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Content Warning: This post links to an historical newspaper article that uses the term “homosexuals,” which is an outdated term used to characterize gay people as having a psychological disorder.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

A History of Seattle Police: Part 1, Accountability

Recent events have again highlighted long standing discussions on public safety, the appropriate use of force, the goals and mission of police forces, and accountability to the public, among related topics. In Seattle, how have these conversations changed over time, and what lessons might we find in the past to provide direction and shape public policy in the future?

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. In this series we will look more closely at Seattle’s history to see how it impacts us today. First, we will look at how two events in 1965 anticipate in many ways the current conversation on police review boards and greater accountability to the public. (In our next post, we will look at the controversy surrounding the creation and siting of the East Precinct, and our final post will review events in the 1980s and 1990s.)

Content Warning: This post and the linked historical articles contain mentions of racial trauma, violence against Black bodies, and racial slurs that can be disturbing.

​1965: Accountability by Whom, to Whom?

Attempts to call for an independent police review board in Seattle began as early as 1955​, particularly in response to that year’s Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Police Practices which found that the “…Seattle Police Department — like the white community — held essentially racist attitudes about Black citizens, frequently stereotyping them as ‘criminal types.'” Despite the report, requests for an independent police board were denied, and instead only sensitivity training for police was recommended.

Seattle Daily Times January 23, 1965

Formal attempts to create a police review board can be traced back to a request by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in November, 1964 for a hearing on the creation of a police review board. Recently, the Seattle Municipal Archives has made audio, transcripts, minutes, and more from the meetings available digitally through their Seattle Voices online exhibition portal. Key figures, including the Reverend Samuel McKinney, testified. Continue reading “A History of Seattle Police: Part 1, Accountability”

#BookBingoNW2020: History or alternate history

“Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.” – Winston Churchill

One of the squares for adult bingo this year is History or Alternate History.   History is just one great big story told from different perspectives.  Also, since it’s so diverse the chances are high that you will find a story that you will enjoy. Here are a few that are available via ebook!

Chief Seattle and the Town That Took His Name: The Change of Worlds for the Native People and Settlers on Puget Sound  by David M.Buerge

An in-depth historical account of Chief Seattle, an advocate for peace and Native American rights, from the late 18th to mid-19th centuries.

The Queen: The Forgotten Life Behind An American Myth  by Josh Levin

Levin exposes the racist myth of the “welfare queen” through the life of Linda Taylor. “THE QUEEN tells, for the first time, the fascinating story of what was done to Linda Taylor, what she did to others, and what was done in her name.” (Little, Brown & Co) Continue reading “#BookBingoNW2020: History or alternate history”

Covid-19 Community Collection

Are you interested in helping the Library’s Special Collections Department document history? Please consider contributing to our new Covid-19 Community Collection!

We are asking you to tell us (and show us) how the events of the past few months have impacted you. We are looking for stories, photographs, signs, artwork, short videos and other materials that will help future generations learn what life was like in Seattle during this unique period in history. What has your daily life been like? What are ways you are staying connected with friends and family? What will you remember the most ten years from now?

Stories and materials submitted to the project through our online portal will be made available through the Special Collections Online website. We also welcome the donation of physical materials which can be mailed to the Special Collections Department. To learn more about how you can contribute to the project, please visit our Community Covid-19 Collection page online.

     ~ Posted by Jade D.

Trekking Through Time: Seattle Historic Postcard Collection

Many of us walk the same paths and commute by the same route, paying less attention with every trip. During Stay Home, Stay Safe many of us are slowing down, getting some fresh air in our neighborhoods, and noticing little details that can feel grounding. But with parks and trails closed, we can find even these new habits becoming familiar all too quickly.

Invite a new element into your daily stretch by discovering history on your own street. The Seattle Historic Postcard Collection is home to over 800 postcard images dating back to the late 1800’s. The snapshots capture the growth and transformation of many Seattle neighborhoods and landmarks. Search Lake Union to see the view from the Space Needle in 1962 looking out over a now unfamiliar skyline. See the World’s Fair Grounds that were designed and immortalized by renowned architect Minoru Yamasaki into the celebrated Pacific Science Center.

postcard showing view from Space Needle to Lake Union, 1962
Space Needle to Lake Union, 1962
postcard showing Pacific Science Center and Space Needle at night, 1965
Pacific Science Center and Space Needle at night, 1965

Continue reading “Trekking Through Time: Seattle Historic Postcard Collection”