Police and the Price of Progress in Seattle

Authors: Nathaniel Sheets*, CUNY Graduate Center
Topics: Political Geography, Cultural Geography, Urban Geography
Keywords: Police, Abolition, Seattle, Housing Justice
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Directors Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


2018 marks a critical moment in the struggle against police violence in Seattle, Washington. Concluding the first phase of a federally mandated and monitored consent decree, Seattle has transformed itself into a touchstone of progressive police reforms, both championed by the Obama administration and subsequently elevated as a foil to the policy shifts of Trump and Sessions. Yet, the problem of police violence persists along the racial and class contours of a larger conjunctural crisis, where Seattle is home to one of the nation's largest unhoused populations, and fatal encounters with police continue unabated. In lieu of adequate funding for solutions to the city's crisis of homelessness and housing affordability, Seattle continues to expand investments in police to solve these and other social problems. In response, a burgeoning array of activists and organizers are targeting the public budget as a crucial terrain to challenge both the meaningful and material investment in police. In confronting these ideological justifications, which provide police with the lion's share of public funds in a place with perhaps the most regressive tax structure in the country, opponents of police violence are increasingly articulated with struggles to secure adequate housing for the region's unhoused at a moment of unprecedented growth and inequality. This paper will consider the role of public budgets as an objective for confronting racism and violence in Seattle, where police are increasingly and crucially articulated with the crisis of housing and homelessness.

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