I can’t even begin to describe for you how lucky you are that SCC Insight watched today’s meetings so that you didn’t have to. But the recap below will give you a good sense.
This afternoon, after 90 minutes of heated debate, the City Council voted down a contentious bill sponsored by Councilmember Sawant that would have prohibited SPD from participating in training programs and partnerships with the military or law enforcement agencies of countries that were found to have violated human rights. As originally drafted by activist groups and introduced by Sawant over the summer, it prohibited SPD from engaging with just Israel, but after feedback from Councilmember Strauss (who is Jewish) who insisted that the bill be “nation-neutral,” Sawant reworked it to prohibit activities with any country that was a human rights violator. According to SPD, the department participated in “tactical activities” with Israel in 2013 and 2014, but has not done so since.
But the definition of a human rights violation, and the matter of who is the arbiter of such a violation, became a new issue for the bill when considered in committee last week, with Councilmember Herbold offering an amendment to tighten up the criteria. However, Strauss was still not satisfied and today offered his own last-minute amendment to make the bill truly “nation-neutral” by banning such activities with essentially all countries (though he was open to an exception for Canada). Strauss’s effort failed, as did an amendment by Sawant to add a reference to the International Criminal Code statute as one more potential way of identifying a human rights violator.
As visibly frustrating as the slow, confusing debate on amendments was today, things didn’t truly go off the rails until the Councilmembers’ final comments on the bill. Councilmember Lewis said that he intended to vote against the bill because he didn’t see any indication of a causative relationship between international trainings and SPD abuses, nor any evidence that there is ongoing or planned activity that the ordinance would stop.
Councilmember Juarez also said that she would vote “no,” arguing that the Council should not “go down the rabbit hole of international law,” that the bill punishes Israel, that it weaponizes the Council’s vote, and that it creates “more heat than light” and more division.
A seething Councilmember Strauss gave the most emotional speech in opposition to the bill. He noted that he had said from the beginning he would only support a “nation-neutral” version of the bill, but that they make it so “by not attempting to understand international law, not creating loopholes for countries to slide through.” Strauss emphasized, “We are able to be critical of Israel without being anti-Semitic,” while also saying that there are many ways to be critical of Israel that are anti-Semitic. “The bill I have said I could support is not before us today,” he said. As evidence of how challenging the issues are to talk about, Strauss called out Councilmembers Lewis and Pedersen — both of who voted with Strauss against the bill — saying, “some of your commentary today was very hurtful to me.” Strauss didn’t go into further detail, but said he would discuss it in private with his two colleagues.
As is customary for a bill’s sponsor, Sawant got the final word on the bill before the vote, but her closing remarks elicited some strong reactions from her colleagues. As Sawant attempted to discredit his comments, Strauss — clearly angry and struggling to restrain himself — repeated told Sawant, “Stop talking about me.” And as Sawant turned the end of her remarks into a stump speech, saying “there is no substitute for mass organizing” and stressing the need for a “fight-back” against Councilmembers who don’t support her bills, Mosqueda and Juarez finally hit their limit and appealed to Council President Gonzalez to cut Sawant off and move on to the vote. “Call the question so we can end this nonsense,” Juarez called out over Sawant’s speech.
Gonzalez, rattled at the collapse of decorum at her meeting, apologized to “the viewing public” for what had transpired. To her colleagues, she implored, “I want to encourage us to lead by example.”
The bill failed by a 4-5 vote, with Gonzalez, Pedersen, Lewis, Juarez, and Strauss all voting “no.”
You can watch the exchange here. The deliberations on the bill begin at 2:01:00, and the heat cranks up around 3:13:50 beginning with Juarez’s remarks.
This afternoon the Council also unanimously approved the reappointment of David Jones as City Auditor for a fourth four-year term.
This morning, Councilmember Strauss announced the plan for his two committee meetings this week, scheduled for Wednesday and Friday. The Wednesday meeting will be a series of public hearings on various land use bills, and the Friday meeting will be used to vote four of the bills out of committee. Friday’s meeting will also include a quarterly update on tree protection efforts by the city, and a briefing on the plan for the upcoming major update to the Comprehensive Plan scheduled for 2024.
Councilmember Herbold also announced that her Friday committee meeting will have two agenda items:
- a presentation on a study report regarding scaling up the LEAD program to handle all pre-booking diversion requests;
- recommendations from an Office of Civil Rights community task force on realignment of the criminal justice system.
Councilmember Lewis announced that he has cancelled his scheduled Homelessness Strategies and Investments Committee meeting this week, after he and Councilmember Mosqueda noticed that the agenda overlapped substantially with a presentation scheduled for next Thursday on the Mayor’s proposed 2022 budget for homelessness response. The two meetings’ agendas have been consolidated.
Councilmember Sawant also noted this morning that she intends to bring her proposed rent control bill to a vote at her committee meeting in December.
This morning Councilmember Lewis also shared that he and other Seattle and King County elected officials had received a letter from the heads of several local mental health services providers. The letter opens with “Our community’s ability to adequately respond to behavioral health crisis events is itself in crisis,” and calls for a summit with government officials to discuss three issues:
- Legal analysis of HB 1310 and what legislative changes at state and local levels would resolve concerns about the circumstances in which law enforcement can assist in behavioral health crisis events. There are likely points of alignment to be found on what modifications to the law would be helpful.
- Clarification about what instructions have been provided to law enforcement officers, and development of strategies to resolve a high degree of inconsistency in statements from officers about what they can and cannot do. Effective collaboration between law enforcement and behavioral health organizations has been in place for a long time; but confusion and mistrust between these partners is growing. How can these working relationships be enhanced in the current environment?
- Identification and immediate implementation of options and resources for creation of additional non-law enforcement interventions to send to behavioral health crisis events. There remains broad agreement that law enforcement shouldn’t be the default response to behavioral health crises. Alternatives exist to some degree in our local area, but not at full scale and not in a manner to fully replace the role of law enforcement for assistance. The void may be bigger than you realize, and the immediate risks are high. Establishing more alternatives is urgently needed.
The offices of both Council President Gonzalez and Mayor Durkan responded to the letter indicating their support for and desire to participate in such a summit.