This would be a terrible time to disarm and defund the Seattle police, as activists want. The city should listen to the silent victims who aren’t down protesting at City Hall.
Block the Bunker, I was with you when you were blocking the bunker — when you were protesting Seattle’s $149 million plan for a princely police station that looks more like a performing-arts center.
But this week you moved on to blocking something else entirely.
“We seek to disarm, defund and demilitarize the police,” one protester told an evacuated City Council meeting Monday, after the movement had shut it down to issue a new set of demands.
One of the new demands is to torpedo Mayor Ed Murray’s plan to hire 200 more police officers.
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“Why unleash even more officers into our already over policed communities?” says the group’s website, blockthebunker.org.
At least one City Council member is supporting the group. Kshama Sawant told KIRO radio the city has more pressing needs than police.
“Only a person completely out of touch with reality would not agree that the lack of affordable housing and the skyrocketing rent are the most urgent crises in the city,” Sawant said.
Well, I don’t know if I’m out of touch with reality or not, but I have been reading police reports of late. I was prompted to do so by a woman, a rape survivor, who wrote me about what she said is an urgent crisis, too — a “silent epidemic” in the city.
It was news to me: Rape in Seattle is up an alarming 55 percent this year. There were 82 rapes in the city last year through Sept. 10; this year, through the same date, there have been 127. We’ve already exceeded the yearly total for each of the past 10 years, and if it continues at this pace Seattle would record the most rapes since 1999.
“It’s a huge number, all of a sudden,” said Capt. Deanna Nollette, who heads the Seattle Police Department’s Sexual Assault Unit. “There are a lot of family calls, a lot of juvenile victims, and adult victims with high alcohol levels.”
Not coincidentally, domestic-violence cases are also up in Seattle, by 11 percent.
The good news, such as it is, is that there have been just 13 reports of what police call “stranger danger” attacks, like the one on Capitol Hill in May when a 72-year-old woman was assaulted coming home from the grocery store.
Police say there has been a surge in hard-to-investigate cases based around social dating apps, “with people meeting strangers with the idea of dating or having sex, but then not being able to get out of it when it goes farther than what they wanted,” Nollette said.
“The rise in sexual assault is a major priority for us right now,” said Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole.
Rape is just one crime category. But when it’s up 55 percent, is this really a time to hamstring the police department?
Their actions there deserve intense scrutiny. They also have a mixed history investigating sexual assault. But these are all justifications to improve policing, not cripple it.
Because who else do we have to catch rapists?
The protesters’ objections are now drifting into the absurd. Last week one activist who toured the North Precinct questioned whether a 21st century police force needed to carry guns at all.
Yet Seattle police seized 928 illegal guns in 2015, a terrible year in which there were 388 shootings — more than one shooting per day. You can’t tackle that level of gun violence solely with social programs.
Add to that the incessant property crime (car prowls, up 9 percent) and it’s clear Seattle needs more officers, not fewer. Yes, the police need more reform. But it would be self-defeating in the extreme to move to defund them as some sort of punishment.
The woman who contacted me said she did so because sexual assault feels like it’s not even on Seattle’s radar screen. We have no voice, she wrote.
It’s worth remembering that the loud and the organized are not the only ones in the city who need help.