[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a Letter to the Editor, submitted by a verified resident. It does not necessarily reflect the opinions of South King Media, nor its staff:]
Everyone deserves to live in a safe community, regardless of the color of your skin or how humble your home. Lately there’s been concern our communities aren’t safe, fueled by narratives of rising crime and violence. A recently publicized letter from eight of the 13 South King County mayors made an unsubstantiated claim that policing and drug policy reforms enacted by the state Legislature are driving an increase in crime. Those narratives aren’t just false. They are dangerous. We must prioritize evidence-based approaches to safety for everyone and not fall for the false narrative that we need tough-on-crime policies that lead to violence against BIPOC communities. The cost to our friends and neighbors is far too great.
Like you, we agree with the mayors that the “health, safety and welfare of the community is the very purpose of government.” We also believe addressing serious, well-documented problems with police conduct and accountability, and ending the failed War on Drugs, will promote the health, safety, and welfare of our communities more effectively than doubling down on failed “tough-on-crime” strategies. As a starting point, all elected officials should provide an honest overview of the complicated set of issues at play when it comes to preventing and responding to crime. They should also work with directly-impacted people and their loved ones to address these challenges in an open and transparent way. Above all else, they must not stoke fear to advance a political agenda — especially when inaction on these issues comes at the expense of Black and brown communities.
Many law enforcement personnel and public officials have blamed the criminal legal system and police reforms for rising crime, but the truth is more complicated. Since 2020, rates of some categories of crime have increased in Washington, mirroring national trends. However, the rise in those crime rates occurred before the state Legislature passed any of the 2021 reforms scapegoated by the mayors.
In fact, despite an increase in car thefts – an uptick that also follows national trends and happened before the Legislature’s reforms — overall Crimes Against Property and Crimes Against Society (drug violations, weapon law violations, etc.) decreased statewide in 2021. If the mayors believe an increase in some crime is due to police reform legislation, shouldn’t they also credit the reforms for decreasing rates of other crimes?
Pinning increases in crime to efforts to improve police conduct and accountability is dishonest, given the lack of evidence to support the claim. Our communities deserve more from our elected representatives.
The truth, supported by evidence, is that new policies are working. There was a 60% decline in police killings across our state in the year after the Legislature passed police reform bills in 2021 — something the mayors’ letter fails to mention. Commonsense reforms, like prohibiting the use of chokeholds and restricting vehicle pursuits, increase the quality of policing and reduce violent outcomes, helping everyone return home safely at the end of the day.
Additionally, in the wake of the State v. Blake decision by the Washington Supreme Court, which found the state’s drug possession crime unconstitutional, thousands fewer Washingtonians are now being subjected to arrest and prosecution for drug use — a public health issue. That means thousands fewer Washingtonians, disproportionately our BIPOC neighbors and family members, are winding up with a criminal record that makes it harder to access services and find housing and jobs. This is a cause for celebration, not fear.
We know what keeps communities safe. It’s not the tough-on-crime approaches embraced by the mayors’ letter, which decades of research have shown are ineffective and harm communities, especially communities of color. What keeps us safe is living in communities where all our needs are met, from mental health support, to social services, to proven community-based violence prevention programs. Investments in housing, health care, jobs programs, education, after school programs, gun control, environmental design and violence interruption programs have all proven to reduce violence and crime. We need to invest in these new approaches at all levels of government and not fall for the false narrative that returning to failed policies will help.
As your fellow community members, we share your desire for government to put our health, safety and welfare first. It pains us to see important policy questions reduced to fodder for election season politicking. The health and safety of all our neighbors and loved ones is our number one priority.
Submitted by Nancy Kick on behalf of ACLU Burien People Power, along with:
A. Philip Randolph Institute Seattle chapter
Asian Counseling and Referral Service
Black Lives Matter Seattle King County
Borro Bay Bakery
Chinese Information and Service Center (CISC)
Civil Survival Project
Federal Way Black Collective
Fix Democracy First
Indivisible Washington’s 8th District
Lavender Rights Project
Next Steps Washington
Northwest Community Bail Fund
Northwest Progressive Institute
People Power WA
Proactive Persistent People for Progress (P4)
Progreso: Latino Progress
Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness
Southwest Youth and Family Services
The Black Community Lobby
Vashon Maury Showing Up for Racial Justice Criminal Justice Action Team
WA Partners for Social Change
Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
Washington Coalition for Police Accountability
Washington Defender Association
Washington Innocence Project
EDITOR’S NOTE: Do you have something you’d like to share with our highly engaged local Readers? If so, please email your Letter to the Editor to [email protected] and, pending review and verification that you’re a real human being, we may publish it. Letter writers must use their full names and cite sources – as well as provide an address and phone number (NOT for publication but for verification purposes).