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Seattle City Council's Gonzalez: 'We've created harm' by expanding police system

caption: Councilmember Lorena González listens to public comment on Tuesday, June 12, 2018, inside City Council Chambers at City Hall in Seattle.
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Councilmember Lorena González listens to public comment on Tuesday, June 12, 2018, inside City Council Chambers at City Hall in Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Lorena Gonzalez and the rest of the Seattle City Council face a big decision – the response to Mayor Jenny Durkan’s veto of their cuts to the police department budget.

The Council acted decisively last month to slash the salaries of the police command staff, reduce the number of officers, and cut the navigation team, which addresses homeless encampments. But it's been more than three weeks since Durkan’s veto, and there’s a deadline next week to respond.

Gonzalez, the council president, has been hinting at compromise. She spoke with KUOW’s Angela King about where things stand, and about her public apology this week about decisions in the past that she says have expanded the law enforcement system at the expense of people of color.

On a possible compromise over the cuts to police

We have been spending the better half of the last four weeks trying to repair the relationship between the City Council and Mayor Durkan so that we can have an opportunity to engage in meaningful conversation on some of the most significant issues facing the city, including the rebalanced budget effort and so I feel as though we are making progress. And the City Council remains focused on making sure we have an equitable budget and making sure that we are responding to community demand to do things differently as it relates to our public safety system. My hope is that we can again identify where the gaps are, and work really hard over the next week and a half as we have been over the last four weeks on trying to bridge the gap in a way that still meets the Council's goals and also satisfies the mayor as well. I think there is a lot of opportunity to continue to have conversations to identify ways that we can bring more community voices to the table to inform us as policymakers about some of these difficult choices. The Council believes that we need to make some meaningful move forward in signaling to community that this isn't going to be politics as usual and that we are serious about acknowledging our responsibility to prevent the needless killing of Black people and brown people in our community.

Gonzalez has said she’s on the right side of the Black Lives Matter movement on defunding or rebuilding the police in Seattle. And this week, King County Equity Now posted a statement on Instagram from Gonzalez apologizing for her past votes on expanding the law enforcement system. (Link here.)

As public safety chair over the last four years, I have taken votes to expand the footprint of law enforcement in a way that didn't recognize the need to have equal or greater amount of investments in community programs around education, affordable housing, health care systems that really help BIPOC community members be resilient and successful. This is a moment for us as elected leaders to acknowledge when we've created harm through our policy choices and decisions. And I think it's appropriate to do that. And I hope that other elected leaders in Seattle and across the state take an opportunity to reconcile past policy decisions and acknowledge that now is a moment to move in a different direction.

Her response to a demand by Black Lives Matter Seattle King County that the city's ethics commission investigate how council members acted in cutting the SPD budget, which led the first Black woman to lead the agency, Carmen Best, to quit.

I think I have had an opportunity to have really productive conversations with Black Lives Matter Seattle King County. And I think the reality is, is that there's a lot of difference of opinions on how we should move forward as a city on these issues. And that's why I have spent the last four weeks having deep conversations with not just members in the community and my colleagues, but also the mayor around how we can structure a process that will allow us to engage in long term budget planning that will include a conversation around what our public safety model should be in the future. And also what kind of investments are needed within BIPOC communities to ensure that we are developing and creating true community safety.

Her take on the recall effort against Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who opened the doors to City Hall to protesters during the pandemic in June.

When we are in the midst of a Covid-19 pandemic, and we have made the decision to shut down City Hall and other public buildings as a result of that pandemic, I think it's important for us to respect that rule and that decision. So I don't agree with the tactic. And I didn't agree with the tactic of allowing, you know, close to 100 people into City Hall during a period of time when we're dealing with the most infectious and deadly disease in this world. And I think that that was a poor choice. It will be up to others to decide whether or not that merits a recall, and I'm not in a position to make a legal judgment on the merits of those issues.

(Note: After this interview was conducted, Gonzalez was among council members voting to allow Sawant to have legal aid from the city, as allowed by state law.)

This transcript was edited for length.

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