In September 2016 the Block the Bunker campaign in Seattle was the first to persuade US city officials to divest from police funding and allocate more tax dollars for community services.
In summer 2016, a coalition of antiracist grassroots organizers protested the city’s plans to spend nearly $150 million on a new police station in North Seattle. In September, the mayor shelved the plans for the 2017 budget and an additional $29 million was added to the affordable housing budget. According to the Movement for Black Lives, no other organization is known to be actively working on divestment policy, and it is the first such campaign to be successful.
NBC’s KING5 and the Seattle Times covered the story in August and September 2016 but activists’ voices were barely included. KING5’s coverage, in particular, emphasized the disruption the group caused during city council meetings. No attention was given to the campaign’s success in divesting from police funding and its significance for antiracism movements across the US. By contrast, in a YES! Magazine article, Melissa Hellmann spoke with the activists and dissected the argument that more policing makes communities safer. Palca Shibale, a recent University of Washington graduate and one of the original organizers against the proposed police station, told YES! Magazine that she hoped Block the Bunker would inspire others to organize and address issues of police brutality and gentrification in their own cities. “It’s so important to do whatever you can do in your own spaces to fight for equity, however that looks,” Shibale said. Hellmann interviewed Michelle Phelps, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota, who said there was not a lot of research on alternative strategies to reduce crime rates, but that spending more on police and less on social services puts “a strain on the relationships between communities and police.”
A Seattle city council member, Kshama Sawant, said, “The only reason that this new police precinct is not going to go ahead in this year’s budget is because of the Block the Bunker movement and because ordinary people, young people, and activists came and shut the city all down.”
Melissa Hellmann, “Defunding Police—How Antiracist Organizers Got Seattle to Listen,” YES! Magazine, March 9, 2017, http://www.yesmagazine.org/peace-justice/defunding-police-how-antiracist-organizers-got-seattle-to-listen-20170309.
Student Researcher: Katie Doke Sawatzky (University of Regina)
Faculty Evaluator: Patricia Elliott (University of Regina)