By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
While many support “Black Lives Matter” for social justice, not everyone is for “defunding” the Seattle Police Department (SPD).
An ABC News/Ipsos poll conducted on June 10-11 found that 60% of Americans opposed shifting funding from police departments to mental health, housing, and education programs, while just 39% supported such a plan.
A poll in Washington state conducted by Crosscut, said “Support for dismantling or defunding the police is weak. Just 26% said they favored “dismantling the police force and starting over with a new model of what police are supposed to do in the community. Even fewer—17%—said they supported cutting the budgets of police departments by 50%.”
However, it changes when asked if police funding should be switched to social services and community programs. 45% said they supported that approach, compared to 49% who opposed.
I don’t know if the sample included any Chinatown-International District (CID) residents and organizations. They might have a different view. Nora Chan, a CID resident and founder of Seniors in Action, is opposed to defunding the police. She is organizing a petition to oppose the proposal. As of press time, she has collected closed to 100 signatures.
“There are many more shootings and crimes in recent months in Seattle. Cutting the police budget and laying off many policemen will result in a slower response, and a delay in law enforcement actions.” She said Seattle Chinatown needs more police, and not defunding them.
Tony Au, a BLM supporter, said, “Defunding the police is not the solution. Police are important, not just for the Chinese community, but for all communities. To defund the police is irresponsible.” Au is connected to multiple CID organizations and a moderate among many Chinese community members. Some of the older members are furious with the “defund” slogan.
“Why don’t we defund the Seattle City Council members?” said Jackson Chan. “All seven of them who are in favor of it? We don’t need them.” Chan is the former president of Gee How Oak Tin Association. “I oppose defunding the police. We need the police to preserve order.”
“What will happen if we don’t have police in the world? What will happen to our society, just chaos?” asked Michael Chen, an elder of the Association. “The people suggesting defunding the police—will they be responsible for our safety?”
Andy Wong, an elder of the Hop Sing Tong Association, said, “The whole idea of defunding is no good. If someone got robbed in the street, who will be there to help us when we call 911? It’s just a lot of consequences, problems, and inconvenience without the police.”
A CID property owner, who asked not to be identified, said, “You can’t just say defund the police? What’s the proposal? They (protesters) have no plan, no program, it‘s just a bad idea. We need more security in Chinatown, especially professional security.”
Several community members accompanied Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best during her tour of different CID businesses on July 16. The timing of her visit is interesting. Defunding the police is a hot item on the City Council’s agenda. A few told the chief, “We need more cops, not fewer.” Best was happy to hear that.
What “defund” means to others
Perhaps, a less political and more appropriate word is “redirect.“ In separate interviews, three Black community leaders who support BLM, Winona Hollins-Hauge, Eddie Rye Jr., and one who asked not to be identified, said some funds for the police should be redirected for training and non-lethal purposes.
“We must make sure that people know and truly live the saying “Black Lives Matter” because Black Lives DO matter,” said the Black leader who wanted to remain anonymous. “This is not just some slogan, and we do not want the message to be corrupted by people with agendas that have nothing to do with saving Black lives. In fact, people who are looking for opportunities to disrupt with violence and destruction are not operating in the tradition of the Black Civil Rights movement.”
As for defunding the police, “The goal should be to ‘redirect’ funds, and exactly how much should be based on the amount needed to increase mental health and addiction services, increase educational services, and to make it possible to prioritize community policing.
This Black leader said “good police officers and that more training should be given to SPD to de-escalate situations.” He also said, “Don’t put your knee on our neck, and don’t lock people up for non-violent offenses. Let’s try to get people the help that they need. Let’s work together to build a stronger community. If that’s not your goal, then look for another job.”
Hollins-Hauge said, “Some mandatory changes should be made. After what we have seen that got people killed, showed that (the officers’) training is not sufficient. [Police] should review and reexamine their intervention protocols, [and use the money to implement] high levels of training for protecting and saving lives.”
Rye Jr. echoed those sentiments.
“Some money should be redirected to non-lethal means to enforce the law.” He supports the people who are negotiating with the city. “They are the people on the street and they get the overwhelming number of white supporters.” He approved whatever amount the protesters could negotiate with the city.
Rye also said, “The union has too much power and should be curtailed.” The union has the power to block reforms, as well as resisting the termination of officers accused of misconduct.
Change the law
Cuts are necessary for many police departments due to the coronavirus pandemic, and not only because of the BLM demands.
“Due to the devastating impact of COVID-19 on our reliance on regressive taxes, reducing the budget is the reality for most budgets, including the state and the City of Seattle,” said Rep. Cindy Ryu.
In the meantime, it is important to examine the law, said Ryu.
“Change how we fund police and public safety and also change our laws.” In 2016, her House Bill 2908 established the joint legislative task force on police use of deadly force. Subsequently, I-940 adopted some of its recommendations that chokeholds and other holds that use pressure on the neck are prohibited.
“We should take the time to rethink how we deliver the services needed for public safety,” Ryu said. Where some responses need uniformed officers, we must work on better ways to respond to most calls where an armed response may not be the most appropriate. Rather, we get better outcomes with more mental health or social services-oriented personnel.”
Rep. Mia Gregerson, who supported the passage of I-940, said, “It disgusts me that police departments have not passed policies on their own that protect our Black community from police brutality, bullying, and death.”
Gregerson said during the next legislative session, she is “committed to this list of actions: independent investigations, better disaggregated data, diversifying the police workforce, banning no knock warrants, banning chokeholds, banning the use of tear gas, collecting information regarding police use of deadly force, and actions to demilitarize the police and more.”
Perhaps, the word should be to ‘reform’ the police, not defund, said an Asian American retiree who asked not to be identified.
Some told me that they were not happy with the destruction and violence caused by BLM, and we informed him that that was misinformation. The BLM protest was infiltrated by extremists and opportunists. Some of my Black friends did participate in the BLM protests, but left the scene immediately when riots began. In fact, CBS’s Steve Hartman’s story about BLM included a moving clip: A group of BLM protesters surrounded a Black man holding a baton about to damage a storefront. Instead of stopping him, they each gave him a hug and escorted him out of there. It was one of most beautiful images I have ever seen.
U.S. Attorney General William Barr said, “The voices of the peaceful protest are being hijacked by violent radicals.”
In the process of writing this blog, some Black and Asian Americans me asked not to use their names. Some did not want to be interviewed as defunding the police is a complicated issue and they also fear backlash. I get it. You get it too if you read in the Seattle Times, the ugliness happened to Mayor Jenny Durkan and two City Councilmembers, Alex Pedersen and Deborah Juarez when they disagreed on defunding the police by 50%. The opposition just protested outside their home at night. Seattleites have forgotten civility—agree to disagree. And only when it happened to her colleagues did Council President Lorena Gonzalez issue a statement of disapproval. Because she could be the next target in the future. Had she issued the statement early for the mayor, it could have been a different outcome. In the end, I learned through BLM not only about social justices, but lessons in leadership and stepping up to challenges at the right time.
Assunta can be reached at email@example.com.