Monday, September 20, 2021
Sept. 20, 2021

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Westneat: Defund the police losing its steam

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One thing shined through pretty clearly when the Seattle mayoral candidates debated last week. And no, it wasn’t who would be the best choice to try to manage the ungovernable city.

It was that defunding the police is on the run.

None of the six candidates who appeared at the forum openly endorsed cutting the police budget, let alone by 50 percent, as a majority of the Seattle City Council had endorsed during the civil rights protests last summer.

A number of candidates campaigned openly that what Seattle really needs right now is more cops — which is quite a political shift from a year ago.

“I think the pendulum has swung against defund the police,” one candidate, Lance Randall, said after the debate had ended. “You can see it in these forums — the people who used to talk about it either don’t talk about it anymore or are now actively backpedaling.”

Randall stole the show a bit at this forum, hosted by the Downtown Seattle Association, when he told about how he’d been shot at by thieves recently.

As reported by KOMO News, Randall had been awakened at 4 a.m. by the sound of mechanical sawing. On the street outside, two people were cutting out a parked car’s catalytic converter. Randall went out and tried to get the license plate of the thieves’ car, but they spotted him and then fired five shots, some in the air and some at him, as they sped away.

Randall had crouched behind his own car — his headrest absorbed one bullet.

Randall is African American, so it hit home harder when he then upbraided the city council and some of the other candidates for purporting to speak for minority communities about this issue.

“We’ve had several forums, and I feel as though there’s an assumption that people of color do not want police officers in their neighborhoods to protect them,” Randall said. “We need police officers.”

After the debate, he elaborated: “I guess I’ve grown weary of the city council and others in the city attempting to speak and act on behalf of Black people, without asking and without considering the ramifications of some of these actions.”

Already this year Seattle has seen 220 shootings, which, if it continues, puts the city on track to break the record for most shootings in a year. And June was one of the deadlier months in Seattle crime history.

This comes as nearly 300 officers have quit the city’s force. It may not be related that the cops are down while crime’s going up, but it’s definitely shifting the debate. Politicians here also undoubtedly noticed that defund the police didn’t sell well with voters in New York City’s recent Democratic mayoral primary.

Randall is little known in Seattle, and it’s a stretch he would advance in the August primary.

But others also seem emboldened that defund the police has lost its punch. Example: They were asked whether it was time to start running special emphasis police patrols to try to get a handle on street crime downtown. Four candidates said yes.

“Look, we’re down 300 cops — over 20 percent of the SPD workforce,” Casey Sixkiller said. “People no longer feel safe … It is damaging the reputation of downtown Seattle, and it is sending a message to visitors and tourists and businesses alike that we can’t fix it.”

Only current City Council President M. Lorena González and former Chief Seattle Club director Colleen Echohawk said a definite no to police emphasis patrols, urging more social and cultural investments instead. One candidate who does still want to defund the police by at least 50 percent, Andrew Grant Houston, wasn’t at the Tuesday forum.

What’s unclear is which way Seattle voters lean today — do you want more cops, or fewer? It will be interesting to watch, as there are clear advocates for defunding or even abolishing the police who are running in three out of Seattle’s four citywide races.

How those candidates fare will go a long way to writing the next chapter in this police and crime story.

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