On a sunny day in late March, a Real Change vendor was hit by a car while riding his bicycle in SODO. The driver attempted to flee the scene until another car cut him off after witnessing the assault. The vendor, having flown over the top of the vehicle he was struck by, suffered multiple broken ribs and later had to be escorted to an emergency hip surgery. Witnesses and, later, the driver’s insurance company all indicated that the driver was at-fault. What happened next is one of countless detrimental encounters we hear at Real Change between our vendors and police.
When officers arrive at the scene, our vendor is on the ground, crying in agony while being treated by medics, with his Real Change badge and papers scattered around him. According to witnesses and body camera footage, not once is our vendor addressed by the police for his account of the events. Instead, the officers take one look at his belongings and profile him as homeless. This sets off a chain of virulently classist remarks and behavior towards him. Our vendor is written a ticket for not wearing a helmet, and the officer begins insinuating that the bike must have been stolen, gesturing again to the vendor and his scattered belongings. After attempting to charge the vendor with possession of stolen property, they leave and talk to an employee at one of the stores on the street. The employee and store manager offer up video footage of the incident while the officers laugh to themselves about wanting to watch it, as if it’s a cartoon or movie. At the end of this incident, the driver who struck our vendor is sent home without any repercussions from the Seattle Police Department officers, who wish him a safe trip home.
Defunding police is a priority of the advocacy department because we know it is a priority for our vendors. At Real Change, we understand that the police do not prevent harm from happening; in fact, they are often the perpetrators of harm, cherry-picking who they decide deserves protection and service. Often, our vendors do not fall into this category and are instead scapegoated, ridiculed or bullied by the very people who are supposed to help them.
SPD’s callous disregard for human life, especially towards those who are unsheltered and/or low-income, is not new. However, there is now an opportunity for true justice for our vendors in the Defund SPD movement led by Decriminalize Seattle, King County Equity Now and the hundreds of other Black-, Indigenous- and people-of-color-led organizations and coalitions across the country that are rising up in the midst of the most recent police killings — the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and Ahmaud Arbery.
We are past the point of reform. Our police department has been under a federal consent decree since 2012. We don’t need the police to go through more trainings or awareness campaigns (note that the police who killed Charleena Lyles were trained in de-escalation). The model of policing is rotten to its core. One of the social roles that the police play is to protect private property, and this focus is clearly illustrated in the horrific experience that our vendor had to endure. The police were more concerned with the driver’s car and the legitimacy of the bike than with a hurt person’s physical state. Trainings and awareness campaigns have not changed these deep-seated biases and attitudes toward the population we serve. The hundreds of millions of dollars spent on policing can and should be put to better use. Which is why we support the demand to defund SPD by at least 50 percent.
We believe that true frameworks of justice must come from those who are most impacted by these systems of oppression. We work and build relationships directly with those who are experiencing the intersections of housing insecurity, racism, sexism and more. We know it is our responsibility to center our vendors’ experiences in the policies we advocate for, and that’s why we will be strongly supporting the lead of Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now in this upcoming Seattle fall budget cycle.
Read more in the Aug. 26 - Sept. 1, 2020 issue.