Three recent articles offer food for thought and discussion as we consider calls to “defund” the police.
Ballard businesses experience “crime” and want more and faster police responses to their calls [“Ballard businesses say they’ve seen startling increase in crimes like illegal dumping, shoplifting,” Nov. 19, Local News]. Yet their reports sound very much like behavior typical of mental illness. Ballard’s population of people living in improvised tents includes many with mental-health and addiction issues. As the empty Morrison Hotel staff convey, lack of housing often exacerbates mental illness and addiction [“Well-known Seattle homeless shelter, closed by the pandemic, might never reopen. Here’s what will replace it,” Nov. 21, Project Homeless]. The Morrison’s former population, previously sheltered in one large room, are doing better with the dignity of their own rooms at a hotel made available due to the virus. Meanwhile, police statistics demonstrate the seriousness of calls received requiring urgent responses to protect lives — shots fired, weapons displayed [“Seattle City Council is willfully ignoring facts: Data shows we need more police officers,” Nov. 22, Opinion]. Graffiti and spitting on people do not require or call for an armed response.
The goal of “defunding” the police is to have a different response to some human behavior. Our community needs to address lack of housing, mental illness and addiction with something other than arrests and jail. We need to rethink what we call “crime.” And we need to transfer resources from funding more armed responses to addressing the real problems.
Lenell Nussbaum, Seattle