track record of limiting the use of force, I have confidence that something like this would not occur in our city.”

Is Chief Best being serious?!

This is a police department with a long and notorious track record of systematic violence against communities of color, poor people, homeless neighbors, and people facing mental illness. This same police department that has been under a US Justice Department Consent Decree since 2012.

Chief Best says something like George Floyd would not occur in our city. Well, it HAS happened and continues to happen in our city. And not one single SPD officer has been prosecuted, because the political establishment and the city’s bureaucracy are hand in glove with the Seattle Police Officers Guild.

Charlene Lyles, a pregnant black woman who was known to have mental health issues, was shot and killed by police officers in the presence of her children. 

Che Taylor was shot and killed by a repeat offender cop who had already killed a Native American community member.

Shaun Lee Fuhr, a 24-year-old man, just weeks ago was brutally shot in the head and killed while holding his baby in his arms. 

Mayor Durkan, who was on television expressing her sadness for George Floyd, is currently leading the charge to remove the SPD from the consent decree. And at a time when she is signaling massive budget cuts to social programs, she is also attempting to revive the $160 million North Police Precinct, which our Block the Bunker movement successfully defeated in 2016. And in all this, she will scandalously have the support of the majority of the City Council, unless we fight back.

So let’s not forget that to win justice for George Floyd and all the other victims of racist police violence, we cannot trust the same political establishment that got us here. Growing these community protests into a powerful and ongoing movement with clear demands is the most viable way to win the systemic changes needed to end the ongoing reality of police violence. In this, we need active solidarity and a broad multi-racial movement – we need fighters in this struggle not passive allies.

We demand the immediate arrest and prosecution of the four MPD officers involved in the murder of George Floyd.

Here in Seattle, we say No to lifting the consent decree on the Seattle Police! For an elected community oversight board with full power over hiring, firing, subpoena, and policy and disciplinary procedures.

No return of the North Precinct police bunker and close the Youth Jail! 

Increase funding to LEAD and other community-led restorative justice programs, not SPD or incarceration. 

No Coronavirus evictions: Cancel all rent, mortgage, and utility payments for the duration of the crisis. 

Yes to Tax Amazon and big business to invest in affordable housing, jobs, and immediate relief for all workers in Seattle who have lost income due to the Coronavirus and recession. We refuse to accept austerity for working people while the rich continue to get richer. No cuts to social services or education – working people can’t pay and won’t pay for this crisis of capitalism!

Eight years after Trayvon Martin was killed and six years after Mike Brown and Eric Garner, racist police murders continue around the country. While corporations like Amazon are raking in record sales during the Coronavirus lockdowns, black people are dying from Coronavirus and becoming unemployed at a higher rate than any other racial group. More workers are unemployed today than at any point since the Great Depression, and far too many essential workers are being put at risk by their employer, failing to provide them with proper protective equipment and denying them hazard pay.

Floyd’s murder is a chilling preview of the state’s response during a deepening economic crisis that has already resulted in nearly 40 million people becoming unemployed. Our fight has only just begun.

Malcolm X said: “You can’t have capitalism without racism.” To win lasting change, the fight against police racism and the corporate political establishment must be combined with a fight against capitalism itself.

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