About the header photo: Fox News’ Kennedy called Seattle a “socialist hellhole” in a July 12, 2017 broadcast. We wish!
Winter is almost here, and we’re rapidly reaching the end of our timeline to get Seattle’s houseless residents off the streets before freezing weather puts their lives at risk. Unfortunately, Seattle isn’t ready to take care of the most vulnerable among us yet, because our politicians won’t ask business to offer a tiny slice of Seattle’s potential profits to ensure human beings don’t literally freeze to death.
For those of you keeping count, it’s 2017 now, around 10,000 years after the earliest cities were built, but about 400 years after the earliest forms of capitalism, and there are human beings that will die of exposure sleeping outside of empty buildings, or die after being attacked by the cops. Maybe it’s time to give new economic systems a try—we have some interesting ideas about that we’d like to share with you. Welcome to the Hellhole.
Nowhere to call HOME
After sitting comfortably in their homes through a storm that saw high winds knock out power in much of the city Monday evening, some Seattle City Council members voted down a proposed head tax Tuesday that would have provided sustained funding for services for houseless people and kept them from sleeping outside in the future during, you know, major storms. The vote was a strong show of support for Seattle’s already-thriving business community and a punch in the stomach for the city’s most vulnerable residents who have been repeatedly let down.
Also known as the HOMES tax, the final tally was 5-4, with Councilmembers Debora Juarez, Sally Bagshaw, Lorena González, Rob Johnson, Bruce Harrell voting against the tax. Lisa Herbold, Mike O’Brien, Kshama Sawant, and Kirsten Harris-Talley voted for the tax. According to The Stranger, the latest version of the proposal would have imposed a 6.5 cents per employee per hour tax on businesses grossing more than $10 million a year, and would impact just 1,100 out of 70,000 total businesses in the city. It would start in 2019 and generate about $20 million annually, according to Councilmembers. As a reminder, the city declared a state of emergency on homelessness in 2015 and nearly 4,000 people in Seattle still sleep outside every night.
Harris-Talley, the Council’s newest member and an author of the original version of the tax along with O’Brien, made an impassioned plea to her fellow Councilmembers and urged them to vote in favor of the tax.
— Seattle DSA🌹 (@SeattleDSA) November 14, 2017
But still, they were not swayed. Confusingly, four Councilmembers said they’d support a head tax in the future, thus kicking the can down the road and leaving thousands of Seattle residents vulnerable and unhoused as temperatures drop. On Wednesday, that took the form of Councilmembers voting to approve a statement asking the mayor’s office to work with the council to “develop and participate in a community-led stakeholder engagement process” that would lead to “a broadly supported recommendation for a revenue source.” (blah blah blah)
Action is a value. We had an opportunity to take action today on houselessness. Putting community before profits & process is a value. We had an opportunity to do that today. Every Councilmember is on record saying how they’re going to act. We’re going to keep them to their word. pic.twitter.com/59FGIjWEWi
— Kirsten HarrisTalley (@CMHarrisTalley) November 15, 2017
If you know that housing is a human right that should always come before the interests of capital, join Seattle DSA and the other members of the Housing for All coalition. The coalition is demanding more funding for quality shelters and permanent housing, as well as a stop to vicious encampment sweeps. Coalition members have been present at City Council meetings to urge Councilmembers to support the HOMES tax.
“I feel like they are exterminating my past”
With the majority of the Seattle City Council failing to rise to the occasion of moral imperative presented by the HOMES tax vote, Seattle’s unhoused will have to lean even harder on charity in this municipal government’s time of laissez-faire emergency.
In what serves as a pat metaphor for prevailing responses to Seattle’s social crisis, the University Unitarians Church in Ravenna will raze three houses on its property—currently, homes to 10 once-unhoused Seattleites—to make way for 17 new parking spaces. An institution whose mission, ostensibly, is doing right by the marginalized is instead creating more parking to make itself more marketable within its milieu and saving cash on bringing the buildings up to code. The church’s pastor explained, “the culture of social justice at UUC leans more towards advocacy than direct action…it’s important to know…where government needs to step up.” Well, see above.
No one is above the law… except cops
In perhaps the most outrageous story we read this week, two Shelton police officers were fired but won’t face criminal charges after beating 25-year-old Nicholas Heflin so severely that he was left with a broken nose, eye injuries and broken bones in his face.
The Tacoma News Tribune reports Heflin was sleeping on a staircase behind a shelter in May when the officers say they had a “reasonable suspicion” Heflin was trespassing. The situation escalated quickly, and the officers proceeded to pepper spray, beat and use a stun gun on Heflin. The body cameras conveniently go dark at one point but continue to capture audio, and the Thurston County report about the incident notes Heflin was “screaming for help” and that “the sound of someone being struck” could be heard, according to the News Tribune.
But despite all this, Mason County Prosecutor Michael Dorcy wrote in a letter to the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office that the actions of the officers weren’t unreasonable or inconsistent with training.
What this says, loud and clear, is that police officers are able to use their positions of power as shields against what would certainly result in criminal charges for ordinary civilians, and if this kind of behavior means officers were acting “within policy” and following department guidelines, then maybe it’s time to take a hard look at those guidelines.
No one is above the law… except cops… part two
In news that everyone in Seattle (and America in general, frankly) should find equal parts infuriating, completely unsurprising, and totally exhausting, the force that two cops used to murder Charleena Lyles was found by the SPD to be “reasonable, proportional and within policy”.
For the sake of argument, try to put aside the fact that there were two cops and one Charleena, and they outweighed her by hundreds of pounds combined; try to put aside that the cops chose to open fire on Charleena in a room that also contained two children; try to put aside that one cop said he didn’t use nonlethal force because “he felt like he didn’t have any other options” and the other because “the battery [in his Taser] had died two weeks earlier”.
Instead, read this sentence and hold it in your mind for a minute, regardless of how well you know it already: cops can kill you, your family, or your neighbors for any reason, and the SPD will almost definitely exonerate them. There’s not much else to say, other than that Charleena Lyles loved her children, dancing, and the Fourth of July.
Jeff Sessions is still happening
Tacky novelty Christmas ornament Jeff Sessions took a break from trying to squirm his way out of this fantastic mess Wednesday to send King County and Seattle officials some not-so-friendly letters. Crosscut reports the letters urged the city and county to examine policies related to undocumented individuals, and whether or not they might be violating the terms of a U.S. Department of Justice grant. Seattle is a sanctuary city only in the barest terms, and one person in Seattle and another 26 across the state were picked up in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid in September (P.S.: Fuck ICE).
“We value the contributions made by the neighbors who live among us,” Mayor Tim Burgess said in response to the letter. “We are proud of their presence.” (Unless, one assumes, the immigrants also happen to be houseless).
The $673,000 grant in question funds three civilian crime prevention specialists. The letters say no final decision has been made.
Class Enemies of the Week: 91 Business Owners Against the HOMES Tax
In the lead-up to the fraught budget hearing whereupon the HOMES tax was shamefully kneecapped by five councilmembers, 91 business owners signed a letter sent to the City Council wherein they cried uncle, exasperatedly claiming that 60 percent of Seattle’s budget is funded by business taxes (Seattle is legally limited in its revenue sourcing, so there should be no surprises). They prefer a “compassionate and effective approach to homelessness,” but their conception of effectiveness isn’t quite as defined as the dollar amounts thrown around in the letter.
We’re told time and time again that Seattle stood “recession-proof” and that its economy is thriving. Municipally-mandated wage increases (that we had to beg for) aside, this economic activity is moving in one direction only: upward. For wealth to be as concentrated as it is in Seattle, it needs first to be concentrated from somewhere. For this Seattle-level concentration to be possible, this economic system needs people living at the bottom; it requires someone’s brother to curl up in a freezing bus shelter; it needs families to live in RVs or sleep on the ground, in tents.
These business owners are ahead of us; politics is a struggle over finite, scarce resources. The signatories of this letter and the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce have both demonstrated their solidarity with one another; that many of these signatories wouldn’t have even qualified for the HOMES tax speaks volumes. It’s imperative the rest of us strengthen and act out of our own solidarity. If we’re not lobbying for ourselves, who will?
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Hellhole is written by members of the Seattle DSA communications team. Unless expressly stated, Dispatches do not necessarily reflect the views of Seattle DSA as an organization or its leadership.