‘I’m not a token’: Seattle Council President Debora Juarez opens up

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What is best for the city

“All our voices weigh the same, our goal is the same, our heart is the same,” says Juarez. “I think we want what’s best for our city.”

While everyone wants what’s best for the city, not everyone agrees on what that means. A recent illustration is a remote council meeting in February on Councilor Kshama Sawant’s resolution expressing his support for Starbucks Seattle locations attempting to unionize. Sawant and council member Teresa Mosqueda began arguing about a separate resolution altogether. Juarez asked the clerk to mute both council members and asked them to “take a breath” and focus on the resolution at hand. In the end it was 6:0.

Esther Lucero (Diné), the president and chief executive officer of the Seattle Indian Health Board, described Juarez’s leadership style as humble and uncompromising in her decision-making.

“Council President Juarez has an ‘auntie’ quality about him,” Lucero wrote in an email to Crosscut. In Indigenous communities and many communities of color, aunt can be a term of endearment for an unrelated person who has a family connection. An aunt is someone you can trust who will treat you with care and compassion while holding you firmly accountable for your actions.

Lucero also believes Juarez’s approach to police reform is pragmatic. “Your leadership will be important in finding the right balance to keep all communities safe,” Lucero said. She believes Juarez will not allow her decisions to be dictated by far-left or far-right rhetoric, which Lucero says has become more important in recent years.

Although Juarez describes everyone on the council as different shades of blue, the summer of 2020 revealed polarization and animosity within the council. The killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer has prompted people around the world to speak out against police militia and brutality, which is overwhelmingly aimed at black and other people of color. The protests that followed in Seattle made national headlines, highlighting police brutality in our own backyard.

The Seattle Police Department fired stun grenades and tear gas at protesters and even targeted paramedics, making calls for defunding the police much louder and seemingly more urgent. By June 2020, a majority of the Seattle City Council approved a proposal by community organizers and activist groups King County Equity Now and Decriminalize Seattle to exonerate the police department by 50%, but Juarez was unconvinced. In a statement, she agreed with protesters and organizers that the city needed to reallocate funds from the SPD budget and invest in marginalized communities.

“We have to plant a new tree because the roots, trunk, branches and fruit of this tree are poisoned, as are the future seeds,” she said in the statement.

But she felt it was important to have a plan in place before agreeing to compensate police by 50%.

The council already had a majority in favor, so it didn’t take Juarez’s vote to move forward with plans to defund the police. Demonstrators marched to Juarez’s home, urging her to publicly support the proposal anyway. She said she received death and rape threats during that time, and protesters covered the outside of her home with written messages, some of which were vulgar, misogynistic comments about her mother, who had recently passed away. She said her car was broken into and people jumped over the fence into her garden.

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