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Councilmember Sawant Celebrates Votes to Stop the Sweeps and Cut Bloated SPD Executive Pay, But Notes Movement Will Have to Fight Harder to Defund SPD 50%

“Today showed the necessity for protest and organizing, but also the limits of relying on the political establishment to represent the interests of working people, especially marginalized communities.”

Councilmember Kshama Sawant (District 3, Central Seattle), chair of the Council’s Sustainability and Renters Rights Committee, issued this statement following the City Council’s Budget Committee votes on the Seattle Police Department 2020 budget:

“Today’s Budget Committee votes show both the wins our movement can claim as a result of mass protests and organizing, and also the limitations of what can be achieved if our movement were to rely on a political establishment that promises one thing but is unprepared to support the kind of radical change that people have demanded. We have achieved a number of key victories today, but we have a lot more movement-building to do.

Our movement won some important victories today, through years of organizing by homeless activists, the People’s Budget movement, socialists, and Black Lives Matter activists:

  • Our movement’s first-of-its-kind amendment to cut bloated SPD executive pay passed, 6-3. This will reduce the pay of Chief Carmen Best and her immediate deputies for the remainder of 2020, allowing the city to redirect nearly half a million dollars from excessive executive pay toward urgent community needs.
  • Over the ceaseless and tone-deaf objections of Mayor Durkan, our movement prevailed in DEFUNDING the cruel and inhumane SWEEPS of our homeless neighbors.
  • Our movement prevailed in funding the Green New Deal Oversight Board, something the Mayor has blocked for the past eight months.
  • Last year, hundreds of police officers were paid more than $150,000, and in fact 328 sworn officers – more than one in every five – were paid more than the governor of every state in the country. This is outrageous, and our movement won a provision today requiring the police department to share, with monthly reports, specific information on all employee pay exceeding $150,000/year. This will be valuable information to have as our movement continues to fight to defund the bloated police budget and repurpose the money toward social needs.

“Our movement has every right to be disappointed and angry at the Democratic Party majority on the City Council for falling so dramatically short of the promises they made just last month to honor the community demand to defund SPD by 50 percent.

“Since Minneapolis police murdered Geroge Floyd on May 25, we have seen a tremendous worldwide uprising against police violence, directed especially against Black and Brown communities. In Seattle, mass protests led by Black and Brown young and working people have been demanding a 50 percent defunding of the bloated $409 million/year police budget, with the funds redirected toward urgent social needs in the community. These protests have dramatically shifted public opinion. Indeed, last week, following the mass protests, a business-funded poll showed that a majority of Seattle residents support defunding the police department by 50 percent

Several Democratic Councilmembers last month loudly proclaimed their support for the 50 percent Defund demand, declaring things like, ‘It is the institution of policing itself that must be dismantled. . . .What we need is real change, radical change,’ and ‘Shifting significant resources from SPD back to community is fundamental.’

But what they did today was a different thing entirely.

Seven of the nine Councilmembers shamefully voted against my budget amendment, brought forward on behalf of the movement, to Defund SPD by 50% and invest the proceeds in affordable housing, community organizing, and community services. That’s what our People’s Budget movement and the Black Lives Matter movement have been calling for. Instead, the Democrats agreed to trim only about $2.6 million out of SPD’s remaining 2020 budget of $140 million.

The Democrats’ vote today shows that they are not prepared to fight for the interests of working people, especially communities of color. They are instead only willing to make minor shifts to the status quo, which fundamentally seeks to maintain the police as a tool of the business and political elites to repress working people, especially those in marginalized communities. 

“That is why it’s critical that our movement continue to build independent political power to keep fighting for our demand to defund SPD – when today’s legislation goes to the full City Council on Monday, and in the fall when the Council takes up the 2021 City budget. We won the Amazon Tax because our movement was democratically-organized, had hundreds of working people fighting actively, and was independent of establishment politicians.

“The victories we won today were not through lobbying politicians, but because of grassroots movement-building. These victories especially belong to the young organizers in Black and Brown communities who have led the Justice for George Floyd movement. Our fight to Defund SPD in the coming months won’t get easier – it will only be more challenging. But my Council office, and my organization, Socialist Alternative, look forward to continuing to organize with and work alongside the courageous community organizers.”

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