Jun 11, 2020

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan Press Conference on Protests in the City

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan Press Conference June 11
RevBlogTranscriptsSeattle Mayor Jenny Durkan Press Conference on Protests in the City

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan held a June 11 press conference amid ongoing protests in the city. Seattle protesters have taken over city blocks to create police-free “autonomous zones.” Read the full press conference transcript here.


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Jenny Durkan: (00:00)
Constitutional and illegal to send military to Seattle. If you don’t believe me, you can take the word of a line of highly decorated generals who have said so and have rebuked him. I have spoken with Governor Inslee and together we will assure the people this will not be happening. Many people actually are afraid that it would happen because the President of the United States said it. We would like to be able to trust what the President of the United States says, but I want people to know there is no imminent threat of an invasion in Seattle. But just as we did at the beginning of this pandemic, and as we have done many times before, we will not wait for a change in Washington for Seattle to act. I know we have a lot of work to do, trust has been broken and it must be rebuilt. People’s voices have been drowned out during this time and for several hundred years, we have allowed a system to build and promote racism to continue to benefit us. That will take years to dismantle, but we must start immediately, and I believe the rest of Seattle is ready to get to work.

Jenny Durkan: (01:18)
I also want to get back to why we cannot lose sight of the conversation our community needs to be having. We can’t lose this moment. From Black Lives Matter to the organizers on Capitol Hill to others, people are demanding change and we need to listen. Change at the city including SPD, City Council, City Attorney and me. Change on policing, education, healthcare and criminal justice system. Change at the county, change at public health, change at the state. We are seeing movement in ways we have not seen in decades and that’s a good thing. This change has to be centered on the voices of community and what people need. We must empower community. I remain committed to listening and to working with community, including the organizers on Capitol Hill to reimagine how we do things as a city, how do we reinvest in community to address public health needs, education, and true economic justice? This will continue to build off some of the work we have done, from free childcare to two years’ free college for every public high school student, to jobs for our youth, to reforms in the criminal justice system. We will continue to build those programs and to make Seattle a more just and equitable place, and we will also continue to fund intervention programs so that more mental health professionals are on tap to reply to when people need them.

Jenny Durkan: (02:53)
I’ve said it so many times over my career, when people call 911, we need to send them the help they need. That is not always a police officer and many times isn’t. We have to reimagine our response to community and what they need in times of crisis. Our efforts going forward include investments, [inaudible 00:03:14] re-imagining what we need to do with those investments and providing alternatives to incarceration and arrest. This year, we will invest $100 million in new community-based programs that serve the black community as well as the indigenous and communities of color.

Jenny Durkan: (03:34)
Over the last week and including this afternoon, my office and I have prioritized having conversations with community leaders and residents about the changes they want to see in the city and about how they bring them about. Some of these conversations are very difficult and painful, but that kind of conversation has to happen in order for us to move forward. In many ways, the test is the more uncomfortable it is for me as mayor, probably the more important it is for it to happen. We’re working on a range of proposals on what we’ve heard from community to dismantle systemic racism, but it can’t come from the top down with us dictating what community needs. We have to listen, but we also have to act. Chief Best will address you now. Before I want to turn this over to her, I want to thank her for all of her work over the last few weeks. I know she and her department leaders and her officers have been working so hard and they’ve worked to adjust and improve every day and ultimately I know that they are guided by doing all they can for the businesses and residents of Seattle. Thank you.

Chief Best: (04:53)
Great. Thank you Mayor, and I’ll start where you left off and just say that the men and women of the department have been working really hard tirelessly for several days while we go through trying to manage demonstrations and they’ve done incredible work trying to make sure that we address the needs of the community. This morning as you know I and several of my command staff entered the East Precinct just to see what the conditions were there. We have been operating from a position of trust and de-escalation. The demonstrators made it clear, the conflict was the fencing preventing them from marching, so we moved it. I want to allow peaceful demonstrations and resolve every situation with full awareness that sometimes there are clear threats to the facilities. You know a precinct burned in Minneapolis, a headquarters was ransacked in Portland, arson and looting in Downtown Seattle, bulletins from the FBI and chants at the East Precinct of burn it down. We took down the barricades anyway because we really wanted to establish trust. Instead of marching, the protesters, after complaining about police barricades, established their own barricades so the streets that we wanted to be clear, now they’re no longer clear.

Chief Best: (06:12)
SPD has a responsibility to provide public safety services to the entire East Precinct and to the city. The actions of a small group cannot and should not deprive an entire segment of our community from public safety services. In the first day of the SPD not having access to the precinct, response times for crimes in progress were over 15 minutes, about three times as long as the average of every year. If that is your mother, your sister, your cousin, your neighbor’s kid that is being raped, robbed, assaulted and otherwise victimized, you are not going to want to have to report that it took the police three times longer to get there to provide services to them. The difference in that amount of time could prevent someone’s life and prevent a violent attack. It was never an option to have residents of the precinct, many of whom are members of our most marginalized communities by the way, waiting for an extra length of time for an officer to arrive to a violent crime in progress.

Chief Best: (07:16)
The Seattle Police Department stands open and ready to engage in dialog and action about how we can address that is inequalities and racism in the criminal justice system. We all know that over history when people have cried out for justice, when they’ve been black, when they’ve been Latino, when they’ve been LGBTQ or Asian, the police department and the police officers were often on the wrong side of good and often perpetuating the status quo. We have to acknowledge that history, a long history of abuses. I for one am specifically in tune with some of those issues. That doesn’t mean we can’t continue to evolve and change and do better and we’re committed to doing that. I call on all of my colleagues as well, across the criminal justice system, prosecutors, judges and other elected officials, service providers and behavioral health providers, to join us with community in these conversations. It is especially important that the entire community is a part of the conversation.

Chief Best: (08:20)
Everyone shows [inaudible 00:08:22] come out and they have been particularly concerned about what the death and the murder of George Floyd represents. What it represents is a history of black men dying at the hands of law enforcement in unprovoked or sometimes deemed as unprovoked ways. We have to acknowledge that, but that doesn’t mean we throw the baby out with the bathwater. That doesn’t mean that law enforcement isn’t an important part in the fabric of society. It doesn’t mean that we can’t do better and it doesn’t mean that many of the men and women right here in Seattle, right here in your police department, want to do better and want to have that opportunity. I’ve served here for 28 years. I love Seattle, I love the department, I love our community. My daughter, my son-in-law and my nephew were at those protests, have been at the demonstrations, both good and bad endings that is and they participate, so I care. My family cares. These things are important to us. So we want to make sure that we get it right. We will have to take some deep examination of what brought us to the events of the past two weeks.

Chief Best: (09:25)
It is time now to purposefully heal, to have reconciliation and to move forward together. We must do this for George Floyd and all the many other people who have suffered at the hands of police and we also must do it for everyone who has suffered at the hands of injustice and we must make sure that all of our officers are on board with moving forward and I believe that the men and women who work for the Seattle Police Department really are engaged and want it to be better and want this to be a better society. So on that note, I guess it’s open for questions and you’ll take care of that.

Speaker 3: (10:03)
Yes. So thank you Mayor, thank you Chief. The way we’ll balance this is we will have two questions in the room and then we will take one from the Webex portal so I open it up to the room. I open it up to the mayor and the chief to acknowledge questions in the room.

Jenny Durkan: (10:16)

Chris: (10:17)
So Chief, you’ve stood here on Friday and you said it was going to be your decision and your decision alone to use tear gas. Tear gas was deployed on Sunday. You released a video today to say that it was not your decision to close the East Precinct. So who is making tactical decisions right now for the Seattle Police Department?

Chief Best: (10:41)
So a couple of things, Chris. Those are two very different incidents. So for the tear gas, it was my decision. I think I prefaced that, I made it very clear that we did not want to use any of the pepper spray, flash bangs, blast balls or tear gas and we suspended the use for 30 days unless there was a life safety situation, and that was the exemption. I was keeping abreast of what was happening in the precinct. They had a shooting earlier in the day. At some point it got unruly. There was a man with a gun in the crowd. The officers felt like it was a life safety situation based on what was occurring and I concurred, and I own that decision. I made that decision and I will own any decision that I think is in the best interest of everyone’s public safety. There’s a lot of discussion about what less lethal what we call munitions will be used and how [inaudible 00:11:34] use in the future and I hope to have the opportunity to engage in those conversations, but I totally own that decision.

Chief Best: (11:40)
In regards to the precinct, we were looking at … We had opened up the roads, we had decided to put some safety measures around the precinct to protect it. We were asked to do an operational plan in case we needed to leave. We got an update that there was the potential for fire, of course if the precinct goes down in fire, the whole block could potentially burn up. As they were moving things out, the decision was made to … As officers were taking things out of the precinct, they didn’t want to come back into the precinct and many of them did not. So [inaudible 00:12:15] evaluate exactly the pinpoint of why that changed, but it didn’t come from me. We will review all of it.

Chris: (12:22)
So command staff made mad that decision to close the precinct?

Chief Best: (12:24)
We’re looking into all of it, Chris, to see where it came from.

Chris: (12:28)
I mean –

Jenny Durkan: (12:31)
Wait a minute. We have so many people to get to Chris. We’ll come back to you.

Matt: (12:36)

Jenny Durkan: (12:37)
David, then two on the phone, then we’ll come back to you Matt.

David: (12:41)
Well I want to ask about the Capitol Hill Zone. What’s the plan? Are you going to … How long are you going to let it stay there? Are you going to let it stay there indefinitely? People are wanting to turn the East Precinct into a community center. Is that on the table? What’s going to happen?

Jenny Durkan: (12:55)
So the Capitol Hill area is … In fact, some of my family is up there right now. I think it has been described by the president and others as what it is not. It is not an armed ANTIFA militia no-go zone. It is a number of people are there. We have had ongoing communications with them, with the businesses, with the residents and we will make sure that we find some way for people to continue to protest peacefully while also getting ingress and egress. We’ve had blocks of Seattle and Capitol Hill shut down every summer for everything from Block Party to Pride. This is really not that much of an operational challenge but we want to make sure that the businesses and residents feel safe and we’ll continue to move that forward.

David: (13:47)
Is the SPD going to try and move back into the East Precinct?

Jenny Durkan: (13:50)
We’ve talked about SPD moving in. They did the assessment today and there’s going to be an ongoing assessment about when it would be safe and appropriate for them to move in there, including response times and the like. We don’t want to introduce additional flashpoints. The chief has made it very clear when we had discussions last week that it was clear that those barriers were the flashpoint and needed to be removed and we want to make sure that moving forward, SPD is in the planning for Capitol Hall.

Jenny Durkan: (14:18)
Two on the phone.

Speaker 3: (14:19)
Thank you Chris. Thank you David. Thank you Mayor. Our first question will come from Hanna Scott, KIRO Radio. Hanna, the floor is yours. Hannah? The floor is yours.

Hanna Scott: (14:34)
Sorry, there we go.

Speaker 3: (14:38)
Whenever you’re ready.

Hanna Scott: (14:39)
All right, can you hear me?

Speaker 3: (14:40)
Yes we can.

Hanna Scott: (14:41)
Okay. For Chief Best, can you speak to any legitimate reports where there’s been evidence found of people with arms extorting businesses or residents in the … What’s now known as the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone and for the mayor, [inaudible 00:14:57] met with the protestors up there.

Jenny Durkan: (15:01)
I have not met with the protesters that are on Capitol Hill right now. I’ll let the chief address the reports. My understanding is is that there have been some occasions of some property damage, vandalism, a fight but there’s not been any serious incidents that have been documented but I’ll let her confirm that.

Chief Best: (15:22)
Sure. Hi Hanna, we had heard through folks anecdotally that these things are occurring. Chief Nollette who’s also here today gave a press conference and asked if anybody actually experienced that and reported it, then we would make sure that we have taken a report. We haven’t had any formal reports of this occurring other than people have mentioned it through news media, social media posts, but no one’s come forward for a police report. So if that does happen, we are encouraging people if they have experienced that to please notify us and we can follow up on it but that has not happened affirmatively.

Speaker 3: (16:00)
Thank you Chief, thank you Mayor. Our next question will come from Brandi Kruse, Q13. Brandi, the floor is yours.

Brandi Kruse: (16:08)
Yeah, this is for the mayor but the chief is free to weigh in. The chief sent a video to her officers today that was quickly leaked to the public where she made it clear she was not happy with the decision made to for all intents and purposes abandon the precinct and Mayor, [inaudible 00:16:26] who can make that decision if she’s not the one who made it, and she said that it was clear the city “relented to severe public pressure.” So Mayor, can you comment on the fact that the chief made it clear to officers today that she did not agree with this decision and did you relent to public pressure?

Jenny Durkan: (16:47)
So the … Take it in steps, once the decision to remove the barriers was made, there was still the operational threat or potential threat to the precinct itself which included intelligence that there might be a threat of fire. There was an assessment made together with Chief Scoggins and the command staff as to what the impacts would be not just on the precinct but on the wood-framed buildings around that that had as many as 500 residents. It was determined that if that was the threat that maintaining people inside the building would be dangerous and they executed an operational plan to remove anything that was of value, files, equipment, ammunition, weapons and the like, and that was an interim decision made during the day resulting from the fluid events at the time once it was determined that the barriers were going to be removed. That was a decision made in concert with command staff and others on the ground and as the Chief said, we’ll be looking at that. I think it was the right decision, I think it is clear that the removing the barriers was critical to removing the flashpoint and if there were the safety concerns for people in the building and the equipment, but that is not the equivalent of abandoning the station.

Jenny Durkan: (18:08)
At this point again, the chief went in this morning to assess the status of it. We want to make sure that we are not creating the same situation we had four days ago which we successfully have removed from removing that point of conflict between protestors and the police department. Matt?

Matt: (18:31)
Basically you just said that you’re not abandoning the station but it sounds like it was abandoned because everybody left in a hurry. My question is given what the chief just basically laid out a case for returning officers to the station with the delayed in-response calls, why not … What’s the threshold? What’s the threshold for those officers to return back to that precinct so that those response call times will go down?

Jenny Durkan: (18:58)
That’s going to be a discussion with the chief. She’s the chief of police and she wants to return operations but we also have to make sure that we don’t recreate the entire cycle that we just were able to disrupt. By removing the barriers, we disrupted that unfortunate cycle that we saw over a period of three days and we have to move forward in the same way. So the chief together with residents, neighborhood, community and a number of city departments are looking at how we address a whole range of things on Capitol Hill.

Matt: (19:31)
Where’s the endgame then? When are those officers going to come back?

Jenny Durkan: (19:34)
There is not a specific date, Matt, because we’re trying to do things in a way that is responsible and that addresses the real life situation on the ground and as everyone has seen over this last week that when police do their jobs it is never a static situation, and so the Chief of Police, working together with the rest of the departments, is going to come up with an operational plan that we can make sure that we move forward appropriately.

Speaker 3: (20:01)
Last question.

Speaker 9: (20:04)
What is the biggest change that you’re looking at right now Mayor as far as people saying there have been small changes made as far as how to respond to protests, things like that, but people really want to hear what is the systematic change that the city is working on right now to make a meaningful impact?

Jenny Durkan: (20:22)
Such a great question because I think that’s got to be the focus of what we continue to talk about and the unfortunate thing I think about the president tweets another is it’s distracting us from what we really need to be working on, and listening to community, I think there’s a range of things that we need to do. I want to really center the voice of community, but we have underfunded all of the systems the community needs to thrive and be healthy, and that starts with good access to healthcare and prenatal care. It means that our free Pre-K is joined with other programs so that families are holistic. It means K-12 that we not only close the opportunity gap but we really look for where are those health system connections we can have with students, particularly those who might be students who are getting into trouble, to make school a pipeline to opportunity and not to incarceration. So we’ll continue with programs like our free college but we want to connect that up with jobs for everybody. We want to make sure that we are really investing in all of those things in our society that have held people back because they have not been fair.

Speaker 9: (21:36)
If I may, the protesters have said that they are not going to move on unless SPD’s budget is cut by 50%. I know you’re working on that right now. Is there any way that your budget supports that and given the fact that 82% of the budget comes from personnel and overtime costs along, is that call even possible?

Speaker 10: (21:58)
Sorry, I’m having trouble hearing you.

Jenny Durkan: (22:02)
Sorry, I’m having trouble hearing you. Look, I’ve made it very clear that I think what we … Our approach has to be of re-imagining the services in community and I do not think it is responsible to suggest that we will cut 50% of our officers. We need to make sure that we change the focus on so when people call 911, they don’t necessarily have a police officer show up and police officers are required now to do jobs that they shouldn’t have to be doing. We had over 17,000 crisis calls last year. We need a system that if someone’s in crisis, the first response is from crisis intervention team, a healthcare team, a mental health team. We need to make sure that if there is a conflict in family that is between a young person or their parent or their grandparent, it isn’t always police that show up, it can be someone who knows that family and can defuse and de-escalate that so that we have fewer kids going into incarceration.

Jenny Durkan: (22:58)
I will tell you that we have put more and more work on police officers that we really need to have in other places. So the police officers can have their energies to respond to those things that truly are a great public safety threat and that’s when you need a cop to show up, but we’ve got to change a range of systems and we’ve got to imagine it somewhere other than a police department.

Speaker 9: (23:21)
Just to clarify, you say the police are not responsible to cut 50% of police officers but they’re saying to cut 50% of the budget?

Jenny Durkan: (23:26)
You can’t cut the budget without cutting the police officers because that’s what the budget represents.

Speaker 11: (23:32)
Do you still have faith in Chief Best and Chief Best, do you still have faith in the mayor?

Chief Best: (23:38)
Yes I have faith in the mayor. I’m standing here, right? Right next to her, giving the briefing.

Jenny Durkan: (23:42)
I have confidence in the chief and we’ve been asked in other forums are you going to resign, is the chief going to resign, the answer is no and no. We thought about a Thelma and Louise moment but that’s not happening either. We are here, we got work to do, and we’re going to get it done. These are not easy days, but neither of us signed up for easy jobs and we are ready to tackle the challenges, listen to community, and move forward together.

Speaker 3: (24:11)
… Mayor Thank you Chief. That concludes today’s press conference. Thank you.

Jenny Durkan: (24:14)
Thank you everybody. [crosstalk 00:24:25]

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