A Seattle activist hired by the city to serve as its “street czar” was embroiled in debates this past summer over the Capitol Hill Organized Protest and at one point suggested protesters seek money from City Hall, for their cause, in order to leave the zone.
Andrè Taylor, who created a police-accountability nonprofit and championed statewide reforms after his brother, Che Taylor, was fatally shot by Seattle police in 2016, was a vocal critic of the multiblock occupation by protests and others that took shape in June after police abandoned their East Precinct on Capitol Hill.
Taylor’s stance on CHOP provided support for Mayor Jenny Durkan as she sought to wind down the demonstration zone known as the CHOP in the wake of shootings there. His position also drew ire from some protesters who were trying to put pressure on the mayor and saw him aligning with her.
“I feel like I cannot help the situation now because of the violence that will probably continue,” Taylor said at a news conference with Durkan on June 22.
The same day, the city agreed to pay Taylor $12,500 per month for up to a year to serve as a “street czar” community liaison, according to the $150,000 contract that Taylor signed on July 27 and that was published for the first time this week by the news website PubliCola.
The Durkan administration and Taylor say he can play a valuable role as City Hall addresses the uprising for Black lives, drawing on his street credibility to mediate between police and community members.
Some advocates pushing City Hall to defund the police, meanwhile, worry the mayor has brought on a high-profile Black leader who sees eye to eye with her in an attempt to head off such changes.
Clouding the picture is an audio recording that emerged this week of Taylor’s conversation with several CHOP activists on June 21. In that conversation, the activists contemplated leaving what had become a dangerous area, with two people shot, one fatally, the same weekend.
Taylor suggested they assert an intention to stay unless provided with funding by Durkan and offered to help set up a meeting. That didn’t happen.
“Mayor Durkan believes that we have to make deep investments in community — one of the key demands of the Black Lives Matter protests,” Durkan spokesperson Kelsey Nyland said in a statement when asked about the matter.
“In early June, she committed in her 2021 budget a $100 million investment in community. Andrè spoke with organizers about how to turn activism and organizing into action at the state, local, and federal level, and urged individuals to leave Capitol Hill.”
From I-940 to CHOP
Before Taylor became the city’s street czar, he was best known in Seattle for creating Not This Time, a group that connects relatives of people killed by police with local leaders to advance reforms.
Taylor led the way on Initiative 940, which promised independent investigations of police killings, among other changes, and which voters approved in 2018. He also led a mass rally in downtown Seattle on May 30 at the outset of demonstrations here over the killing by Minneapolis police of George Floyd.
Taylor’s role evolved as thousands marched and police repeatedly cracked down on destructive groups and nonviolent protest crowds; he appeared beside Durkan at a May 30 news conference, commending the mayor for speaking out against Floyd’s death and pledging to speak out for young Black men amid the unrest.
He gained more visibility after the CHOP coalesced and attracted national attention calling for the zone to shut down as multiple people were shot in the vicinity. He accompanied on Fox News the father of a 19-year-old, Horace Lorenzo Anderson, who had been killed there in an incident police have said wasn’t protest-related.
Taylor also set out to broker a meeting between CHOP activists and the mayor to resolve the situation.
“I’m advising you to leave,” Taylor told a small group of CHOP activists during the conversation at a South Seattle restaurant that was recorded. “Let me go before you to the mayor. Leave with resources, money for the community. Then you win.”
He continued, saying he could tell Durkan, “Listen, I went down and talked [to the CHOP activists] … They’re so serious about this space, they’re willing to die. But we have an out … They’re more concerned about being able to have some money for communities that are devastated right now, and if we can move that, they’ll be willing to leave.”
Taylor told the activists, “So don’t just leave. Leave with something,” suggesting they meet with the mayor the next day. He also counseled them to register nonprofits and set up websites to advance their cause.
“You gotta get something,” he said. “Let me make that happen for you, and then I can bring that back to you. I don’t know, we’ll ask for $2 million. They might give us $1 million, but let’s ask for it. Because the reason why we’re holding that space is not only for George Floyd but for the millions of George Floyds.”
In an interview, Taylor said the potential deal was his idea and had not been sanctioned by the mayor. He said there was nothing wrong with his approach.
“They wanted to defund [the police] and to redistribute funds,” he said. “I told them they could go to the mayor and ask her for a certain amount.”
“I was concerned about the protesters leaving that space without having some type of win … They were concerned about the safety of being there. I agreed with them about that. But at the same time, I was telling them, ‘Don’t leave without a win.'”
“I wanted to make sure … to get them in front of her in the hopes of them being able to get some real action for the community. That’s what I do. There were no qualms with me in that conversation. I would do it again.”
Activists Naudia Miller and Javi Cordero said they were part of the restaurant conversation. They said they decided against Taylor’s plan.
“After the meeting, I thought ‘this feels off,’ talked about it with some other activists, and we never followed up with Andrè,” Cordero said.
Though Taylor wasn’t legally under contract with the city on June 21, “Not This Time was one of the many community organizations working with the City on Capitol Hill,” Durkan spokesperson Kelsey Nyland said Thursday.
The plan Taylor was proposing didn’t happen. Seattle Police cleared the CHOP on July 1. But he did attend a separate meeting on June 26 between the mayor and a group of protesters, and he now is the city’s street czar.
The position was Taylor’s idea, he said, as was the name, which he said some used to describe President Barack Obama’s special advisers. Not This Time had worked with the city in 2019 under a $100,000 contract to host “Conversation with the Streets” panels for young people of color.
The new contract called for Taylor and his nonprofit to provide “urgent de-escalation” on Capitol Hill; more youth panels; and recommendations on community engagement and policing alternatives. Taylor currently is developing a program to support the mental health needs of Black community members transitioning out of prison.
“The City’s Department of Neighborhoods entered into a contract with Not This Time so that the organization could help de-escalate the ongoing situation in and around Cal Anderson Park,” Nyland said in statement.
“The City sought a contract with Not This Time because of our existing working partnership … but also because of the organization’s lived experience with the criminal legal system, and their history of successful advocacy and activism on issues of policing and dismantling systemic racism,” Nyland added, noting that the city is spending millions this year on similar contracts with various groups.
“Not too many people can go talk to gangbangers in their territory, and then go talk to the government in their territory,” Taylor added.
Some advocates at odds with Durkan, who last month vetoed City Council bills meant to reduce the police force and scale up community solutions, are troubled by the arrangement.
Sadè Smith, a defense attorney who’s been representing arrested protesters, said she respects work done by Not This Time and believes community members should be paid for their expertise, but believes Durkan is “weaponizing” a Black leader aligned with her positions to defuse a Black-led movement for sweeping changes.
“If you want somebody to coordinate with the community, why don’t you ask that community who they would trust,” Smith said. “The mayor picked somebody consistent with her.”
Evana Enabulele, another defunding advocate and Durkan critic, said the money being spent on the street czar is needed in other areas, such as child care services.
“He doesn’t represent the community,” Enabulele said of Taylor.
Miller said she isn’t familiar enough with Taylor’s work to assess his performance as street czar.
“I think it’s important when we are accepting money on behalf of the community that we are also being held accountable by the community,” she said.
“I’m seeing certain individuals step into the light and accept funds on behalf of the community, but I’m not sure how much work is going into creating the connective tissue between all of us as a people.”
Seattle Times staff reporter Heidi Groover contributed to this story.