A debate unfolded online Sunday night over whether protests against police brutality should include visits to public officials’ homes — and whether such a discussion distracts from the fight for Black lives — after Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best implored the City Council to “forcefully call for the end of these tactics.”
Best wrote a letter to the council Sunday after protesters showed up outside her Snohomish County home Saturday night, the latest in a series of visits the demonstrations have paid to those who hold public power in Seattle, including City Council members and Mayor Jenny Durkan.
Residents blocked a road into Best’s neighborhood, according to the letter and posts on social media from that evening. Multiple posts that appeared to come from Best’s neighbors referred to protesters as “terrorists,” and at least one included a photo of a gun.
“Understand that white vigilantes and police are two sides of the same coin when it comes to state sanctioned violence against Black peoples,” read a tweet Sunday night from attorney, activist and former Seattle mayoral candidate Nikkita Oliver.
Best’s letter said her neighbors “were concerned by such a large group” and didn’t allow protesters to “trespass or engage in other illegal behavior in the area, despite repeated attempts to do so.” She didn’t elaborate on the behavior in question but wrote that the Snohomish County sheriff was “monitoring the situation.”
Activists and some journalists disputed accusations of violence and pointed out that gathering outside politicians’ homes has long been a way demonstrators call attention to causes.
Best’s letter had some questioning the wisdom and efficacy of asking the Seattle City Council to tell demonstrators where they can and cannot protest.
Each side accused the other of distracting the public from issues at the heart of recent protests: social justice, an end to systemic racism and police brutality, and defunding police to direct money toward other community needs.
“The events of this summer were initiated in a moment of grief and outrage over the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers and so many other Black and Brown people suffering at the hands of injustice,” Best wrote. “All of us must ensure that this righteous cause is not lost in the confusion of so many protestors now engaging in violence and intimidation, which many are not speaking against.”
Robert Cruickshank, campaign director for activist group Demand Progress, tweeted that Best’s letter was meant to direct attention away from Seattle police’s own actions — “a classic ‘change the conversation’ game ahead of this week’s #DefundSPD vote.”
Seattle City Council members on Friday unveiled a plan to shrink the Police Department, starting with a spate of budget proposals that could reduce the force by as many as 100 officers through layoffs and attrition this year.
Most of the proposals, including cuts aimed at the department’s SWAT team, encampment-removal team and mounted unit, appear to have enough support to pass. Those moves and an accompanying resolution, stating the council’s intent to make more dramatic changes in next year’s budget and to create a new Department of Community Safety, could pave the way for sweeping changes in response to the Black Lives Matter protests that have surged throughout the city and across the nation.
Yet the package won’t immediately accomplish what many protesters have been calling for, and what police Chief Carmen Best has issued warnings about: reducing the Police Department’s spending by at least 50% and redirecting that money to other priorities.
The council’s budget committee may vote on the matter Wednesday.
Seattle Times staff reporter Daniel Beekman contributed to this story.
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