As peaceful protestors across this city have demanded justice against racism and brutality, they’ve faced police clad in military-grade riot gear. Sound grenades. Tear gas. Rubber bullets. Our streets look like a warzone.
Last Friday, Mayor Durkan and Chief Best issued a 30-day suspension of the use of tear gas, which was banned from warfare in the 1993 Geneva Protocol. Nevertheless, the Seattle Police Department fired pepper spray and tear gas the following nights, poisoning crowds of protestors. In the midst of a global pandemic that compromises the lungs, this was how the police responded.
For many white people, this exposure to police brutality may be new and shocking. For the Black community, there is nothing shocking. Murder and systemic abuse at the hands of law enforcement are centuries old: how to avoid confrontations with police are conversations Black families plan for.
In just the last year, YouthCare lost eight current or former YouthCare clients that we know of. Two of them died at the hands of the police. One was paralyzed from the waist down and shot over 30 times. All of the lives lost were young and full of potential. Seven of those eight young people were Black.
We’ve seen excessive force at YouthCare when police respond to our young people, we’ve seen it when they’ve aggressively treated our Black staff differently than our white staff, and we’ve seen it when they held an employee at gunpoint. That staff member was Black. Most recently, we’ve seen it when our staff and clients protested in the streets last week and were flash-bombed and tear-gassed.
This moment demands us to confront the pervasive and brutal normalization of physical, political, and economic violence against communities of color, and particularly the Black community. As an organization that has committed itself to social justice, YouthCare, too, is looking in the mirror, and examining how we’ve perpetuated what’s reflected back.
This is a moment of reckoning. Our nation—and our agency—must work to end the historic and continued practice of state-sanctioned violence: physical violence, that kills Black and Brown people, and economic violence, that keeps Black and Brown communities locked in cycles of poverty, limiting economic opportunity and access. YouthCare commits to taking action on both.
Mayor Durkan, we must listen to Black-led organizations in our community and their calls for action. YouthCare supports Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County and the collective for King County Equity Now in their repeated calls to:
Defund & redistribute police funding and reinvest in communities
The over-policing and mass incarceration of our Black and Brown communities, including the young people YouthCare serves, must end. We urge the City to redistribute $180 million from the Seattle Police Department (SPD) budget into communities of color that have seen the harshest and most destructive impacts of racist laws and institutions. The City should reallocate these funds by investing in Black-led organizations working to build up, educate, and heal underserved and oppressed communities as well as in community-led safety strategies and services.
Demilitarize the police
Communities do not become safer by making the police look like they’re at war. SPD should demilitarize its equipment and practices, including the immediate release of protestors and cessation of attacks, arrests, and violent methods against protesters. Police practices should focus on non-nonviolent de-escalation strategies; additionally, the city should reverse its criminalization of homelessness by investing in housing and stop sweeping individuals when there are no places for them to live.
Hold police accountable
Police must be held accountable when they abuse their power and use excessive force. Officers should keep their body cameras on through their shifts, display their badge numbers, and face consequences for not doing so. Independent community oversight boards led by communities of color should be empowered to impact policies and disciplinary procedures in union contracts.
To all our donors and partners reading this statement, we ask you to join us in taking action against state-sanctioned physical violence. You can read Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County’s statement and sign the petitions on this page.