Seattle Activist Group Leads First Successful Campaign to Defund Police

by Vins
Published: Updated:

In September 2016 the Block the Bunker campaign in Seattle was the first to persuade US city officials to divest police funding and allocate more for community services.

In the summer of 2016, a coalition of antiracist grassroots organizers protested the city’s plans to spend $150 million on a new police precinct 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 K5 and the Seattle Times covered the story in August and September 2016 but activists’ voices were barely included. K5’s coverage, in particular, emphasized the disruption the group caused during city council meetings. No attention has been given to the campaign’s success in divesting police funding and its significance for antiracism movements across the U.S. In a YES! Magazine article, Melissa Hellman speaks with the activists and dissects the argument that more police makes communities safer. She interviews Michelle Phelps, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota, who says there’s not a lot of research on alternative crime strategies (other than more police) but that spending more on police and less on social services puts “a strain on the relationships between communities and police.”

Source: Melissa Hellman, “Defunding Police—How Antiracist Organizers Got Seattle to Listen,Yes! Magazine, March 9, 2017,

Student Researcher: Katie Doke Sawatzky (University of Regina)

Faculty Evaluator: Patricia Elliott (University of Regina)