Week in Review: September 22, 2023 - with Ashley Nerbovig

Week in Review: September 22, 2023 - with Ashley Nerbovig

On this week-in-review, Crystal is joined by staff writer at The Stranger covering policing, incarceration and courts, Ashley Nerbovig!

Ashley and Crystal discuss (and rant!) about continued and international outrage over Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) leaders caught on body cam laughing about a fellow Seattle Police Department (SPD) officer running over and killing Jaahnavi Kandula - how the SPOG contract makes it near impossible to discipline or fire officers, Mayor Bruce Harrell’s responsibility in creating the mess by voting for the contract as a City councilmember and in possibly getting us out of it by delivering a better one from the current negotiations, and how our recruiting problem is a culture problem in a competitive marketplace.

The show then covers passage of the War on Drugs 2.0 bill by Seattle City Council, the start of the trial for three Tacoma officers accused of murdering Manny Ellis, and a rally held by Seattle City employees for fair pay.

About the Guest

Ashley Nerbovig

Ashley Nerbovig is staff writer at The Stranger covering policing, incarceration and courts.

Find Ashley Nerbovig on Twitter/X at @AshleyNerbovig.


Tanya Woo, Candidate for Seattle City Council District 2” from Hacks & Wonks

Tammy Morales, Candidate for Seattle City Council District 2” from Hacks & Wonks

Seattle Police Officer Probably Won’t Get Fired for Laughing about Jaahnavi Kandula’s Death” by Ashley Nerbovig from The Stranger

Police response time to Wing Luke Museum 911 calls raises questions about priorities” by Libby Denkmann and Sarah Leibovitz from KUOW

Seattle Police Officer Hurls Racist Slur at Chinese-American Neighbor” by Ashley Nerbovig from The Stranger

‘Feel safer yet?’ Seattle police union’s contempt keeps showing through” by Danny Westneat from The Seattle Times

Amid SPD controversy, Mayor Harrell leads with empathy” from Seattle Times Editorial Board

Seattle Launches Drug War 2.0” by Ashley Nerbovig from The Stranger

Council Passes New Law Empowering City Attorney to Prosecute People Who Use Drugs in Public” by Erica C. Barnett from PubliCola

@daeshikjr on Twitter: “BREAKING: Seattle City Councilmembers revived a recently voted down bill that many community activists are calling War on Drugs 2.0. We spoke with Sara on her campaign trail about her experience with drugs, mushrooms, and what she hoped to accomplish while in office. …

Trial begins for Tacoma officers charged with killing Manuel Ellis” by Jared Brown from KNKX

Trial of 3 Tacoma police officers accused of killing Manuel Ellis in 2020 gets underway” by Peter Talbot from The News Tribune

Historic trial begins for 3 officers charged in killing of Manny Ellis” by Patrick Malone from The Seattle Times

@tacoma_action on Twitter: “Here's how you can support the family of Manuel Ellis during the trial…

Trial Information for State v. Burbank, Collins and Rankine | Pierce County Courts & Law

City Workers Rally Their Asses Off” by Hannah Krieg from The Stranger

Find stories that Crystal is reading here

Listen on your favorite podcast app to all our episodes here


[00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington state through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Tuesday topical show and our Friday week-in-review delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, the most helpful thing you can do is leave a review wherever you listen to Hacks & Wonks. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes.

If you missed this week's topical shows, we continued our series of Seattle City Council candidate interviews. All 14 candidates for 7 positions were invited and we had in-depth conversations with many of them. This week, we presented District 2 candidates, Tanya Woo and Tammy Morales. Have a listen to those and stay tuned over the coming weeks - we hope these interviews will help voters better understand who these candidates are and inform their choices for the November 7th general election. Today, we're continuing our Friday week-in-review shows where we review the news of the week with a co-host. Welcome to the program for the first time, today's co-host: staff writer at The Stranger covering policing, incarceration and courts - and rocking that coverage - Ashley Nerbovig. Hello.

[00:01:42] Ashley Nerbovig: Hey, Crystal - thanks. Hi.

[00:01:43] Crystal Fincher: Glad to have you on the show. We have no shortage of things to talk about and particularly this week where everything public safety was exploding, imploding, just all over the place. I want to start off talking about a story that is now making international headlines - the release of the video of an SPD officer, a SPOG executive, mocking the death of Jaahnavi Kandula, who was killed by another policeman while she was just a pedestrian just walking and run over by a policeman who - it didn't seem like he had his lights and sirens on, going over 70 miles per hour. Just such a tragedy in the first place, and then outrage was the dominant feeling nationally, internationally when that video came out. What is going to happen or what does it look like is going to happen? You wrote a great piece this week about that.

[00:02:42] Ashley Nerbovig: Yeah, he's not gonna get fired - for sure - unless something wildly out of the normal process happens. And even if that does, the arbitration process is such that they would look at the SPOG contract and be like - There was nothing in this that he did that's actually fireable. - and it's super frustrating to watch. And in that story, I break down how we've seen these cases before - that cops have said really outrageous stuff, or even done something pretty outrageous, or something that the public looks at as pretty outrageous - and the reaction has been either it's a written reprimand or it's unsustained findings. One of the examples I gave was that there was multiple officers in one car who - one of them said - they accelerate toward protesters, people can be heard to be laughing. And so one of them says - I effing hate these people - or something along those lines. And because they couldn't narrow it in and prove who said it, and none of the cops inside said who said it - it's frustrating, but it also makes sense when you read the SPOG contract - because they have to prove beyond a preponderance of evidence, which is more than 50%, which sounds like a pretty low standard to hop over. But actually, I think they did a review of a bunch of different cops' policies on what they have to prove to require discipline across the country and SPD is in a very small minority - the majority of people have something that's lower or at a preponderance of evidence, and our standard is right above it.

You see all of this outrage, and then you see Andrew Lewis and Lisa Herbold and Mayor Harrell and SPOG all say, essentially - We want to watch the OPA process, we're excited to watch that investigation. - as if they don't know that anyone reading the SPOG contract, anyone who's read enough OPA cases knows that this is going to end in the cop continuing to be on the force. And to some extent, you can make the argument that if this was one isolated comment, maybe it wouldn't be a firing that was justified. But when you look at his entire career, and then when you also look at what the actual other punishments are, right? You can get suspended, but you don't have that suspension served consecutively - you can serve it throughout a year. So it means that - the whole point of having a suspension is that they don't get paid, and it hurts their bottom line, and it's something to avoid. If you're just serving out a 15-day suspension over a year, and then you're making it up with tons of overtime, what are the consequences for cops in this city? And the answer is that our police accountability systems do not have actual consequences for our officers right now.

[00:05:28] Crystal Fincher: Not at all. And it's infuriating. And this has kicked off a conversation that we've had before - just talking about the SPOG contract and the importance of that - there are a lot of people who are new here who weren't paying attention several years ago. There was an attempt that the City of Seattle - the council in particular - attempted to do this. They passed police accountability legislation that tightened that up. But then the current SPOG contract that's in place - was approved by Mayor Harrell on the council, by the way, who voted for the current contract that is currently handcuffing him and preventing him from being able to do anything about this - that superseded many of the City ordinances that dealt with this. And one thing that a lot of people don't know is that contract can supersede City law. So the things that the City thinks is happening, the process that we have - our democratic, our initiative process, the council process - all falls by the wayside when this is approved. And at the time, this was approved on a narrow vote - this was not, the conversation leading up to the approval of this current contract was not like - Oh, this looks great, it's fine. Lorena González infamously toiled over the vote that she was going to do, and later said that she regretted voting to approving it. But they were warned that this was going to happen. They were warned that moving backwards on accountability was going to produce really unsavory results. And lo and behold, here we are.

So once again, we're in a situation where everyone - almost everyone - agrees. Most members of the public, of the national community, international community agree this is egregious. This is unacceptable. And the City's handcuffed because of this current contract. And I just want people to be aware that the next contract is currently being negotiated. The mayor's office - the same mayor who approved this current contract - is currently negotiating this next contract. And is Bruce Harrell going to ensure that something like this can't happen again with no remedy, or recourse, or consequence? That's really going to be up to how this contract is negotiated and structured. I don't know what's going to happen with this officer in this incident - he has a long record himself of issues, complaints - and I don't know what's happening with that is going to go through this process. But the executive's office, the council who will ultimately have to approve this contract does have a say in whether or not something like this can happen again. And I think they owe the residents of the city assurances that this shouldn't happen. We're seeing so many of these examples. This isn't the first example of a death mocked - it's just the first one that we have on video that's public. There was a tombstone before, there's been social media posts before.

And also the fact that this was, I believe, VP of the Seattle Police Officers Guild. When you have leaders doing this - similar to the assistant police chief in Kent who displayed literal Nazi memorabilia - that speaks to culture. These are leaders. These are people dictating what we have here. And tangentially, and this is going on while we're having a conversation about police being short-staffed, while we're having a conversation about how hard it is to recruit - after the city has thrown money and recruitment bonuses and retainment bonuses at people. And can we just acknowledge that someone looking at this, now that they have the choice to join any police department, basically, they want to - they're all hiring - why would they join Seattle? This is the recruiting problem here. It's this culture. It's this continued drumbeat of toxic, distasteful stuff.

[00:09:06] Ashley Nerbovig: I think you're right about it being a culture problem. But I also think that the strength of our SPOG contract - you could make an argument that these are some of the most protected City employees. And it's across the board that people don't want to be cops. And it makes sense because even if you take away all of the controversies, local governments overall are struggling right now to recruit people for any job. And then on top of it, you're talking about a job that requires a lot of no work from home - we've had a complete culture shift in what we value about work. And I think when you look at what the job of being a cop is, it's you have to live in a certain location, basically, you can live - although Auderer lives in Olympia, I think, so you can live far away - but you have to be able to go to work in-person. And then on top of it, you're tied to all of this really negative associations that we have with cops, and this shift in how we've thought about cops. And you're competing in a really tight job market where there's a lot of really - yes, you get a lot of money being a Seattle police officer, but that requires a lot of overtime. You can make that same money just like having a normal 40-hour workweek if you work something tech, and it can also be more flexible and more remote. I just think that the problem is exactly that being a cop is not appealing, and we can't change that - no one wants these jobs.

And so why are we not talking about what people do want to work and starting from that place of - people do want to help people. I think a lot of cops in those positions talk about reshifting budget priorities, and that would mean changing their jobs. But cops were the first people to tell me that they didn't want to be social workers, that they weren't trying to do social work - and that they felt like they didn't have the tools and they weren't the people to be doing mental health intervention, or drug abuse intervention. Or homelessness intervention. You can't help someone unsheltered when you're a cop. The only thing cops can do is jail. I thought something really interesting - I know this is something we're going to talk about in a bit - and I really want to say something that I thought about with the SPOG contract. One of the things that I can't remember if it was Teresa Mosqueda or Morales who said it, but one of them was like - If we aren't funding these treatment options - when they were talking about the drug vote - If we aren't funding these treatment options, and we aren't funding these diversion programs, the only thing cops are going to be able to do if they want to get someone off the street is put them in jail. And I think that people have this idea that cops have other options, but that's their tool. It's not a choice for them. The only solution for cops is to arrest - that is their main job activity.

And just this idea that people don't want these jobs, they are not effective for the problems that we have, and yet we have this desperation - and Bruce Harrell has this desperation to cling to tough-on-crime policies. And it's dumb. And you don't see any solutions, but people like to pretend like they saw some improvement - when they just like the feeling of, oh - you don't see anything change when you put a tough-on-crime policy. There's this idea that all of our - anytime we do something that's like violence intervention or like a community-based approach - that we don't see the results very quickly. And it always is so funny to me, because I'm like, you don't see - no one in their day-to-day life, if we tomorrow said you can arrest - other than maybe someone who went downtown and all of the homeless people, we can't even put anyone in the King County Jail. So I don't know what they're talking about right now, but you don't actually see a marked improvement - you just get a shift in media narratives - that's all that changes, really, in my opinion.

[00:12:49] Crystal Fincher: This is the same thing that we're doing - and your point is exactly correct - we're only funding one thing. And what you fund, what you put resources to, is what you're going to have. We are so desperately short of other support services, behavioral health support services. And there are entities in the process of addressing that, right? Absolutely frustrating that it's not here now, there is some work being done there. So progress is being made largely at the county level and regionally. But this is not going to work. This is the same old thing.

The thing that I find troubling, particularly as a progressive political consultant, is that this makes passing progressive policy harder. Because if you dress something up like progressive policy - Oh, it's really important that we treat root causes. And yeah, we all believe it. - and they all say that until it's time to actually put their money where their mouth is, to actually do the thing, to implement it. And then what we get is this warmed-over piece of legislation that does one of the things - yes, we can arrest - and makes it harder than it was before to do the other things. And it was astronomically hard before. We know what's going to happen with this. So the real question is, so what are they going to blame for the failure of this next? What excuse is coming up next? I talk to a lot of people, lay people, some people - I just like hearing an unfiltered opinion of someone who's not an insidery insider and paying attention to all the policy and stuff. And you would be shocked by how many people who are - they don't consider themselves super leftist, probably general Democrats, but they don't really pay attention to much - who are under the impression that Seattle's progressive city council has run amok. And it's like, when it comes to public safety, they are not passing progressive policy. Unfortunately, the conservative council - that is the policy that we have and that we've continued. And when everybody rushes to put that label on it - we're going to see a lot of political communication coming up soon, where I'm sure everybody is going to call themselves a progressive, probably pragmatic progressive, responsible progressive - but like they cling to that word and they want to present their policy is that. But when it's not, all it does is hurt actual progressive policy. So it's important for people to stand up and be like - No, we see that, and we see that it's not what the community is demanding and asking for. It's just really frustrating. We should probably get back to some of this news a little bit.

[00:15:02] Ashley Nerbovig: There's just one last thing I want to say about Danny Westneat - this is going back a couple topics, but it was something that you said about the SPOG contract and that this is the leadership of SPOG. And Danny had a - bless his heart, he tried, probably - I quote tweeted it when I read the first couple of graphs. And then I went back and read his whole column about Auderer - I can't even say his last name - but the SPOG VP's comments. And he said quite a few things that were just absolutely ridiculous, where he talks about how SPOG uses public safety as a bargaining chip and says essentially - Oh, it'd be a shame if something happened to this beautiful city of yours. And then he goes on to give them that bargaining chip and say that Seattle desperately needs more cops. And then he goes to talking about how - he names a city that basically did defund because they also broke up their cop union. And it's just such a wild series of thoughts. And he concludes it on - SPOG needs to clean house. And it's so frustrating - even if you're just thinking of it logically - if you are a member of SPOG, and your vice president has gotten out of this many OPA investigations with little to no punishment - you don't think they know who is leading them? That's who I want as my union vice president - I want someone who's gotten away with a bunch of stuff - that is how you stay safe and stay protected - and who's going to clean house - the leadership? The leadership is the problem. Anyway, I just wanted to fully round that out by giving Danny like a 2 out of 5 stars on that column.

[00:16:35] Crystal Fincher: There are a lot of people who are like - Wow, okay, didn't think there was going to be a day where many of them agreed with Danny Westneat. He got some of the way there. I think one of the challenges with that is a tendency to view unions as separate from workers, and the union as separate from the cops. They are elected by their peers in the union - this is representative of the culture, this is the result of them saying these are the people we feel best represent us. And this is what it is. If that's not a red flag, I don't know what is - but here we are. And it's hard for me to separate SPOG versus police because SPOG is police. And it's just time we had a serious conversation about real accountability. And it's a tangible conversation - there is someone responsible for this, there is an intervention that can work here - we can negotiate this. It's up to the mayor, the people on negotiating committee, it's up to the council who's going to approve this. This doesn't just happen - they're permitted to happen by a contract that is in place. And if we're unhappy with it, and if City Hall can't see that the people are unhappy with a contract that enables this, the question is - particularly for Bruce Harrell, who is the boss of the police department - they literally report to him, police chief literally reports to him, direct report, his responsibility. What is he going to do now? Is he going to respond to this and say, I'm going to ensure this doesn't happen again? Because that's a buck-stops-here attitude that is normally expected of an executive. That's the job. What is he going to do to ensure this doesn't happen again? How is he going to live up to his word that he's going to improve the culture and improve public safety? We're waiting. And it seems like they're just permitting this. They're just - Oh, that's too bad.

[00:18:20] Ashley Nerbovig: The Seattle editorial board said he's been leading with empathy. If anyone really wants to rage out, read that editorial. I don't know if Bruce called and said he was going to cancel the whole city's subscription to The Seattle Times, but it's just absolute garbage. Kandula was killed while Officer Kevin Dave was responding to a guy who had too much cocaine and wasn't even ODing. Rich, my editor, said this to me earlier this week, where he was like, we were talking about the drug vote, and he was saying - This is just another example of how cops shouldn't be the ones responding to people overdosing. EMTs can go to these things.

[00:18:56] Crystal Fincher: And do in most other cities - without police, to be clear.

[00:18:59] Ashley Nerbovig: And you mentioned earlier that it was unclear about his lights. And I don't know for sure what was going on there, because I know his in-car video wasn't working. But I've read another OPA case where someone had said that a cop was just turning on his lights and sirens to get through red lights - and the justification for that that they showed was that it was like - oh, he was tactically using his lights and sirens, which means that they only turn them on to get through lights and stuff, even though he's responding to a call. And when they do that, it means that their in-car video doesn't turn on. And that's allowed because - oh, it's a tactic. And super curious to see the end of this OPA report for Kevin Dave. EMTs are not worried about sneaking up on people - they just turn on their lights and go. But yeah, it's going to be really frustrating to watch.

[00:19:45] Crystal Fincher: So now can you break down what this legislation does? Because I've seen it characterized in a number of different ways - Oh, it's making drugs illegal. It's like doing different things. What did this legislation actually change?

[00:19:56] Ashley Nerbovig: This particular piece of legislation - to do my full roundup of this - everybody knows that in 2021, the Washington Supreme Court struck down our felony drug possession law. The Washington State Legislature scrambled to pass something - and they passed this idea of we're going to do two referrals to treatment before we arrest anyone, and we're only going to arrest on a misdemeanor, and that went across the state for people in possession of drugs. That went on for two years and it was unworkable - they didn't structure it, they didn't create a database for people to be marking referrals - it's called a stopgap measure. It was one of those things where it was a really half thought-out piece of what potentially could be progressive legislation, did more harm than just making it a misdemeanor and then trying to talk about decriminalization a little bit later - I think that might have actually ended up being strategically a better way to go, except you would have seen a bunch of people arrested in that time. The result is that they came back this session and they said - Okay, no. They had that big fight and they said - We're going to make it a gross misdemeanor, your first two offenses you're going to get a maximum sentence of 180 days, any offenses after that you're going to go up to 364 days.

And they said - We prefer people defer to treatment, we prefer cops defer. - that was one thing that Herbold and Lewis both kept saying is - their City bill, that it was different from the state bill and that it starts the diversion out of the system process at the cop level before people even have a case started, whereas they kept describing the state bill as getting started. There are multiple places throughout the system that you can get diverted - you can get diverted before you get arrested so there's never anything on your record, you can get diverted after you've been arrested by the cops and now the prosecutors are in charge of your case and they defer any charges or defer any charges from getting actually convicted and then you're able to get it off of your record. So that's deferred prosecution. And then there's, you can get stuff - after you've been sentenced, you can get stuff wiped off your record. The argument that the City was making in how their bill was different from the state bill is they're saying - Oh, we really make it clear that our policy is not to arrest. The state bill does too. They say that it's their preference that people are diverted to treatment rather than be arrested. They also put a bunch of deferred prosecution stuff in there to divert people out of the system once they have charges against them.

It's easier to talk about what this bill didn't do. It set a policy that said - This is our preference by the City of Seattle. So the state law was already in place. And now because it's a misdemeanor, state law passes - that starts in August, like everything gets implemented. So technically, cops could find people who were using drugs in public or possessing drugs in public and arrest them on a gross misdemeanor. And I think the using is such an interesting part of this, because there's nothing about possession as a charge that doesn't get at the same thing that public use does. When you make it all about public use and you add public use plus possession to this law, it is such a dog whistle towards people who are just mad at unhoused people. Morales said something really clear in the City Council vote, which was that this bill is not going to curb public use because the people who this bill is targeting have nowhere else to use. And so the state law passes, SPD cops can do this. But if SPD cops right now in Seattle - or right before this, because Harrell signed the bill yesterday - before this bill passed, if they arrested someone, their charges, because Seattle doesn't have its own ordinance, would have gone to Leesa Manion's office, the King County Prosecutor's, which would have made a ton of sense. King County Prosecutor's has a bunch of programs already in place for this - they've already been dealing with felony versions of this for a long time. But her office did a weird thing and got really like - We don't have the misdemeanor staff to handle this and these felony drug courts that we have wouldn't even apply to this. They did a bunch of workarounds - they really quashed the idea of these cases getting referred to them really early on, or at least they asked for money from us that apparently City Council just was unwilling to try to negotiate - or they were unwilling to negotiate trying to work out a contract. I never really understood what her motivations were with that or were slamming it down so hard.

And so the City said - We're going to implement this ordinance and we're going to send these cases to our city attorney, Republican Ann Davison. So that's what this law does is that it doesn't - anyone who describes it - all that this law does is say that now Ann Davison can prosecute these cases, and also we would really like it if cops didn't arrest people on these charges. And it says - and I'll give them this - it adds a bunch of paperwork that cops now need to have when they do arrest someone on a drug possession charge. But I think Morales really summed it up really well where she said - This does not expand any diversion, it doesn't expand any treatment. - and this is probably a little bit more opinion-based, but - It doesn't improve public safety in any way. And I think that's so key is that we can ask - even if it's not, even if you aren't someone that believes in the nefarious, like that cops are all like Auderer and don't care about behavioral health and don't really look at people who are addicts on the street as someone that needs public health intervention - let's buy the premise that there are well-meaning cops out there who want to take these people to treatment. We do not have resources. And this idea that - in the City Council staff member, or the City Council Central Staff's memo, they said - Diversion requires social workers. These are actually much longer, much more resource-intensive cases. And cops are going to maybe divert the first or second time that they find someone, but then there's no resources to pick that person up - there's nothing to actually help them, maybe they're not ready to get treatment yet. And at some point, they're just going to arrest them and they're going to go through all of the charges. And maybe they're not going to go to jail because King County won't take them right now, but it's creating the structure for that. And they're still going to have to continue to show up at municipal court until they get something on their record that ends up putting them in jail. And we know how bad jail is - we know that it increases the chances of overdose. I think this bill kills people - I think that's the bottom line of what this bill does - is that it's going to kill a bunch of people, and make a bunch of people poorer, and do nothing to curb drug addiction, and fill our jails, and just continue the cycle of mass incarceration.

[00:26:51] Crystal Fincher: The outcomes from this type of policy are clear. We have so much information about what happens when you do just fund, enable sending people to jail without doing anything to address the root causes for why they're there. Also, there are some people rejoicing over this - like it is going to help - I'll be curious to see their evaluation after a period of time, to see what their perception of what results. But it's just frustrating because we could choose to do what has shown to be effective elsewhere. Everybody is frustrated. I don't think anyone is happy. I don't want to be in a space where someone is using publicly, right? And perhaps inhaling secondhand something or whatever. But I also recognize that generally people who do use in public don't have another place to use. And if it is an issue of - addiction isn't logical, right? Addiction isn't reasonable. It's not - Oh, there are consequences for me going to jail now, so I'm just going to stop being addicted. The thing about addiction is that you can't decide to stop being addicted. It's not up to you. And that people fall into addiction for a variety of reasons. And being addicted is a reality that so many people face - to treat it as like they're less than human for struggling with that particular issue is ridiculous. But we do that from a public safety perspective. And as you said, this is going to largely wind up targeting the homeless - that's usually who this applies to - people. We can talk about the drug habits of executives and rich people, and the rates of drug use are not low across the board. I always find it so curious. We drug test minimum wage and low wage workers, but not high wage executives. I'm pretty confident what results we would see if we did that.

There's an interesting video with Sara Nelson - yeah, speaking of politicians using drugs, and then voting on drug ordinances - but Sara Nelson has a place to use privately. That's the difference.

[00:28:52] Ashley Nerbovig: Because we're going after public use, we're not going after possession. And the casual way she talks about it - you are aware that you are growing drugs, and you're telling people where to find drugs - and I can hear her argument against this, right? But the point of it is that drugs are not inherently dangerous, and it was incredibly frustrating to watch that video. And then think about the fact that when this was in front of the Public Safety Committee, Mosqueda came out and said - I want to make it very clear that lots of public health agencies at this point have said that breathing in secondhand fentanyl smoke is not dangerous to your health. I am someone who opens a window if someone blows vape smoke too close to me - I don't like it, I don't want that smell, I am not totally convinced that the smell will not linger. But it's like that, right - it's a smell, I'm not worried about getting a nicotine contact high. And the way that fentanyl gets demonized as the worst drug that we've ever seen, it's part of how we can dehumanize the people who are using it. And I think it's so interesting, because if you ask someone to class their own drugs, shrooms and weed and cocaine would be the bourgeoisie of drugs - they're allowed, it's fine - alcohol. All of those things are totally fine. And the people who use them are not degenerates or any way bad. Maybe cocaine. But for the most part, we are totally okay with those kinds of drugs, no matter how alcohol is still one of the most harmful substances in our society.

Whenever I call the King County Medical Examiner's Board to get the overdose deaths, it's overdose deaths and deaths due to alcoholism. But they're longer term, right? So I'm not saying that - fentanyl is absolutely killing people - it's in everything. And it is a new, very scary problem because we don't have a ton of ways to treat it. But it doesn't change the fundamentals of what we're seeing, which is you had someone like Sara Nelson who struggled with her own story of addiction. But as soon as it becomes a drug that they view as dirty or not fun to scavenge for, you get this attitude of - We need to crack down on this. And that's how it's got to be a punishment-based system - it's not a conversation, it's not help, it's not treatment - we've got to really show these people the errors, the way to be, and improve their life. And it's just so condescending.

[00:31:30] Crystal Fincher: This is the crack playbook at play. And again, to be clear, not at all saying that fentanyl is not very troublesome, problematic, and that we don't want people using that. Those are all true. But to say somehow a unique and unsolvable addiction issue as opposed to opioids, as opposed to all of the other things. The one thing that we know is that there are new drugs created all the time for a variety of things. There's going to be something more potent. Fentanyl is not the last, right? It's just the current. There is going to be a next. We've been playing this cat and mouse game with the War on Drugs, with all that we're doing - it's here. But hearing the language around that is the same tactic that happened with crack, right? And the justification to pass a ton of laws, super harsh penalties, mandating mandatory time, adding it as a strike for possessing crack, lower thresholds for dealing and all of that, as opposed to cocaine, which was used by a different demographic largely and fueled there. This is pretty transparent. And unfortunately, you hear a lot of the rhetoric in public meetings. You hear it from people - Oh man, this fentanyl, these people are like zombies, this is something completely new we haven't seen before. Those are all the same things that they said with crack. Those are all the same things that they say with the new drug that they want to use when they're in the mood to crack down and jail people - here is where we're at. Acting like fentanyl is just - oh, if you're addicted, you're lost, you're hopeless, is untrue. It is a dangerous drug. We need to address it. Public health approaches have a better record of doing that than punitive jail-based approaches. But it's a problem that we do need to get our arms around, but we make it harder to do that when we pursue policies to jail - which are very expensive to do in every single way. And then say - Sorry, we just don't have the resources to provide more treatment services, to provide more behavioral health services, to provide more housing, to provide detox for people. Those are all necessary for us to deal with this problem, and we just aren't doing it. I would like to do it. I would like to meaningfully address this - most people would - but this makes it much harder.

I do want to talk about this week, a very important - and for our state historic - trial starting, of the three officers accused of murdering Manny Ellis. What is happening here?

[00:33:58] Ashley Nerbovig: Yeah. So they're still in jury selection. It's going to be a long, drawn-out process. I think opening statements start October 2nd. And for people who don't know the case, Manny Ellis was an unarmed Black man who was in Tacoma - this was March before George Floyd's death, and there are so many parallels. Everything that is terrible about George Floyd is terrible in this case. Bob Ferguson comes in, says that he's going to investigate this case, does an investigation. Tacoma Police Department does not cooperate with Washington State Patrol. Washington State Patrol and AG Ferguson ends up creating this probable cause statement and now three officers, three men are all on trial this week. Or the trial is starting and jury selection is starting. And there's one guy who - I can't remember his name now - but he's live tweeting all of it. And there's been some really interesting tidbits. One of the jurors - the judge asked if there were any jurors who might have conflicts presiding over a case involving law enforcement, no one raised their hands, and then the judge looks at this guy and says - But didn't you say you have a brother in law enforcement? And there's no other details, but that's where it's starting right now. And it'll be a really interesting case - it's horrible to see these cases get to this point - and you wonder about, I don't know anything about the disciplinary records of these cops. But yeah, that's where it's starting. And that's the background on it.

[00:35:14] Crystal Fincher: And certainly - it's a trial. And I generally try not to follow these things or get emotionally invested in these trials - for good reason - they often don't seem to wind up with justice, and even what is justice when your loved one, someone you care about, a human being is killed. And just also lifting up - we hear about all these cases around the country - we have more than enough here locally. There's another police officer from Auburn currently awaiting trial for killing Jesse Sarey in Auburn. It's really troubling. And we also have family and friends of Manny dealing with this and having to once again hear the horrific details of this killing. And they're continuing to call for the firing of the cops who've been on payroll this entire time, who are still on payroll. There's a GoFundMe for the family. And court is something that people can show up to and show support if they want to do that also. It's a tragedy. And I hope the family is able to find peace and healing and that this can assist with that. I have no idea where they stand on this, but certainly, I'm thinking of them as this trial continues to go on.

Last thing I want to talk about today is Seattle City employees rallying for fair pay. Why did this rally happen?

[00:36:38] Ashley Nerbovig: Shout out to Hannah Krieg - she got all the great quotes for this one. This rally happened because apparently, and I'm quoting directly from her story - Bruce Harrell is funny, he's a funny guy, and if this is true, I believe it - Mayor Harrell told them to rally their asses off. The City started their negotiations for a pay increase of 1% and has settled on a pay increase of 2%. And the City workers are saying that's an insane way to start negotiations in one of the most expensive cities in the country. She puts this really good stat in there - that's a pay cut as the cost of, a 1% cost of living adjustment or even a 2% cost of living adjustment is a pay cut as the cost of living rose 8.7% this year. It's really important to note that the SPOG contract guarantees at minimum like a 1.5%, I think - I did a little tweet about this - it's plus COLA or something. But effectively, regardless of what their contract says, they have never gone a year without at least a 3% increase. Lieutenants and higher up guilds just got like a 4% increase. Sometimes I'll get these emails from the mayor's office that's - I'm really like unhappy with how you've portrayed us as prioritizing police. We really prioritize like other things too. - and it's, you can see it, where their money is going. So the workers are contract, are striking because they're not getting, at minimum, just keeping up with inflation. And the City of Seattle seems to think this is just like across the board, boy to cut is in general services and for the city. And that's - I really encourage people to follow Hannah's coverage on this because she's really on top of it.

[00:38:17] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, it's really challenging. We talked about police saying they have a shortage of officers and all of the action that has been taken to fix that including a retention bonus, healthy retention bonuses. And so we're talking about the shortages in the rest of the city, and it just doesn't seem like there is the interest in making sure the City is able to provide essential services and the level of service for everything that is currently happening and that people expect. There have been several council candidates who have said and agreed with - Yeah, we should be giving City workers the same kind of retention bonuses, investing in their retention, doing something tangible to actually address the shortage here. And we're going to be seeing Mayor Harrell's budget come out pretty soon. It's going to be interesting to see how he deals with that and what it is because a budget is a value statement - that's a document of values - where you're spending your money is what you value the most. And other things - you can talk about them and say they're great, but if you aren't funding them, clearly they were lower on the priority list in your estimation. And he may have his reasons to justify that. But it is disingenuous to say - Oh, I completely prioritize that, I value that, and I'm just not going to fund that while I'm going to fund this other thing. So it will be interesting to see.

But it seems like the City has a lot of work to do to start to step up. And everyone on the campaign trail talks about their values and making sure people can live where they work, how important that is to our economy - and it absolutely is important - again, what tangibly is going to be done about that? What are we going to see in that budget? And if not, just what is really the tangible impact of that? So we'll continue to follow that. But certainly workers see some definite red flags there and are rallying to make sure people understand that this is a problem that has consequences for the entire city and beyond. And for all the plans that people say they have, they're going to rely on these employees to execute them. So we better make sure that there are people in place to deliver on the policy that we pass as a city.

[00:40:34] Ashley Nerbovig: Yeah, I hope we get a strike. I think it would be good for people to feel what happens when they don't - I think that a lot of these services are invisible. And we already see that SPOG is doing all these sick-outs and they're not responding to calls - and a lot of them are blaming it on the staffing shortages. When you hear about sick-outs, you get a little bit curious about those call response times. I hope it turns into a strike because I think people do need to realize how essential these workers are.

[00:41:00] Crystal Fincher: Certainly the public - some people definitely see that, some people definitely don't. But a strike will be a failure, right? We're having a rally because an initial offer was pretty insulting. It was not a serious offer. It's a pay cut. If you're starting saying - Okay, how big a pay cut are you going to take to people who are already short-staffed and overworked? Because really, let's talk about it. When we talk about short staffing, that means that the same amount of work is falling on fewer heads. And that's a hard position to be in - and many of these positions aren't like super high-paid positions anyway. People are struggling to just pay their bills and work is getting harder, and now you're going to ask them to take a pay cut. And being disrespectful when that happens - Okay, go rally your ass off. So I hope there is more respect in this process and that lines of communication open and are productive. Because strikes are disruptive, right? They're not fun, they create a lot of drama. It may come to that - and I absolutely support workers' rights to strike and sometime that's necessary to get the job done - but I hope it doesn't come to that. I hope they are able to talk. But it's going to take more respect from the City perspective, realistically - they just aren't starting in a serious place.

[00:42:14] Ashley Nerbovig: Yeah, I like what you said there. It would be a failure. My chaotic evil side is - yeah, disrupt it, show people that you exist and stuff. But you're right. It would suck for these workers to have to go on strike because - the no pay and I'm sure they have a fund - you're 100% correct. What I would actually like to see is Mayor Harrell care about these people the way that he has been so consistently able to show care for our police department.

[00:42:44] Crystal Fincher: I completely agree. And with that, we thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks on this Friday, September 22, 2023. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is the incredible Shannon Cheng. Our insightful co-host today was staff writer at The Stranger covering policing, incarceration and the courts, Ashley Nerbovig. You can find Ashley on Twitter at @AshleyNerbovig, A-S-H-L-E-Y N-E-R-B-O-V-I-G. You can follow Hacks & Wonks on Twitter at @HacksWonks. You can find me on just about every platform at @finchfrii, that's F-I-N-C-H F-R-I-I. You can catch Hacks & Wonks - wherever you want to listen to us, you can listen to us - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar of your favorite pod player. And be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Friday week-in-review shows and our Tuesday topical show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave a review wherever you listen - it really helps us out. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at officialhacksandwonks.com and in the podcast episode notes.

Thanks for tuning in - talk to you next time.