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Remarks as Delivered by Mayor Jenny A. Durkan – Tuesday, June 2 Press Conference

Seattle (June 2, 2020) – Today, Mayor Durkan participated in her fifth press conference since demonstrations began in Seattle following the murder of George Floyd. Her remarks as delivered: 

Good afternoon and thank you for joining us today.  

In a moment the chiefs and I will provide an update on last night’s demonstrations.  

But first, as I do every time we have one of these news events in the last four days, I want to acknowledge why so many people are gathering and marching in our streets.  

Just over a week ago now, four officers murdered a man named by the name of George Floyd. The murder was the latest example of the deep, systemic inequities that have pervaded our society throughout the entire history of our country—from slavery to today.  

These injustices have existed for centuries: an American policing and the criminal justice system; systemic racism is existing in every facet of our society; wealth disparity; lack of access to health care; lack of access to affordable housing; or to real job opportunities; economic justice to healthcare justice, much of it has been denied to so many.

People have been gathering to demand change, to demand justice and to demand that the promise of America – the promise of America – not be just a promise for just the privileged few, but for all. 

Too many in America, and in Seattle are tired of words and promises.  We must make real and durable change. 

In committing to those changes, we must admit and acknowledge the deep, deep systemic racial barriers are real and affect, as I said, every system in our society 

For denial of the truth – the denial of truth – is the life blood and oxygen that injustice needs to continue 

And when we commit to change, we must also commit  to centering the voices and experiences of the communities that have been locked out and left behind for generations in almost every aspect of our lives: from economic justice to civil justice to criminal justice to even our very life expectations.

For in the end, the demands of these protestors must be our demands, they must be our collective demands.   

For the great experiment that is America – for it to work – the rights of life, liberty and happiness must belong to all, not granted by or just given oven to the privileged few.  

I want to talk a little bit about what happened last night.

Yesterday, beginning in the early afternoon, we had probably 7,000 people gathering and marching in downtown Seattle. Beginning downtown, they marched for hours to City Hall to Westlake Mall to Capitol Hill.  

They spoke their truths, and grieved both the murder of Mr. Floyd and their own common trauma.   

Mostly bike police accompanied the march.  Over miles and for hours there were no confrontations.

I thank those demonstrators, and I thanked them in person today for their work to march peacefully to protest what needs to be protested, and to raise their voices for a better path for justice.

Last night the demonstrations continued around all parts of the City, including First Hill and Capitol Hill. 

As I said, the speakers spoke forcefully about the changes that need to happen. We saw SPD officers kneeling in solidarity with protestors. We saw police and protestors shaking hands.  

In fact, at 8:15 pm, around then, a friend from New Jersey of mine who I worked with on police reform years ago work texted me to tell me that he was watching Seattle and it had given him hope that we could get through this and still build a better America, that there could be a way forward through the pain and chaos to a more improved city and system.  

And then later that night, in the span of seconds, things changed quickly. 

And while I’ll let Chief Best address and speak to the situation on Capitol Hill, I do want to say a few things.   

First, as the Chief has said multiple times – and I agree, based on my experience know – that the use of force must be rare, it must be necessary, and it must be proportional.   

Our police department has worked so hard to ingrain those principles not just in their policies and in their training, but in everyday contact with the residents of our city.  

I saw the videos that many saw and was concerned that things had escalated and changed so rapidly. 

I talked to Chief Best and understand that it was a highly charged and very fluid situation.  But we have come too far in this city on police reform and we cannot shirk from an honest and transparent criticism or review of any police actions.   

And I have spoken with both the Office of Police Accountability and the Office of Inspector General – who will each independently review and investigate SPD’s handling of events.  

OPA, of course, looks at individual actions, but OIG looks at systems, and the Office of Inspector General has been observing what’s happened over the last four days in real time to set up and determine how to review, how we respond to large events like this.

I welcome that independent review. I also assured the Office of Inspector General and the Office of Police Accountability that if they need additional resources during this period of time to handle the increased number of complaints or to do a more thorough review that I would make sure as Mayor that they have the resources they need to do so.

It is a tough budget season, but we want to make sure that the public and the people protesting in the street, and the residents and businesses of Seattle know that we will not shirk away from our obligation and commitment to the continuous improvements. Chief Best has stood with me every step of the way on that, and wants to make sure that we have those reviews in place.  

Ultimately, we know that every interaction the public has with a police officer either adds to or takes away from public trust. It either adds to or takes away from credibility.  

And I’ve heard that from so many officers in the last four days who know that the actions of the officers in Minnesota have raised questions raging across America that have diminished trust in every police officer. And they know that they’ve got to win that trust back not just through words, but through actions.      

If we had needed any greater proof that the acts of individual officers didn’t diminish or undermine public confidence, we only need to look at being here today and what’s happening all across America.  

That the actions of four officers in Minneapolis, MN have set off this flame in cities across our country.  

I want people to be able to peacefully gather to be able to demand change, express grief, experience community with one another, but we need them to do it peacefully. 

We will do all we can to protect the cherished right to assemble and express first amendment rights, but we will also make sure we maintain public safety, protect people, and protect the public safety of every community.

Chief Best and I have had so many conversations over the years, and we know and agree and reaffirm that every encounter of police they use and try to determine how to de-escalate as a first stop. The use of any force – whether it be the use of hands-on force or pepper spray or tear gas should only be done as circumstances require.  

And every officer needs to lead with grace and restraint, and I – like many people – was given hope when I saw the two officers at East Precinct take a knee and talk to protestors and share their common humanity. 

SPD will also be looking and seeing what operational changes they need to make in crowd management to determine a better way to go forward, and to keep officers safe, communities safe, and protesters safe. 

We know that these demonstrations are continuing not just in Seattle, but across the country, and it is a highly charged and very fluid situation. 

Saturday, I think, reflected the highest degree of difficulty and no one wants to go back there, but we also have to find a way forward where people feel they have the right to protest, and police know that they can be with people who are peacefully protesting and not use force.  

It’s not just important for us to ensure that there is accountability in the short term. We must also ensure that it works towards progress in the weeks and months to come and that process we put in place have to include community input.  

I was able to meet with some of the protestors today who want their voice at the table talking about the changes they think need to be made. The Chief and I will continue to meet with them, to listen to them, and to include others in the community so many are at the table, including members of the Community Police Commission who have that very special role in our community. 

Over the last few days I’ve heard from many, many, many in the community expressing a number of issues. Some of those we want to make sure we can take off the table immediately.  

For example, many have expressed concern about the mourning badges, and we’ve talked about the importance to police officers in acknowledging the loss of an officer, but the public wants apparently to know the badge number even if the name is present, so Chief Best and I have discussed it and we will change the policies of the Seattle Police Department so officers can wear mourning badges, but there is a way that a badge number is always displayed.   That won’t happen overnight, but it is a change we will make.   

We also know that there is a shift in sentiment related to body-worn video. Many people who are on the streets don’t understand why the body-worn video hasn’t been turned on. Many who have been around this a while may remember that this decision came before I was mayor in discussions with the ACLU, and City Council and Mayor that, out of concerns for civil rights they did not want to have peaceful demonstrations recorded. 

I am going to ask the City Council and the Community Police Commission to reconsider that policy, to speak with ACLU, and listen to community to determine whether body-worn video should be activated at all times, and whether there’s other things we can do to protect civil liberties.  For example, we could have a rule that said that any video of a lawful gathering or people protesting could only be utilized for very limited circumstances, like if there was a complaint against a police officer for OPA or if there was a criminal investigation for other regards. We want to limit the ability. I don’t know what those are, but I think that issue should be revisited and I’m going to ask the City Council, CPC, and the ACLU who had reached the agreement to have that prohibition and restriction, to look at whether we should have a different policy going forward.     

As I’ve mentioned over the last few days, mourning badges are used to recognize fallen members, and it is the policy of the Seattle Police Department that every officer displays their name. I have asked, and there is no circumstance or case that we’re aware of where an officer that was a target of the complaint where we knew there name, they couldn’t find the officer. 

But it’s a matter of public confidence. People believed it was done for a different purpose and it’s an easy thing for us to change, and so we will. We want to respect the honor that police officers give to those who lose their life in the line of duty, but we understand that the public wants to have the badge number and the name. We’re going to find a way to get that done.     

I also want to be clear that when I say the Seattle Police Department has made great progress on reforms, it’s true. But saying that doesn’t mean we’re done. I investigated the police department almost ten years ago and signed the consent decree since. I understand the challenges that have been involved, but I also will state again the gains they have made are real. But just because we have made real gains does not mean we are finished. No one is more certain of that than Chief Carmen Best. She believes in and demands a culture of continuous improvement. When she sees officers, policies, or procedures that she believes are contrary to the community good, she is the first person to demand change. 

We have to make sure that as we acknowledge progress, that people also don’t hear that denies the truth that communities have felt for generations, or the truth about the racial injustice in policing or the criminal justice system. 

We know that the promise of America has not been made real for all Americans. That is the solemn obligation of all of us to make that more real. So while we can show you that under the consent decree, through policies and training and embedding the ability for crisis management has made a difference in the street and the number of people who have been helped because of it, we also hear the deep concerns and we will listen to those concerns. 

The work towards reform always continues. I have been involved in police and criminal justice reform for almost 40 years and you never get to a final destination because the reality on the street changes, our nation evolves, and we must make sure that the systems evolve to actually be part of a system of justice. 

When I met with some African American leaders earlier this week, one of the ministers I talked to said when he saw the death of Mr. Floyd, and the four officers who were involved, it reminded him of the American systems. There was one system that intentionally killed Mr. Floyd, two who held him down, and another who just turned away. We have to change that. We have to change it on our hearts, our attitudes, in our actions, and our systems.

So, what happens next? 

First, I want to be clear that it is existing policy in the Seattle Police Department and will continue to be policy that any allegation of all misconduct will be investigated by a civilian-led, independent Office of Police Accountability. 

OPA has received more 12,000 reports thus far since the beginning of these protests. Our accountability system – both OPA and OIG – will be tested and there could never be a more important moment that they have the resources and confidence of the public, so as I said, we will make sure that in the budget OPA and OIG have the resources they need to do the job they need to do to give the public the confidence that the oversight is there. 

Second, the Office of the Inspector General plays a critical role to recommending systemic changes. OPA looks at individual actions and OIG looks at systemic changes. It’s an incredibly important thing to do on an ongoing basis. In many ways, the OIG is stepping into the shoes that the court monitor has played – to be a watchdog, to investigate, to audit, to make sure that the systems are functioning like they should, and if there needs to be systemic changes, those recommendations can be made.   OID will conduct a phased review of Seattle Police Department’s tactics during the demonstrations.  This audit will have community input and available to the public in full once available.  

Third, I got a question from one of the reporters – Steve Militech from the Seattle Times – who asked whether there was a way to bring the together SPOG and the CPC and community together to build more reconciliation between officers and community, and I do think there is a way to do that. We need to have those kinds of meaningful conversations and have a reconciliation process between officers and community. I’ve reached out to those groups to see how best we can do that going forward.   

Fourth, I also believe that we must continue working to address the racial disparities highlighted in the disparity reports by SPD.  Chief Best is the one who brought to me at the very beginning of my being Mayor and said one of the things she was concerned about was making sure that as we did these investigations we not lose sight of the very important impacts that racial disparities can make on policing and building public confidence.

We have those reports, but that’s just the beginning. It’s what we do with that information and the steps we take going forward to determine what are the causes and reasons for those, how do we build the system better so that disparities don’t exist. There’s no system in America where there are not any disparities, but we have to be unflinching in our willingness to look at our department. 

I will say that we will continue to monitor all of the activities as they go, and the Chief, in real time, is trying to make sure we are both supporting peaceful protests and the right to exercise First Amendments rights, while at the same time ensuring public safety. Saturday night showed how those two things can sometime work in opposition to each other, and we had two very different types of events going on, almost simultaneously within blocks of each other. Thousands of people in downtown Seattle coming not just to protest the death of Mr. Floyd, but the treatment of people of color, particularly Black Americans over generations, and to demand that it stop. 

They protested, they talked, they spoke, they grieved, they shared their common trauma and experience, and they marched to the courthouse. There was no confrontation. 

Almost simultaneously, many other people came in who had a very different intent on their mind, and we saw the impacts of that. Policing in a very confined place with those two very different realities going on was a reality for the police department and very fluid, and they will have to adjust every day based on the circumstances in front of them. 

But I am committed and the chief is committed to make sure we do all we can to make sure people can march peacefully, that we avoid any criminal activity, but we also do what we can at the Police Department and at the City to ensure that things are de-escalated if possible.  

Fifth, the City is looking for better ways to incorporate accountability, reform, and restorative justice into non-bargaining elements of the SPOG contract, but can be done in a process together. We know we have a contract that expires. We’ve told the court that there are four areas we want to make sure we focus on related to accountability. 

The Council and the Mayor together decide parameters for those negotiations, but it’s clear from what’s happening in the streets that we need to listen to those voices more, and we need people to understand what works now and listen to them on what others changes are necessary. So we will set up a process where we can actively engage community in a better, more fundamental way to have them feel ownership of their police department.   

I have heard loud voices in the streets talking about the need for change, but I’ve heard many, many voices also telling me again how much they support the men and women of the Seattle Police Department and how when the dial 9-1-1 they are thankful that SPD or SFD shows up when they are needed and helps them.  We can be proud of that as a city, but being proud of their work does not mean that we don’t also acknowledge we can always be better and address concerns people have, and address community trust. 

Fundamentally, we need to answer the question of how we can be better.  

How do we do that in this context. How do we take the energy from the righteous message we hear on the street and transfer that energy into change that is durable and systemic and brings us all to a better place. voices raised in this last week, and funnel it into actual, demonstrable change in the government. 

I have worked, as I have said, in police and criminal justice reform issues for almost 40 years, from the sentencing guidelines commissions, to trying to get alternatives to incarceration for people convicted of drug use, to setting up drug courts, to setting up independent civilian oversight in the OPA, and finally as US Attorney doing the investigation and negotiating the consent decree, I am fully and 100 percent committed to making sure we have a police force that acts as a community protector and guardian, and again I think we have seen officers act with a great deal of grace. But we’ve also seen ways we can be better, and both of those things can be true at the same time. 

There is not going to be anyone more demanding of police accountability and a strong police department, or showing the police respect than our Chief Carmen Best.  She knows as I know that true public safety at the end of the day doesn’t come from a police force. It comes from true equality, true equity, and true respect and dignity. The best public safety is equal access to health care, education, economic justice, knowing that you and your family will not only be safe, but have a shot at anything you want. 

That’s what I’ve worked for in two years as mayor. I will double down to work for it harder, and I know we must continue to listen to the voices on the street. 

I served on the sentencing guidelines review board as a criminal defense attorney, and fought for alternatives to incarceration for drug use.   

I served as the first civilian observer to review use of force incidents by the Seattle Police Department, and on a number of oversight groups including one that lead to the creation of the independent civilian oversight, OPA.  

Ten years ago as US Attorney, I investigated SPD for the unconstitutional use of force that lead to the Consent Decree,  

I continue to believe in the need to reform a system to adapt to the truths of a community.

When people are demanding more police accountability, we must answer.

It is the only way to retain legitimacy and trust, needed to preserve the peace of a community.

For true public safety comes not from a police force, but from true equality, true equity and true respect and dignity.

Thank you.