Dear Mayor Durkan: Defund the police

Since our mayor, Jenny Durkan, marched with Black Lives Matter yesterday here in Seattle, but still shows no sign of meeting the organizers demands, I wrote her again.

Dear Mayor Durkan,

Yesterday you marched with Black Lives Matter through my neighborhood, silently, in support of them. However you have not committed to what they are asking for. Instead, you offer that you'll find around $100 million to go to community support – housing, jobs, mental health – for black and indigenous and other communities of color. But you aren't committing to removing the use of police and defunding them and that will undermine the good from any new investment (assuming you can even find that much money during a budget crisis).

Even if you waved a magic wand tomorrow and all police officers became scrupulously unbiased, always obeyed the laws themselves and never lied or misled, we would still be harming black and indigenous and other non-white people disproportionately. That is because we use the police – armed officers – for problems they are not suited for. As a specific example, people in the Seattle area that are homeless or unstably housed are disproportionately black and indigenous. Many police calls are related to the discomfort of the housed in seeing homeless people near them. The city even intentionally uses police during official removals of homeless encampments. Each one of those calls is a chance of force being used which will by necessity fall more on black and indigenous people because they are a greater share of the population being policed this way. Even if the police do not use force, the best case for most of these calls is to make a person move a long after fearing that worse could happen to them. Often we arrest people without homes for minor "crimes" against property like entering empty buildings or littering or doing drugs the housed do quietly in the privacy of their homes. Again, this will disproportionately harm black and indigenous people here in Seattle, no matter how professional and well-trained the police are.

Armed police are the wrong way to handle social problems related to homelessness. They are the wrong way to handle nearly all problems they are asked to handle. Every time we send an armed cop trained to use violence into a situation – and the vast majority of the time there is no active violent crime in progress – there is a non-zero chance of death or brutalization. In the best case scenarios, people are made to feel unwelcome in their own city and typically will not have any of their needs met, be it housing, drug counseling, food, mental or physical health, etc.

We spend over $400 million a year on policing and $100 million spent in other ways will not offset the harm the police do by their very presence. The only way to remove the harm of sending armed people trained to arrest people is to not have armed people trained to arrest people.

Marching with Black Lives Matter means very little if you are unwilling to truly consider their demands which start with "Defund the police".