“Seattle no longer feels the need to stop anyone from doing anything for any reason, at any time. The most stunning city in America is dying, all right.”
So begins “The Fight for the Soul of Seattle,” a 90-minute documentary produced by KOMO News, which for years has reported on Seattle’s pervasive drug problems and associated perils. The local news station, which premiered the feature last weekend, produced a similarly themed broadcast entitled “Seattle is Dying” last year that received more than 10 million views and several regional film awards.
Over the last 10 years, Seattle has experienced a dramatic increase in crime tied to rampant addiction and homelessness. For example, the Seattle Police Department reported a 50 percent increase in calls related to life-threatening emergencies, assault, and burglary, as well as an 80 percent increase in calls for domestic violence. In 2020 alone, the murder rate was double the average of the past decade.
Through investigative reporting that mixes in testimony from citizens, city officials, and even addicts, the film lays out its central thesis: There exists a “philosophical divide” when it comes to governing Seattle, with city leaders on one side and failed citizens on the other. Unless these politicians change course and shift from their misguided compassion to real solutions, these epidemics will escalate and ultimately destroy the Emerald City.
CHAZ: A Symbol of Seattle’s Decay
Perhaps the most significant demonstration of Seattle’s stark divide was in the city’s response to the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, also known as CHAZ or CHOP, a six-block stretch that was overtaken and declared independent by local activists amid this summer’s Black Lives Matter protests. In a move that garnered national attention, the City of Seattle instructed police to cede control of the area, which included a police precinct as well as homes, businesses, and citizens suddenly left to fend for themselves.
City officials outwardly touted the zone as a quaint block party where people sang around bonfires and distributed free kebabs. Mayor Jenny Durkan suggested CHAZ would bring about a “summer of love,” and city councilmembers cheered with celebratory selfies.
Those grounded in reality, however, recognized the truth: The zone bred lawlessness and violence. “In eight days, there were five shootings in the CHOP area, with six victims,” KOMO reported. “There was a rape and various assaults and beatings and buildings set on fire.”
Still, the city refused to step in until it was too late. On June 20, 19-year-old Lorenzo Anderson was shot and killed. Police couldn’t clear the area, and first responders were too late. A week later, 16-year-old Antonio Mays Jr. was killed. Police did not arrive until five hours after the shooting.
Even after the zone’s dissolution, violence and protests have continued largely unabated. In August, activists tried to cement shut a police precinct and set it ablaze with the express intent of trapping officers inside to die. Looting and rioting have all but destroyed the city’s retail core, contributing to the closures of more than 140 businesses, from big-name department stores such as Macy’s and Columbia to iconic local businesses such as Bergman Luggage and Zanadu comics.
The Failed ‘Compassion’ of City Leaders
How did Seattle get here? Look no further than the City Council, which has aided and abetted this rising criminality by crippling the Seattle Police Department. “The institution of policing itself must be dismantled,” Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda said during one meeting earlier this year. Councilmember Lorena Gonzales agreed, saying, “Now is the time to divest from the police department.”
True to their words, the council disbanded the SPD’s Navigation Team, which partnered with social workers to engage the homeless and clear the encampments that pervade the city. They later voted to slash the SPD budget by 20 percent, prompting layoffs and the resignation of Chief Carmen Best.
“The overriding goal is to impose social justice as opposed to criminal justice,” posits one Seattle judge in the film, and City Attorney Pete Holmes has led the charge. Since taking office in 2010, Holmes has adopted a policy of diversion, partnering with the Department of Public Defense to pressure Seattle’s judges into upholding a catch-and-release policy wherein repeat offenders are not sentenced or held accountable, but directed to social services or let go altogether.
Under Holmes’s direction, the city has effectively legalized stealing and has opted not to prosecute nearly all crimes that fall beneath a felony conviction. This “hands-off” approach sounds loving in theory, but in practice it has allowed many violent offenders, some with upwards of 75 convictions, to roam free.
Seattleites Have Been Hoodwinked
While Seattle is famously leftist, residents did not ask for this. Although elections are often a choice between far-left and even further left, nearly all major city leaders campaigned on a tough approach to crime and advocated for more police as recently as last year.
My district’s council representative, Dan Strauss, told the Seattle Times that he supported adding officers as well as establishing an entirely new precinct in North Seattle. Andrew Lewis, another councilmember, admitted during his campaign that “we don’t have the staffing numbers to have effective community policing strategies that deter the kinds of crimes of opportunity that are prolific.”
As soon as the political winds blew the other way, however, the council changed its tune. Councilwoman Lisa Herbold, for example, previously backed a plan to add 200 officers to the force, yet this year she pledged to defund police and most recently sponsored a proposal that would expand “duress” as a legal defense to include symptoms of addiction, mental illness, or poverty.
If passed, the measure would help a criminal evade conviction by simply blaming his or her crime on a drug problem or financial need, for example. As former public safety adviser, Scott Lindsay notes, “Over 100 different crimes listed under the Seattle municipal code would effectively be nullified,” including assaults, harassment, trespassing, and even cyberstalking and sexual exploitation.
Dear Seattle, It’s Time to Intervene
The events of this year have brought to the fore Seattle’s preeminent failing: It has mistaken nonintervention for compassion and has tolerated addiction, crime, and homelessness to the point of cruelty. As former addict Ginny Burton warns, leaving addicts unsupported and expecting them to make rational choices for themselves is its own form of insanity. “As a society,” she says, “we’re loving people to death.”
The documentary mentions a notoriously dangerous stretch of Third Avenue in downtown Seattle, which sees hundreds of assaults per year and has three times the crime reports of anywhere else in the city. For two years, I used a bus stop on this block for work, and every single day I witnessed a plethora of illegal activities: people dealing drugs, shooting up heroin, selling stolen goods, defecating on the sidewalk, and violently harassing passersby.
Several of my coworkers have been physically assaulted walking to work, and the Starbucks beneath our office is the victim of frequent theft and vandalism. One memorable afternoon, a group of us looked across the street to see two homeless people openly fornicating on a park bench, yet we didn’t even find it shocking. Why would we? These crimes are now ubiquitous in nearly all Seattle neighborhoods.
The fight for the soul of Seattle, it seems, is not between left and right, nor between the government and the people. It is between those who prefer to look away and those who see this crisis for what it is. Let’s hope the latter wins.