Mayor Ed Murray is Seattle’s wartime President, leading the urban opposition to the exclusionary policies of Donald Trump. It’s a good look on him. Last week’s state of the city address was the speech of a lifetime.
Also last week, a cluster of homeless campers living under the viaduct around the corner from Real Change received a half-hour’s notice that all their belongings would become trash.
That’s just how the bureaucratic clean-up apparatus in this city rolls. Up to 10 areas of Seattle at a time — areas that shift according to city whim — now require no notice for campsite removal.
This is the sort of thing that makes my head resemble a watermelon blown to shit by an M-80.
When the Mayor recently updated city encampment removal protocols, he widened the definition of when the rules don’t apply and called that progress. While there are things to admire about Seattle as a city of innovation, this is not one of them.
We have a blind spot when it comes to the extension of full human rights.
Yes, Mayor Murray, let Seattle be a beacon of hope. Yes, let us protect the vulnerable from an authoritarian Trump regime at all costs. Yes, we can and must do more to solve homelessness. Yes, the feds are not going to help, and we are on our own.
And yes, we must recognize the basic human and property rights of the most poor.
That last part wasn’t in the Mayor’s speech.
KOMO news did a story recently on the ACLU lawsuit to extend constitutional protection to homeless campers. Their class action suit against the city argues that current policies violate both the property rights and due process of homeless campers. KOMO reported:
Melvin Christian has been living in a tent under the Alaskan Way Viaduct for a year and said he’s been the subject of two sweeps, one that came in the middle of a rain storm, without any notice.
“I was in tears,” said Christian. He said they took a photo album of his dead parents and he doesn’t know what happened to it.
“I want those photo albums of my dead parents, this is what motivates me every morning, to wake up and look at them in pictures,” said Christian, who came to Seattle from Memphis.
“I cried for like two weeks, two weeks, and right today it still hurts me.”
Mayor Murray describes Seattle as a tale of two cities, calling our growing numbers of unsheltered homeless “the other Seattle.” The one left out when one surveys the gleaming affluence of, say, tech-rich South Lake Union.
He describes Seattle as a city of amenities, loaded with shopping, culture and professional sports. A city of affluence, opportunity, innovation and low unemployment.
We are a crystal cathedral of upscale consumption.
Except in the secular church of Seattle, the free-market is God. And s/he hears mostly the prayers of those at median income and above.
The rest of us receive alms from the collection plate. And, for better or worse, the proposed new homeless levy passes the plate one more time, with an extra helping of liberal guilt.
Longtime Seattle journalist George Howland, who now writes the Outside City Hall blog, dubbed this “The Seattle Way” some 20 years ago.
Give business and corporations more or less what they want. Crack down on visible poverty to make Seattle more amenable to their vision of the affluent city. Fund human services through increased tax revenues and occasional corporate largess.
This strategy has, over the past three decades, failed to keep up. Incomes and housing prices are rising, and the most poor are brutally left behind.
The tow lots are filled with the RVs that were once their homes.
Our greenbelts are the site of an ongoing guerilla skirmish between the haves and the have-nots. The human dignity that is our essential right is largely denied to those living outside.
Seattle cannot play both sides of the game.
Either we believe in and support human rights that extend to each of us, or we do not.
It’s time for us to decide.
City and ACLU meet in court over encampment sweeps