Defund the police?

July 1, 2020

A significant portion of this article is an excerpt from a letter signed by over 275 Asian Pacific Islander American community organizations, businesses, and leaders to the Mayor of Seattle and Seattle City Council dated June 22, 2020. Main authors are: Chrissy Shimizu, SuYoung Yun, and Gabrielle Nomura Gainor.

When advocates call to defund the police, they don’t mean defund public safety. We all care about living in a world that values our life and property. And while there’s been attempts to reform the police, these attempts have been undercut by the City and the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild. Neighborhood House joins Black community leaders in asking that our policy makers reimagine public safety in partnership with the Black community and invest in solutions that make EVERYONE safe.

White supremacy is embedded throughout the fabric of our nation. This is acutely visible in our policing and criminal punishment systems that disproportionately and violently impact the Black community. The police have always been an oppressive force targeting Black people in America. The first police in America were created as slave patrols to capture Black people attempting to escape the inhumane treatment of their white captors. Centuries later, American society continues to treat Black people as less-than-human, as exceptions to human rights protections, and as criminals, even when they commit no crime. As a Black person in America today, each day is fraught with danger:

  • Black Americans are incarcerated at five times the rate of whites. 
  • Black men are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than white men.
  • In 2019, Black people were 24% of those killed by police despite being only 13% of the population.

This is the result of over-policing in Black communities and racial bias in the legal system. In our own city, even while the Consent Decree is in place, racial disparities in policing continue to exist:

  • People of color generally are more likely to be searched by Seattle police officers and yet less likely to have weapons in those searches than white people according to SPD’s disparity review in April 2019.
  • Thirty-two percent of uses of force in 2018 were against Black men, despite African-Americans comprising just 6% of the city’s population.
  • Furthermore, the city did not address the Court’s May 15, 2019 finding that it had fallen out of compliance with the Consent Decree in the areas of discipline and accountability. 
  • On June 1, 2020, The Seattle Office of Police Accountability reported receiving 12,000 complaints about the Seattle Police Department’s handling of the weekend demonstrations.
  • And on June 11, 2020, King County and Public Health Seattle-King County (PH-SKC) declared racism a public health crisis – to truly respond to a public health crisis the demands of the Black community must be met.  
  • The Seattle Police Department receives more than three times the funding of the Department of Human Services, which provides health and housing support to the public. This is unacceptable. We join with the Black community to demand the City defund the police and invest in a new system that shifts away from punishment and toward genuine public health and social support.
  • Instead of officers with guns, we envision mental health specialists be appropriately dispatched to answer calls to assist people in crisis. Indeed, direct mental health professionals already do this work every day, with clipboards instead of guns.
  • Instead of investing in predictive policing technology and weaponry that militarizes our police, we envision money invested into public schools, early learning, and youth development programs, so that children are better equipped with the tools they need early on to be successful in their lives. 
  • Instead of investing in additional patrols, we envision the City increase the number of caseworkers to ensure the houseless access stability through shelter, a scientifically supported crucial first step in breaking a cycle of poverty and making a better life. 

We want to live in a community that is not governed by racist systems. Safety must be evenly distributed. A just system is one where all people’s basic needs are met and where we have real economic opportunity. A system that prioritizes policing over all other public services does not avail justice. 

By Janice Deguchi, Executive Director