Friday politics: How does Jenny Durkan dig out after the Seattle protests?
Amid protests in Seattle streets over racial injustice, demands to slash the police department budget, and calls for the mayor to resign -- What will Mayor Jenny Durkan do?
Political analysts C.R. Douglas with Q13 News, and Joni Balter with the Seattle Channel joined KUOW’s Angela King to discuss it all.
Angela King: The frustration we're seeing in the streets in these protests. It's been so high that there were calls to actually defund the Police Department.
Joni Balter: Look, there's a ton of public support for changing, reforming and demilitarizing police nationwide and in Seattle, but defund is the wrong word. As far as I'm concerned, it sounds like we are removing much of the spending now. Yes, some money will be redirected to softer social services. But you can bet the city will not cut half of the police department budget as some have suggested. You don't slash a service people want 11 months out of 12.
C.R. Douglas: There's definitely new energy around cutting SPD’s budget. But let's not forget that before this all started one of the big issues city leaders faced was not enough officers. They had been scrambling in recent years just to fill the vacancies due to retirement, so the effort to defend SPD by any meaningful amount is going to quickly run into that long-standing challenge.
King: Shouldn't Seattle be a model for all of this? For years, we've been reforming the SPD under the watchful eye of the Justice Department. Why are we still seeing confrontations?
Douglas: Well, mostly because nearly all of those reform efforts were focused on individual contacts with police, not these large demonstrations. And in terms of those individual interactions, things have gotten much better. Police have improved how they handle, say, a tense situation where someone's threatening an officer. I mean, cops are much better trained. Now the numbers show it but what hasn't gotten the same attention in the reform process is how police handle these big group events, probably because they happen so rarely, but obviously that's now going to have to be a focus.
Balter: I will remind you that we were in a two-year wind down of eight years of hard work on reform, [with the city] even asking the federal judge in early May to make it all go away because of compliance and I guess coronavirus, but these demonstrations -- that is, the police response to them -- have changed that completely. Police conduct is going to be heavily reviewed and it's going to take time.
King: What about the calls for Mayor Durkan to resign, from protesters, even some council members? Will she survive this, or maybe even reelection next year?
Balter: The calls for resignation started with Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who is always ragging on the mayor. No surprise there. I am surprised that Councilmembers Teresa Mosqueda and, to a lesser degree, Tammy Morales joined Sawant. It's also so predictable for several council members -- it's true of every council I've ever covered -- to think that they should be mayor. You need six votes to remove a mayor, and they only have three. And there isn't enough pressure to force anymore.
Douglas: In terms of reelection, there are several lifetimes and news cycles between now and November of next year. So way too soon to tell where they're standing will be. But no doubt Durkan has suffered here. This all goes against one of her core claims: that under her watch SPD had finally reformed. Well, obviously not so. Durkan has a lot of trust to rebuild with activists, with various communities, even with rank and file cops, it is a mess. She's got to clean up, and I definitely think the setback gives an opening to potential challengers.