Block the Bunker! Historic Victory Against Police Boondoggle in Seattle

In Seattle, an historic struggle has defeated plans to build a $160 million dollar police station, the most expensive in the country. Supporting it were the vast majority of Seattle’s political leadership including seven out of eight City Council members and the Mayor, all Democrats. Opposing it were Black Lives Matter activists, Socialist Alternative and Council member Kshama Sawant, and a fast growing network of outraged activists and citizens. And to the surprise of even some of those opponents, they prevailed, forcing the proposal to be killed in its present form.

The “bunker,” as it came to be called, would have been built in a traditionally underserved North Seattle neighborhood, – many streets don’t even have sidewalks. It’s far from the downtown core that has seen massive development of glittering high-end rentals and million dollar homes. It’s home to struggling small businesses clustered along both sides of Aurora Ave; mostly bars, ethnic restaurants, pawn shops, pot shops, used car lots, and gas stations. It’s also home to petty crime, including prostitution, low level drug dealing, and the occasional automobile break-in. Containing a significant share of the city’s homeless and other at risk populations, it has suffered for years from City Council neglect.

And also for years, the police and small business owners have shared a wet dream of a new police station located in the heart of that district. Buying the argument that a massive show of force would somehow turn the area into an upscale retail Disneyland, a coalition involving Mayor Murray and Council members Burgess, Gonzales, and Juarez (whose district it was in) worked to get it into the city budget. The police for their part figured they could use the fact that they were under Justice Department supervision to claim they needed it for the mandated so-called “de-escalation training.” And so the proposal surfaced in the City Council, a building designed as bomb-proof and bullet-proof, with a brand new gun range, and a training facility big enough to contain all the spiffy military equipment from the years of generosity by the Department of Defense,. Despite the brand new District style elections, which were supposed to produce a more diverse and progressive City Council, a large majority of Council members couldn’t even wait for the regular budget session to show the boys in blue, er, black, their deep love by giving the proposal the thumbs up. Of course, the fact that the one Council member sure to oppose it, socialist Kshama Sawant, was conveniently out of town certainly whetted their appetite to ram the project through before anyone could object. No such luck, as BLM activists, white progressives, and even the conservative media went ballistic over a number of features.

The eye popping cost, originally pegged at $160 Million, was the opening objection, as it would have been the most expensive precinct in the country. Mayor Murray finagled a plan to shave off $11 million by selling some public real estate, but that did little to mollify opponents. Then the features of the building started attracting attention. Bomb proof? Bullet proof? Were we under impending attack by ISIS? Or was the dreaded northwest anarchist community that shows up on May Day going to march up Aroura Ave and mount a frontal assault on the precinct? Those features alone allowed opponents to label it “the bunker” a moniker that stuck no matter how many times City Council members tried to claim otherwise. As for the gun range, last time anyone checked, the problem with shootings by police wasn’t accuracy. Maybe that’s because in every heinous instance, in writing or captured on video, police empty their clip into some unarmed black person at virtually point blank range. And finally, with a homeless population large enough to provoke a state of emergency at the city and county level, skyrocketing rental costs as affordable housing disappeared from city neighborhoods, massive new investments needed in mass transit for our clogged potholed streets, people figured there were higher priorities than a swanky new Fort Apache.

Beyond these features were issues more fundamental to the role of the police. BLM activists at City Council meetings pointed out over and over that in neighborhoods like North Seattle the police served as an oppressive force – “descended from slavecatchers” and a new station could have only one result, the occupation of the neighborhood, expressed through harassing and arresting its population, especially youth and minorities. This made it hard to sell the idea that the police, under supervision by the Justice Department for practicing exactly that kind of policing, deserved the facility.

But an even deeper issue was the justification for the station to begin. Does arresting any amount of hapless drug addicts, prostitutes, and cat burglars bring a neighborhood prosperity? What have the hundreds of anti-crime measure produced but a giant prison-industrial complex with the highest incarceration levels of incarceration in the world? And one racially stacked against blacks, especially young black males, who are six times more likely to be arrested in Seattle than white youth. Yet no amount of arrests have produced healthier communities, or do anything but insure crowded jails and ruined lives. If the Council is so concerned with paying for something that benefits the North end neighborhood, they could start with sidewalks. Not to mention funding for more drug treatment programs, or some realistic plan for economic development or affordable housing.

As the Council reviewed and discussed the proposal over four meetings, opposition built, as the crowds against the new facility grew from originally about 50 to over 400. Yet at the last meeting, the City Council decided to pass a resolution approving the project, totally ignoring the testimony of the many people who sacrificed part of their working day to oppose the jail. In a cynical move to limit testimony, the Council tried to keep over 200 activists in an overflow room at the final meeting. The crowd would have none of it, and stormed the Council chambers, whereupon the Council fled until the President of the Council caved to the crowd’s demand that all be allowed to attend and testify.   Still ignoring the community’s wishes, seven out of the eight present council members voted to support the project, though they did throw up a smokescreen by dropping the actual funding figure.

The police had complained the existing facility was decrepit, crowded and prone to flooding. As soon as Council member Sawant returned, she called them on that claim, and organized a tour of the current station. Police lies were exposed, as it was discovered that the only flood was almost two decades ago when pumps were installed to prevent any reoccurrence. The overcrowding myth was also exposed, as it turned out there were 1400 sq. ft. of rental space already being used next door, and the given figure of 200 officers needing space shrank to 80/shift. As for decrepit, it is, like many city facilities, in decent shape considering its age.

The tour also provided some moments of unintentional humor as activists questioned other aspects of the facilities. There were the duffle bags full of riot gear issued to all officers, which police claimed were almost never used, contradicting what any activist attending a demonstration since the WTO experiences with their own eyes. And then there were the new hulking SUV squad cars, which were supposedly picked with “detainee comfort” in mind.

After the meeting and the tour, the fervor did not die down. The Mayor tried to attend various events, including a neighborhood tour, and talk about “priorities.” It was an unfortunate tag line, as both BLM activists and Sawant’s staff during the events challenged why the station was a priority at all. The inability to appear in public without being challenged just as the Mayor was starting his 2017 re-election campaign, proved to be the last straw. A joint news conference was called by the Mayor, and Council members Burgess, Gonzales and Juarez to explain that they were “delaying” the project, and looking carefully at the cost and design. In fact, the proposal is dead for the 2016 funding cycle, and will likely never come back in any similar form.

What this confrontation has brought about is a direct challenge to the authority of the City Council and the police force itself. The City Council meeting the following Monday was again undone by BLM activists, who carried out a combination of guerilla theater and spirited denunciation of the City Council and the police until once again the Council fled the room. This simply promises to not only continue but widen. In fact, both the issue of building a new youth jail and the hiring of 200 more police officers, supposedly done deals, are back on the agenda. And Sawant is leading a move towards re-directing much of the $160 M towards low-income affordable housing, a perennial demand in a city with skyrocketing rents. An upcoming town hall she is organizing to get that into the budget promises to be well attended.

It should be noted that the opposition to the station showed both strengths and weaknesses. On the one hand, there were certainly efforts to widen the number of activists involved, and it payed off in both the widening circle of opponents at the Council meetings, and the fact that even the mainstream media felt forced to oppose it on the basis of cost. The last meeting shocked council members, new and old, who had never in their lives been confronted like that.

On the other hand, the continuing effect of identity politics showed in the difficulty with building stable alliances outside the initial milieu of BLM activists and supporters. The struggle had a tendency to be posed in strictly racial terms, disregarding class and other issues. There was a distrust expressed towards potential allies, including SA and Sawant, from some of the BLM activists. An emphasis on movement building by having a broad coalition was met by some activists wanting to work only with organizations that have met some ideal antiracist litmus test.

Yet in the main, this was an important victory, and one that will echo through upcoming efforts to both control the police and produce a budget centered more on human needs, rather than building future infrastructure for oppressing communities.

More articles by:


June 18, 2019
John McMurtry
Koch-Oil Big Lies and Ecocide Writ Large in Canada
Robert Fisk
Trump’s Evidence About Iran is “Dodgy” at Best
Yoav Litvin
Catch 2020 – Trump’s Authoritarian Endgame
Thomas Knapp
Opposition Research: It’s Not Trump’s Fault That Politics is a “Dirty” Game
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
U.S. Sanctions: Economic Sabotage that is Deadly, Illegal and Ineffective
Gary Leupp
Marx and Walking Zen
Thomas Hon Wing Polin
Color Revolution In Hong Kong: Usa Vs. China
Howard Lisnoff
The False Prophets Cometh
Michael T. Klare
Bolton Wants to Fight Iran, But the Pentagon Has Its Sights on China
Steve Early
The Global Movement Against Gentrification
Dean Baker
The Wall Street Journal Doesn’t Like Rent Control
Tom Engelhardt
If Trump’s the Symptom, Then What’s the Disease?
June 17, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
The Dark Side of Brexit: Britain’s Ethnic Minorities Are Facing More and More Violence
Linn Washington Jr.
Remember the Vincennes? The US’s Long History of Provoking Iran
Geoff Dutton
Where the Wild Things Were: Abbey’s Road Revisited
Nick Licata
Did a Coverup of Who Caused Flint Michigan’s Contaminated Water Continue During Its Investigation? 
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange and the Scales of Justice: Exceptions, Extraditions and Politics
John Feffer
Democracy Faces a Global Crisis
Louisa Willcox
Revamping Grizzly Bear Recovery
Stephen Cooper
“Wheel! Of! Fortune!” (A Vegas Story)
Daniel Warner
Let Us Laugh Together, On Principle
Brian Cloughley
Trump Washington Detests the Belt and Road Initiative
Weekend Edition
June 14, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Trump’s Trade Threats are Really Cold War 2.0
Bruce E. Levine
Tom Paine, Christianity, and Modern Psychiatry
Jason Hirthler
Mainstream 101: Supporting Imperialism, Suppressing Socialism
T.J. Coles
How Much Do Humans Pollute? A Breakdown of Industrial, Vehicular and Household C02 Emissions
Andrew Levine
Whither The Trump Paradox?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: In the Land of 10,000 Talkers, All With Broken Tongues
Pete Dolack
Look to U.S. Executive Suites, Not Beijing, For Why Production is Moved
Paul Street
It Can’t Happen Here: From Buzz Windrip and Doremus Jessup to Donald Trump and MSNBC
Rob Urie
Capitalism Versus Democracy
Richard Moser
The Climate Counter-Offensive: Secrecy, Deception and Disarming the Green New Deal
Naman Habtom-Desta
Up in the Air: the Fallacy of Aerial Campaigns
Ramzy Baroud
Kushner as a Colonial Administrator: Let’s Talk About the ‘Israeli Model’
Mark Hand
Residents of Toxic W.Va. Town Keep Hope Alive
John Kendall Hawkins
Alias Anything You Please: a Lifetime of Dylan
Linn Washington Jr.
Bigots in Blue: Philadelphia Police Department is a Home For Hate
David Macaray
UAW Faces Its Moment of Truth
Brian Cloughley
Trump’s Washington Detests the Belt and Road Initiative
Horace G. Campbell
Edward Seaga and the Institutionalization of Thuggery, Violence and Dehumanization in Jamaica
Graham Peebles
Zero Waste: The Global Plastics Crisis
Michael Schwalbe
Oppose Inequality, Not Cops
Ron Jacobs
Scott Noble’s History of Resistance
Olivia Alperstein
The Climate Crisis is Also a Health Emergency
David Rosen
Time to Break Up the 21st Century Tech Trusts