A History of Seattle Police: Part 2, East Precinct – Controversy from the Start

Content Warning: This post links to an historical newspaper article that uses the term “homosexuals,” which is an outdated term used to characterize gay people as having a psychological disorder.

In response to local interest on the history of policing in Seattle and community-driven police reform movements, Shelf Talk presents a three-part series that dives into historical resources on these topics. Part 1 examines police accountability starting with two events in 1965, Part 2 looks at controversy surrounding the creation and siting of the East Precinct, and Part 3 concludes with events in the 1980s and 1990s.

From proposal to opening, the creation of the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct took nine years and cost approximately $3.6 million. From the outset, community organizations, leaders, and citizens from the Black community, and later the gay community, resisted various proposals for siting the precinct within the Central District neighborhood.

At a special meeting of the City Council on July 27, 1977, a brief discussion of a bond proposal for police precinct stations took place. The issue appeared on the ballot September 20, 1977, and passed 73,745 to 37,258. Council President Sam Smith, the first Black City of Seattle council member, shared his views:

I understand Mr. Hill’s language, but perhaps Mr. Hill has not lived in the Central community, made a call for police and waited 45 minutes to get a response. By the same token, perhaps Mr. Hill has not lived in the community where that community was inflamed at the Police Department, and you had to literally throw yourself in between them to try to get them on speaking terms.

The people in the Central community pay the tax that supports the north and the south precinct and I think that they are quite willing to pay the tax to support that third precinct because the whole structure of government is moving towards neighborhood operations. Just this morning, I participated in the opening of an unemployment security office in Ballard, so that the people in that general northwest neighborhood where Mr. Hill lives would not have to come downtown to Taylor Avenue North but that they could go out in that neighborhood to get services. So the people of the Central community have long been denied, often promised, and it’s time for delivery.

You can listen to the entire Special Meeting of City Council, July 27, 1977 as a part of the Seattle Municipal Archives’ online exhibition, Seattle Voices.

23rd and Yesler
“…A black renaissance area…”

Although initially proposed to be located at 14th and Yesler, the City focused on 23rd and Yesler, near the Seattle Public Library’s Douglas-Truth branch (then named Yesler Branch). Isaiah Edwards, spokesman for the Coalition Against the Proposed East-Central Police Precinct Station, captured the sentiments of many: “The black people are incensed at the thought of bringing the station into a black renaissance area–like Laurelhurst or Windermere would be to the whites,” noting the educational complex, library branch, children’s clinic, and two training centers all within a block of the proposed site. Responding to the implication that crime was an issue in the neighborhood, Edwards responded: “It isn’t; the rate of crime in the central region is less than the rest of the city.” (“Site of Police Station OpposedSeattle Daily Times, 27 May 1979, p. 144.)

Despite the persistent and growing community opposition, the city continued with planning for the precinct at 23rd and Yesler. On July 29, 1981, a group of activists occupied an abandoned fourplex where the precinct was to be developed. Representing several groups, including the Coalition Against The Police Precinct, the National Black United Front, Mujer Housing Project, the Local Action Focus of the Peoples Anti-War Mobilization, and the Central Area Housing Alliance, they called for affordable housing instead. After breaking down the barriers, they mowed the lawn, cut brambles, and painted the trim. They indicated they would seek tenants from the city’s long wait lists for low-income housing. (“Protesters Take Over Site for Police StationSeattle Daily Times, Sports Final ed., 30 July 1981, p. 16.)

Finally, the city relented, formally abandoning the 23rd and Yesler site in April, 1984. (“Panel Abandons Central Area Precinct SiteSeattle Daily Times, PM ed., 14 Apr. 1982, p. 9.)

12th and East Pine
“It ain’t gonna make ’em come no quicker. But why do they need to build it? Instead they should give the money to poor folks.”

The next site proposed, and ultimately built, was 12th and East Pine. It too was met with community resistance, albeit underlined by begrudging acceptance of the inevitable. Chibby Lagmay, then 19 and a resident on Capitol Hill shared, “It doesn’t seem necessary. It’s seems weird for Capitol Hill. There’s not much crime here.” (“A Police Station at 12th and E. Pine?Seattle Daily Times, Final ed., 18 Jan. 1983, p. 12. )

The Greater Seattle Business Association, which represented businesses that catered to the gay community expressed concern that the precinct at 12th and East Pine would have a chilling effect on the community. After meeting with police organizers, the Greater Seattle Business Association was “given assurances they were aware of our concerns.” Oscar Jordan perhaps summarized the neighborhood views best: “It’s more expenses and they don’t need it. The Public Safety Building is adequate. But it won’t bother me none, as long as they (the police) don’t come in here and wreck the atmosphere.” (Ibid.)

The East Precinct at 12th and East Pine opened January 25, 1986.

~posted by Joe B.

If you missed Part 1 of this series, you can read it here: A History of Seattle Police: Part 1, Accountability.

Three on a Theme: Animal Comics

Animals often figure prominently in comic strips and graphic novels, but the ways in which they are represented and the roles they play in telling a story vary greatly across genres and the works of different authors. Often, animals in the comics genre exist mainly for comedic relief, representing cartoon caricatures or anthropomorphisms that tell us more about human beings than they do about the animal they are representing. Here are three graphic novels where animals are represented in a different way – as narrators, protagonists, or silent companions.

The Rabbi’s Cat by Jonathan Sfar
This is a gorgeous tail about humanity, religion, and… cathood… that takes place in 1930s Algeria and is imbued with a healthy dose of magical realism. The protagonist is a cat belonging to the daughter of a rabbi, who accidentally acquires the power of speech after eating a parrot. Now able to communicate with humans, the cat asks the rabbi for an education and to begin practicing Judaism, sparking a theological debate about whether or not a cat can be Jewish. This novel is beautifully illustrated, with bright colors, warm landscapes, and lively, dynamic characters (both human and non-human alike). The story deftly explores themes of what it means to have a religion, what it means to have a friend, and what it means to coexist in relationship with others. Continue reading “Three on a Theme: Animal Comics”

The Story of Film Part 14: New American Independents & The Digital Revolution

Throughout The Story of Film, we’ve seen how the advent of new technology has changed the face of cinema. Sound, color, and widescreen technology altered filmmaking significantly, and in the 1990s CGI (computer generated imagery) changed cinema again. Suddenly, it seemed anything a filmmaker wanted to show, could be. A vast Roman city, one costing thousands of dollars to build, could be created digitally at a fraction of the expense (Gladiator). A shape shifting, liquid metal villain could now seamlessly interact with living actors (Terminator 2). Dinosaurs, previously visualized using stop-motion, could amaze and endanger characters on screen for less time and effort (Jurassic Park). Yet the stories being told were old ones and their characters were stock archetypes, propped up by technology that delivered spectacle but no new content.

Continue reading “The Story of Film Part 14: New American Independents & The Digital Revolution”

Three on a Theme: Films About Elections

With the 2020 elections on the horizon and dominating the news cycle, it is a great time to engage with media that focus on various aspects of electoral politics. Here are three documentary films, available for free with your library card to stream on Kanopy, that tell specific lesser-known election stories from the United States and from outside of it. Whether you are looking to be inspired, entertained, or simply learn something new about political history, these documentaries will hopefully get you in the right mood to vote this November.

Nat Bates for Mayor
This documentary video project, focusing as per its subtitle on “corporate influence on local politics,” focuses on the
2014 mayoral race in Richmond, CA, which was an insane political invent featuring more than $3 million dollars of corporate investment from an oil company, intense fights over gentrification and racial politics, and angry white environmentalists. The movie also features some crazy political characters that make it both an entertaining experience and an informative look at a race which sat at the eye of a storm of intersecting political and social issues. A little over an hour long, it is not too time consuming and definitely leaves the audience with some great questions about morality and truth in the “game” of electoral politics. Continue reading “Three on a Theme: Films About Elections”

Three on a Theme: Disability Justice

2020 is an important year for disability rights in America, as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) turned 30 years old this July. This landmark piece of legislation was the result of the hard work of activists in the disability justice movement, which is still in progress today. Here are some SPL resources from disabled artists and activists that can provide a great introduction to the theory, expression, and ongoing work that represents the history and practice of disability justice movement.

Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
Care Work is an essay collection published in 2018 by prolific poet, essayist, activist, and educator Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. It is an intersectional look at the ways that people who experience multiple systems of oppression (disabled people who also identify as Black, Indigenous, People of Color, queer, trans, or who are otherwise marginalized) work together to build community mutual aid networks through what Lakshmi calls care work, or the work of caring for one another as an act of resistance. These are beautiful essays that speak to Lakshmi’s individual experience as a disabled queer femme person of color, while examining the ways that other activists, artists, and other community members have worked together to build care networks as a means of enacting disability justice. Continue reading “Three on a Theme: Disability Justice”