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Content Warning: This post links to an historical newspaper article that uses the term “homosexuals,” which is an outdated term used to characterize gay people as having a psychological disorder.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

Write into Fall!

Seattle Writes returns this Fall-virtually! We will be offering a slate of live two-hour classes, short video lectures, and Write with Hugo House writing circles. Read on to find out more, or go directly to our Seattle Writes event calendar for more details!

Attend Online Writing Classes

Seasoned writers are sharing their knowledge and skill through our online classes. This year you can explore writing and learn about the South Asian poetic form of ghazals with Shankar Narayan. Have a novel experience. Take all or some of Karen Finneyfrock’s four sessions on novel writing. Get personal with Laura Da’ by creating poems of memory and place. With Sonora Jha you can discover or uncover what you have to say by writing a personal essay. Register through Seattle Public Library (coming soon!).

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Celebrating 30 Years of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): The ADA Anniversary Movie Project

Photo of IsaacHello, my name is Isaac. I have worked for the Seattle Public Library for about a year now and I have come to appreciate a lot of what the Library has to offer. I have been recently helping the Library with the ADA anniversary movie project and I would have to say there is a lot I learned about working on the project. A good amount of it is looking up movies for the ADA event and shaving the movie list by narrowing down the number of movies. Growing up with autistic Asperger’s, I have always loved to read despite the challenges. I would never have imagined though that one day I would be working for the Library in downtown Seattle; what a joy and privilege.

Cover image for Letters to Father JacobLetters to Father Jacob

This is a movie that is about redemption and grace. A seemingly clueless blind priest and a cold former murder convict realize that there is more in common between them than they think.

 

Cover image for Mozart and the WhaleMozart and the Whale

Two non-stereotypical individuals with autism fall in love in this wonderful yet unusual movie. The girl in the movie has been through a deep life that we do not usually associate with special needs people.

 

Cover image for GiftedGifted

Gifted is about a gentleman who adopts his niece after her mother passes away. When the niece is found to have high knowledge and her controlling grandmother tries to take advantage of it, the main character must try to make things right.

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In Case You Missed It: Juneteenth Book Fest

The beauty of our present moment where more of our lives are convening on screens is that you can catch more author events and panels than ever before. On Juneteenth this year an incredible array of Black authors for readers of all ages met as a part of the Juneteenth Book Fest to discuss their writing, publishing, readers, the state of the world, and how important it is to celebrate and uplift Black voices in books.

The Juneteenth Book Fest offered a full day of panels featuring Black authors and their stories. You can find the full series here, but here are some highlights:

 

The “Capturing the Moment: What it Means to Write Black Stories Right Now” panel features authors Tiffany D. Jackson, Angie Thomas, Bethany C. Morrow, and L.L. McKinney, moderated by Julian Winters, “discuss what it means to write Black stories in this moment, during this movement, for change.”

The “Black Love: Writing Black Romance” panel with Alyssa Cole, Rebekah Weatherspoon, Beverly Jenkins, and Farrah Rochon is a delight! They share insights on traditional publishing versus self-publishing, the challenges Black romance writers face, and the joys of writing Black love stories. Oh, and Beverly Jenkins starts smoking and singing the praises of speculative fiction towards the end!

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#BookBingoNW2020: A SAL Author (past or upcoming)

You may be pleasantly surprised by just how many options there are to read a Seattle Arts & Lectures (SAL) author. SAL has been bringing writers to Seattle for over thirty years (here is the complete list), so there are literally hundreds of options. Or check out this amazing list of SAL Speaker titles available for immediate download from your library.

Here are some past SAL speakers who not only have books available for in our catalog, but – for all of you who miss attending literary events – whose podcast appearances at the Library can also be enjoyed right away:

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