Questions for SPD on the Killing of Charleena Lyles

Earlier today, my office asked the Seattle Police Department (SPD) questions about the horrific killing of Charleena Lyles. 

Charleena was killed by police in her home, in front of her children. This horrific killing happened just two days after the officers who killed Philando Castile were found ‘not guilty’ in Minnesota.

Let’s stand in solidarity with Charleena’s family and activists, and discuss how we can build a movement to fight against racially-biased policing, and to win democratically elected community oversight boards with full powers over the police, including department policies, procedures, budgets, and conducting investigations.

In our view, the question is not simply, did the officers follow department policies?

The questions that need to be asked are: What department policies and training led officers to shoot to death a 100-pound pregnant woman, allegedly holding a knife, in her own home and in front of her children? How should officer training and the use-of-force policy be changed to allow situations like this to be resolved without the loss of life?

Therefore, my office has asked SPD the following questions:

  1. Please list the last 10 fatal officer-involved shootings in Seattle, with the following information:
    1. Date of the shooting
    2. Name, race, and demographic information of the person killed
    3. Name and precinct of the officers who fired shots, and the officers’ records, including all Type I, Type II, and Type III uses of force, any OPA complaints, and any findings of excessive use of force
  2. Are Seattle officers required to use less lethal force whenever possible? What is the penalty for using lethal force when non-lethal force is clearly an option?
  3. Are Seattle officers trained to retreat from a dangerous situation rather than engaging, if engaging could harm someone and/or result in a possible fatality?
  4. Are officers trained to disarm a person holding a knife without resorting to firearms. With Tasers? With batons? With mace? With hand-to-hand combat?
  5. Are Seattle officers trained to shoot to kill, or are officers ever trained to shoot to wound, such as a shot to the leg?
  6. How would officers have resolved the situation if they were not carrying guns?
  7. In Crosscut, Norm Stamper was quoted saying, “Officers have been trained that if somebody approaches within 21-feet of you, you must fire.” Is this an accurate description of SPD’s policy?
  8. The same article quotes Deputy Joe Winters as follows: “We have to go one step higher” … “If the perpetrator has a stick, we use a taser; if [he or she] has a knife, we use a gun.” Is that an accurate description of SPD use-of-force policy?
  9. How would SPD recommend changing the use-of-force policy so that situations in the future can be resolved without the loss of life?


My Comments on “Police Accountability” Legislation

On May 22, 2017, the Seattle City Council passed “police accountability” legislation. Below are my comments explaining what in the legislation is positive, and how it falls far short of what is needed to provide real police accountability in Seattle. 

I would like to thank the Community Police Commission for their dedication to police accountability, and the dozens, if not hundreds, of hours you have put into amending this legislation.

When the Mayor’s Office first sent the draft legislation to Council, I heard the Commissioners and community advocates express concern that if it was passed without amendment, it would have been a step backward, not forward, and a net loss of accountability. Since then, however, the Community Police Commission has worked and organized to amend many of those original problems. It is due to their determination that we have this legislation today. It’s a step in a good direction. I also thank Councilmember González for listening to the concerns of the Commission. I intend to vote Yes on this bill.

As community activists and organizations like the NAACP welcome this progress, they are correctly urging the Council to follow through on the words in this legislation. They are also correctly urging that this legislation be viewed in proportionate light, with a sense of gravity, and to avoid setting up false expectations.

For example, the position of the Inspector General is described as independent, but independent from whom? According to this bill, the Inspector General is independent from the Seattle Police chain of command, yes, but is not independent from the power structure of the Seattle political establishment.

If we have some future mayor running for re-election who does not want a police scandal on their record, the question is: How independent will the Inspector General be in that situation?

The reality is, in a society with massive wealth and racial inequality, such as the current one, institutions are not independent or neutral, regardless of the establishment’s claims otherwise. Everyone has a social base, different classes and different political forces, that they depend upon or are allied with. I do not try to hide the fact that I represent regular working class people and those at the receiving end of police violence. I do not pretend to represent Big Business.

I have always advocated that for genuine police accountability it will not be enough to have someone who claims to be independent. We will need democratically elected and accountable community oversight that is unapologetically on the side of working people and oppressed communities, and which will doggedly fight for the rights of victims — because they are elected by and accountable to communities, not appointed by the political establishment.

We need to have a separate, democratically elected civilian review board, a body that has full powers to hold the police accountable, and that can itself be held accountable if it fails to defend our community members impacted by discrimination and excessive force.

This legislation takes a step towards that goal, but in truth, a small step. The closest that we have in this legislation to an independent review board is the Community Police Commission, which, while not elected, is currently made up of people with genuine community roots. However, the Commission has no direct power beyond the ability to speak out. It has no structure of authority over police rules, policies, or power to subpoena officers.

I do, however, greatly applaud the current Community Police Commission for retaining and strengthening their ability to call out the political establishment if it fails to produce genuine accountability, and I pledge my full support to you all in using that power to its full potential.

The legislation by itself will not end the excessive use of force and racial profiling by Seattle Police. It will not stop the police from targeting regular people who use their cell phones to record police violence, street medics, independent legal observers, journalists, and activists like myself at peaceful protests. It will not stop the political establishment from sheltering officers who violate people’s basic rights.
We live in a country with over 2 million people in prison, disproportionately people of color. No other country, including brutal dictatorships, have so many imprisoned.

It is not an accident that many black and brown people, and poor and working class people, view police officers as an occupying army, rather than an institution that serves the community.

Here in Seattle, Donald Trump received only 8% of the vote, but was endorsed by the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild. Imagine how terrifying it must be for our immigrant, refugee, Latino, and black sisters and brothers to know that many of our City police are among that 8% — the same police who have the authority to use violence against people of color and all working class people.

On February 5, 2017, Seattle/King County NAACP president Gerald Hankerson published an editorial in The Seattle Times that asked several important questions about the fatal shooting of Che Taylor at the hands of Seattle Police. He asked:

  • Why after Che Taylor was shot multiple times at point-blank range, was he left bleeding on the ground for 7 ½ minutes without any officer providing medical attention?
  • Why did Seattle Police release to the media information of his past criminal record immediately after they shot him? Does the leadership of Seattle Police believe past criminal records authorize the use of deadly force?
  • Why did the Mayor and the Police Chief tell the media that they thought officers acted appropriately in the days following the shooting before any investigation had been done?

So far, no real answers have been forthcoming from elected officials.

Che Taylor, and the countless others impacted by police violence, are a grim, but important reminder that we need to continue building mass movements for racial justice. The Black Lives Matter movement in Seattle and nationwide, the No New Youth Jail movement of Seattle and King County, and the successful Block the Bunker movement have shown that when activists get organized, we can make a real impact.

Congratulations to the Community Police Commission for their hard work. Thanks to Central Staff and City Attorney staff members, and, above all, to community activists. And, yes, Stop the Sweeps, and No New Youth Jail!

Unanimous Vote in Favor of May Day Resolution: City Workers Can Now Rally for Immigrant and Workers Rights on May 1 Without Fear of Retaliation

On April 24, 2017, the Seattle City Council unanimously passed a resolution brought forward by the May 1 Action Coalition, the Coalition of City Unions, immigrant rights activists, and me, proclaiming City of Seattle workers have the right to take the day off on May 1, 2017 without retaliation. The resolution further asks that all City departments inform every non-emergency worker that they have this right to request the day off to attend May Day celebrations. Let’s use this victory in the coming months and year to go further and win May 1 as a paid holiday for all of Seattle’s workers! We urge everyone to join us at Judkins Park, 5/1 at 11 AM, to rally for immigrant and workers’ rights! For more, see my full remarks from before the vote below.

As speakers in public testimony have indicated, May 1 is International Workers’ Day, and in America it has also historically been a day of immigrant rights protests. May 1, 2017 is especially important because this is the era of Donald Trump in the White House, and we need a day of resistance — for immigrants to stand up to Trump’s egregious persecution of the immigrant community and the threat of a border wall; a day for labor to prepare the fight against so-called “right to work” legislation, and other attacks on labor unions; a day to defend environmental protections; a day to build the fight for equal pay and equal rights; a day to unite our struggles for LGBTQ rights, for Black Lives, for women’s rights, especially for reproductive rights, against Islamophobia, and beyond.

Further, the question is: Why are we urging strike action by workers who can engage in strike action on May 1, and why are we asking the City Council, which is the highest legislative body of the City, to stand with workers by declaring a day off for City of Seattle workers without retaliation?

The history of strike action is absolutely brilliant, and it illustrates that it is the most powerful tool the working class has in our arsenal. When we organize and withhold our labor, it hits the capitalist and billionaire class where it hurts: their profits.

On May Day, 1886, hundreds of thousands of workers went on strike in the United States to demand an 8-hour workday — a massive strike action that helped spread the 8-hour workday struggle all over the world.

In the mid-thirties, sit-down strikes by United Auto Workers and other unions affiliated with the then-radical Congress of Industrial Organizations (or CIO) highlighted the many workplace injustices experienced by industrial workers. Those strike actions by the CIO shook the corporate and political establishment, precipitating the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act — a package which finally granted the 8-hour work day to workers in America.

In 1952, the United Steelworkers of America went on strike, and after 53 days, won an industry-wide raise in wages and benefits, and automatically enrolled new workers into the union.

In 1965, the Delano grape strike by the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee and the United Farm Workers won a historic battle, which laid the groundwork for migrant worker struggles that continue to this day, like the struggle against exploitation at the hands of Sakuma Brothers here in Washington State.

More recently, in 2006, the immigrant community, in opposition to attempted egregious anti-immigrant bills from Congress, held “A Day Without Immigrants,” and defeated those bills in an historic day of action.

And more recently, the airport shut down — the peaceful airport shutdown of SeaTac and other airports — pushed back against the attempted Muslim Travel Ban.

I think the point of all this history is clear: When we organize, mobilize, and fight — and when we strike together — we win.

I want to thank the staff members Amy Nguyen from Councilmember Bagshaw’s office, Vy Nguyen from Councilmember Gonzales’s office, and my staff, especially Ted Virdone, for helping draft and organize for this resolution. But my biggest gratitude goes to all the immigrant sisters and brothers, and sisters and brothers in the labor movement, who have fought not just this year, but for so many decades in the past.

I especially want to thank: the May 1 Action Coalition; El Comité activists, like Juan Bocanegra; WFSE 1488, thank you for being here today; United Auto Workers 4121, the union that represents graduate student workers at the UW campus; the Seattle Education Association, the union that represents public school educators; the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project; Socialist Alternative; Socialist Students; and many, many other organizations and activists who have brought us to the point where I think we will have a very exciting and historic May 1 action.

I urge Councilmembers to heed the call of City workers and pass this resolution unanimously, and I also invite all Councilmembers to join us on May Day, to rally and march for immigrant and workers’ rights. Join us in the fight to make Seattle truly a Sanctuary City in practice, not only in name!

The pre-march rally will begin at Judkins Park on Monday, May 1, at 11am. We hope to see everyone listening there. Solidarity!

Defund Keystone XL! Fill City Hall for the Final Council Vote on 4/3 at 2 pm!

On March 24, 2017, President Trump announced his approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, and our local activist community did not hesitate to begin building the fightback! Organizers from 350 Seattle, indigenous leaders, and members of the #Defund DAPL coalition reached out to my office and asked me to co-author a resolution calling on the City of Seattle to not contract with banks investing in Keystone XL. On March 27, 2017, activists filled City Hall and presented the resolution, but the vote was delayed. We need to pack City Hall once again next week, on Monday, April 3, at 2 pm, to make sure Council votes to pass this resolution!

The world’s foremost climate scientist, James Hansen, has noted that “oil from tar sands makes sense only for a small number of people who are making a lot of money from that product…It doesn’t make sense for the rest of the people on the planet. We are getting close to the dangerous level of carbon in the atmosphere and if we add on to that unconventional fossil fuels [like crude bitumen extracted from tar sands], which have a tremendous amount of carbon, then the climate problem becomes unsolvable.” Simply put, Hansen has argued that “it would be ‘game over’ for the climate if tar sands were fully exploited.”   

The stakes couldn’t be higher. Our obligation as elected officials to do everything we can to build the movement to stop tar sands couldn’t be clearer. That includes doing everything we can to defeat the Keystone XL pipeline. Read the resolution below, then join me on Monday, April 3, at 2 pm, for the final Council vote on this resolution to defund Keystone XL!

A RESOLUTION stating the Seattle City Council’s opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline, and requesting the Department of Finance and Administrative Services to investigate ways to establish contracting criteria to prioritize the City’s goals to avoid contracting with financial institutions that provide it with project-level loans or other financial services.

WHEREAS, in Resolution 31346, adopted December 12, 2011, The City of Seattle resolved that “Climate change is not an abstract problem for the future or one that will only affect far-distant places but rather climate change is happening now, we are causing it, and the longer we wait to act, the more we lose and the more difficult the problem will be to solve”; and

WHEREAS, in December 2015, representatives of 194 nations signed the Paris Agreement to prevent catastrophic and irreversible impacts on the world’s climate, with the aim of “[h]olding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels”; and

WHEREAS, a September 2016 Oil Change International report, “The Sky’s Limit: Why the Paris Climate Goals Require a Managed Decline of Fossil Fuel Production,” found that currently developed reserves of oil, natural gas, and coal “exceed the 2°C carbon budget and significantly exceed the 1.5°C budget,” and that “[o]il and gas emissions alone exceed the 1.5°C budget”; and

WHEREAS, a January 2017 Oil Change International report, “Climate on the Line: Why New Tar Sands Pipelines Are Incompatible with the Paris Goals,” found that “to have a likely (2 in 3) chance of keeping warming below 2°C, global emissions must be halved within little more than 20 years. To keep warming to 1.5°C, emissions must be halved in about 15 years”; and

WHEREAS, the 2012 analysis produced by the Congressional Research Service, “Canadian Oil Sands: Life-Cycle Assessments of Greenhouse Gas Emissions,” found that “Well-to-Tank (i.e., production) emissions from Canadian oil sands crudes have a range of increase from 72%-111% over the average Well-to-Tank emissions of other imported crudes”; and

WHEREAS, on March 24, 2017, President Donald Trump announced the State Department issued TransCanada the federal permit to build the Keystone XL pipeline, which could transport over 800,000 barrels of tar sands oil a day from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf of Mexico; and

WHEREAS, over 100 First Nations and Tribes have signed the Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion, which states that “our Nations hereby join together under the present treaty to officially prohibit and to agree to collectively challenge and resist the use of our respective territories and coasts in connection with the expansion of the production of the Alberta Tar Sands, including for the transport of such expanded production, whether by pipeline, rail or tanker”; and

WHEREAS, the prospective route for the Keystone XL pipeline would run through the Rosebud Sioux reservation in South Dakota and has been called an “act of war” by Rosebud Sioux president, Cyril Scott; and

WHEREAS, completion of the Keystone XL pipeline is dependent upon receiving credit facilities and project-level loans from financial institutions; and

WHEREAS, financial institutions such as JP Morgan Chase, CitiBank, Wells Fargo, Bank of Montreal, Scotia Bank, ATB Financial, Bank of Tokyo, Barclays, Credit Suisse, HSBC, National Bank, Royal Bank of Canada, TD Bank, Credit Agricole, Desjardins, Deutsche Bank, Mizuho and Sumimoto Mitsui Banking Corporation have provided financial services to TransCanada; and

WHEREAS, in Ordinance 125257, passed February 10, 2017, The City of Seattle established policies to prioritize City business with “partners who are committed to engaging in fair business practices”; and

WHEREAS, the grassroots movement to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline is a central issue for climate justice and indigenous organizers, and has initiated a generation of activists into the struggle to defend this planet that we all depend on to survive; NOW, THEREFORE,


Section 1. The Seattle City Council opposes the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. We urge all federal and state regulatory agencies to reject permit requests from TransCanada for the construction of that project. We urge financial institutions to boycott providing financial services to TransCanada until it abandons attempts to complete the pipeline.

Section 2. The Seattle City Council does not support doing business with financial institutions that invest in the Keystone XL Pipeline or otherwise provide financial services to TransCanada for that project. We request the Department of Finance and Administrative Services (FAS) to investigate ways to establish contracting criteria to prioritize the City’s goals to avoid contracting for banking services to The City of Seattle with financial institutions that provide credit-level facilities or project-level loans to TransCanada. We request that FAS look for meaningful ways to communicate these positions of the Seattle City Council to prospective financial institutions, such as by incorporating appropriate language in Requests for Proposals for City contracts.

My Speech on Our Victory in Seattle to Divest $3 Billion from Wells Fargo

On February 8, 2017, the movement to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline won a significant victory when the Seattle City Council unanimously voted on the bill I wrote with activists to divest Seattle from Wells Fargo. Below are my closing remarks.

Thanks to all the Councilmembers for voting Yes on this legislation. As far as I know, Seattle is the first city to have divested from Wells Fargo. The example that we have set today can be a beacon of hope to activists all around the country, looking to change the economic calculus of corporations who think that investing in the Dakota Access Pipeline will be good for their bottom line. We’re making it bad for their bottom line.

I want to acknowledge the victories that have already been achieved. The University of California divested, to the tune of $47 million, the day before our committee vote. But, after our committee vote, the Muckleshoot tribe divested from Wells Fargo, and a Dutch bank, ABN AMRO, divested from the pipeline – at least partly because of the pressure we’re building. And my staff member Ted Virdone told me that he’s actually on the phone right now with an activist from Santa Barbara who wants their City Council to divest from Wells Fargo, and they called us to ask us how did we do this.

The real power of this ordinance is that it can be used as a tool by movements to put real financial pressure on Big Business by first putting pressure on politicians. And I really agree with those of you who said we need to use this momentum not only against the pipeline–put that pipeline to rest once and for all, and will be critical in our fight against climate change, and fight for indigenous rights–but we should also use this to build our fight for Seattle’s rights to a public bank.

And what an honor it is to have been part of this inspiring movement. We had a little snow in Seattle yesterday, but that is nothing compared to the images of the courageous people in Standing Rock who battled blizzards to hold the line against the oil lobby and against banks. That is truly inspiring.

Some of you have personally traveled to Standing Rock to join the protests. Others have demonstrated in solidarity here, through our NoDAPL Seattle movement, and together we are building the power of regular people to fight to take our world back from Trump, the billionaires, and the oil lobby.

Let’s think about, locally, the power that we have built through this specific movement in Seattle:

As you all remember, my fellow activists, you and I, we sent this legislation for introduction on November 1 last year. By mid-December it still had not been introduced yet in Committee, so our movement came to Full Council to demand its introduction—and we won.

By mid-January, it still had not been heard, and our movement called Councilmember offices to get its hearing—and we won.

A new draft of the legislation was introduced that was excellent in many ways, but omitted the role of the movement itself, and we moved five amendments to restore that language—and we won!

I want to thank all of you. First of all, most of the people who have led this movement are too numerous, and that’s what makes it a powerful movement. But I still wanted to name a few names.

I wanted to thank all of the staff members – Kirstan Arested, Dan Eder, and Patricia Lee in Central Staff for writing this, and working with us, and working so hard. Thanks to the Finance and Administrative Services, which is a City department, and also to the City Attorney’s office, specifically Kristin Lamson who has been working on this with us since November.

But special thanks to Matt Remle, Millie Kennedy, Alec Connon, Rebecca Deutsch, Rachel Heaton, Ray Kingfisher, Paul Wagner and Jesse Ross, all activists and leaders from the Indigenous community.

My fellow activist, Nikkita Oliver, who has made this important recognition that the struggles of all oppressed peoples are united.

Thanks also to my staff member, Ted Virdone, who many of you know, and Rachel gave a gift for him, too, which I have accepted on his behalf, and which I will be conveying to him soon.

Thanks also, and I am speaking now as a member of the labor movement, to the International Brotherhood of the Teamsters who just sent a letter to Wells Fargo’s Executive Vice President Jeffrey Grubb, through his leadership role on the MJ Murdock Charitable Trust, has helped finance the extremist anti-labor Washington State-based Freedom Foundation that has fought against workers’ rights every step of the way. And I know them personally, because they were fighting against $15/hour.

This further shows that the rights of workers as a whole, and the survival of the labor movement, is so tied to the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline, the fight for black and brown rights, and the fight against climate change. Thanks to everyone who has sacrificed, sweated, and bled to build this movement.

There is no guarantee that when we fight, we will win.; but it is for sure that if we don’t fight, we will lose. And I want to thank the Indigenous community as a whole for showing so clearly to all of us that our fight for our planet is paramount.

And the last point I’ll make is that we live in what I feel is an irrational world. OXFAM reported that 8 people own the same wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population – that’s 3.5 billion people — combined. That is, in my view, completely irrational. It’s irrational that we are so divided in wealth that wealth buys the power to write laws that benefit the rule of a few at the top, and no one else. And nowhere is that more starkly visible then with the big banks and oil companies.

In any rational world, the trillions that are in the hands of multinational oil companies would not be used to lobby for wars in Iraq and pipelines poisoning our water and climate. If we had any democracy over our economy, those trillions would be used to transform the energy infrastructure into renewables and to create decent living standards for all human beings.

But, sisters and brothers, it is not a rational world under capitalism. So our fight today is very much linked to our larger fight against Big Business, against Wall Street, against Trump and the Billionaire Class, and against capitalism itself.

And this is the last point I’ll make – this is radical. When we build movements to challenge the status quo, and when these movements are powerful enough that they force corporate politicians to take a stand in favor of the movement when it is not their instinct, that is radical. Fighting against the status quo is radical. Let’s not allow corporate politicians to say, “We’re doing this anyway, you can just go home.” No! We not only have to recognize the role of the movement in this, we must redouble the efforts of our movement if we are to win against the Dakota Access Pipeline and against Trump.