Reflections on a recent community forum in Seattle’s Central District, where police pushed for an increased presence.
After another hot summer in the Pacific Northwest, the emerald city of Seattle transitions into the golden season of Autumn, leaving in its wake a string of shootings in the Central District and South-End. Against the backdrop of increased economic hardship, the rising cost of living, rampant homelessness, many evictions happening over less than a month’s rent, the Summer ends with a collection of candles, flowers and liquor bottles on the corner of Yesler & 25th Avenue where a young man was fatally shot, and bullet holes in an office in Burien where stray bullets killed another. As families and friends mourn, a coalition including Jenny Durkan, Carmen Best and the Seattle Police Department have announced plans to increase the police presence in the Central District in response to what they call heightened tensions between “rival gangs.”
A letter to the community from Seattle Police Chief Strategy Officer Christopher Fisher details the plan for increased police presence, including active SWAT and K9 units on duty throughout the Central District, in response to a rise in calls from “concerned constituents.” “This is for increased visibility and for faster response should an incident occur.” The Seattle Police Department will also be utilizing overtime to “increase anti-violence emphasis patrols…using data to ensure they are deployed where and when the violence is likely to occur.” Police officers will be on patrol, on overtime, directed to certain blocks in the neighborhood by aggregated data.
Within a week of this announcement in late September, about 100 or so community members from the Central District gathered on a Saturday afternoon at the historic Washington Hall to carry out an open-mic styled forum to share anger, sadness, wants, needs, and ideas for what to do instead of an increased police presence in the Central District.
In the beginning minutes of the forum, it became understood to those in the room that the “concerned community members” who had been calling the police were probably the hoards of white, upper-middle class yuppies who resided in the geometrically-perfect condos that now dot the Central District where homes once reigned. The Central District has historically been many things; the traditional territory of the Duwamish people, a Jewish neighborhood, and more recently the neighborhood that Black people in the Seattle area were red-lined into. Now that the obsession with urban spaces across the so-called U.S.A. has brought the tides of wealthy white families back into city centers, a formerly predominantly Black neighborhood has become hostile towards the people who crafted the culture of what would be ripe for an “up-and-coming neighborhood.”
As some of the community’s verbal responses are shared and reflected upon below, let us first be clear in the utmost of ways; the police are militarizing their already violent presence in the Central District at the behest of a wealthy & predominantly white populace, and this increased presence will undoubtedly continue to target black and brown youth. Class and race both play large roles in this dynamic. The community forum set out at the beginning to attempt to discuss what to do instead of a police presence in the Central District, showcasing an anti-police rhetoric that for the most part went unchallenged.
But the forum did not proceed without the token calls for participation in the very political machine responsible for the police. At the end of the open-mic, the facilitator announced that the socialist city council member who was present had requested a chance to speak (both of which will go unnamed here), but rather than just providing yet another free platform for someone who already has plenty of it, the facilitator said that they would take a vote of who was in favor of the politician speaking, and if it was a majority vote they would be invited to speak. Much less than half of the room raised their hands in favor, almost none of the Black elders & women sitting at the front of the forum raised their hands, yet the facilitator announced that the decision had been made and that the council member was invited to hold the mic. Democracy works in mysterious ways.
The Central District has a long history of police brutality acting as first leg of gentrification. It is no coincidence that Capitol Hill and the University District are understood by most long-term Seattle area residents to be the more violent neighborhoods in this city, mostly due to the presence of drunk fraternity bros, yet the police focus their presence on the Central District. This can be understood as a means of controlling territory, especially when paired with the elevating trend of evictions happening over less than a month’s rent. The city is (and has been) pushing Black people out of the Central District; physically out of their homes and violently out of the streets and off the corners.
Despite the petty socialists’ claims that the police need community oversight, that they should target “the real criminals,” or the demand that police receive “better training,” as anarchists we refuse to accept reform as a viable option for confronting police brutality. Multiple articles have come out in the past year documenting how the King County Sheriff’s Office under-reports and incorrectly classifies use of force, ultimately failing to investigate officer misconduct complaints. Earlier this year, a judge ruled that Seattle Police were in “full and effective compliance” with Federal demands to re-shape the departments use of force culture and policy. After years of community outrage over police brutality, neither beginning nor ending with the killing of Native woodcarver John T. Williams in downtown Seattle in August 30 of 2010 by Officer Ian Birk, or the killing of Tommy Le by 3 King County sheriffs, the demands for justice and accountability have been picked up by the state, twisted and turned around, and what we are left with is a police force with body cams, highly efficient methods for policing street protests, and the veneer of “accountability.” The violence against black and brown people continues. Calls for reform turn into a more proficient institutional application of violent racism.
As anarchists we stand at a unique position upon these cross-roads. Our long-term hatred of police, acceptance of criminality, and rejection of State reform prevents us from falling into the trap of playing the game and buying into the market, metaphorically. Most recently, since the inception of the #blacklivesmatter movement that swept the country in anti-police fervor, anarchists put a great deal of focus into illuminating the ties that bind police with white supremacy, the relational bond that has birthed the White Civil Hell that engulfs us all. We are no stranger to crime, so we don’t bother with encouraging cops to “go after the real criminals.” As anarchists we are against the State, so every attempt that the State makes at quieting our disorder, be they Socialists or Democrats, or activists chosen by their community to run for mayor, we see as furthering their grasp on power and stifling any potential for revolutionary and insurrectionary activity.
So where does that leave anarchists materially? What does it look like to respond to a very real threat of increased police presence in the Central District? What would an anti-State, anti-Police response in a rapidly changing residential neighborhood entail? What are the material things that actually help to keep people safe from police harm? In these trying times and moments of crisis, we can make the most traction with the people we are closest to, relationships and friendships that have already been established; not confined to your personal cliques and affinity groups, but not beyond the scope of actual bonds and acquaintances. Through identifying our strongest connections within these targeted communities we can illuminate the needs that we can best address and fulfill. Through actions of solidarity with our neighbors, with people we actually fucking know, we can build stronger relations of trust in the everyday grind of navigating work, school or the cops.
Now is also an essential moment for anti-police visuals. If we can’t always personally find the neighbors who vibe with us, we can at least anonymously spread the tension and let these gentrifying fucks know that they are personally responsible. A lesson that the socialists fail to learn: leave your politics at the door, this is about life.