It never ceases to amaze me that a sophisticated and educated populace like the residents of Seattle so willingly turns the stewardship of a great city over to a handful of chuckleheaded activists who are willing — and anxious — to destroy an ordered society from within.
Two months ago Seattle City Councilwoman Lisa Herbold proposed legislation under the guise of a budget bill that would, for all practical purposes, eliminate the prosecution of approximately 90% of all misdemeanor crimes in Seattle through the creation of an affirmative defense to conviction of “duress” stemming from poverty, homelessness, substance addiction, or mental illness.
Let’s be clear what this proposal is — and what it is not.
The Seattle City Council can pass legislation that applies to city functions — it cannot change the laws of the State of Washington. The proposed legislation would apply only to conduct that takes place within the city limits of Seattle, and it would apply only to criminal cases brought by the Seattle City Attorney’s Office. That office does handle some misdemeanor criminal cases, but in Seattle, the King County Prosecutor’s Office is primarily responsible for prosecuting criminal conduct in the City of Seattle.
But the proposal from Herbold would create a complete defense of “duress” to misdemeanor criminal charges for any criminal defendant who can show they fit into one of the “exempt” classifications.
By one estimate it is likely that that 9 out of 10 criminal misdemeanor cases filed by the City Attorney’s Office would be subject to such a defense, and as a practical matter, charges would never get filed in the first instance.
Herbold is the Chairperson of the Council’s Community Safety Committee, but rather than push her proposal through that Committee in a fashion that might draw attention, she submitted the language creating a “duress” defense to property crimes to the Council’s Budget Committee, to be buried in the City’s next budget bill, and made only a brief 3-minute presentation on the proposal in an online Budget Committee meeting — captured on YouTube.
Her justification for submitting the proposal in such a stealthy fashion buried in a budget bill was that the proposal would likely reduce City expenditures to provide legal defense services to indigent defendants, as well as saving on money paid to King County for jail services
In her comments during the hearing, she makes reference to the mush-minded nonsense about poverty and homelessness having as their root causes systemic racism. She claims the recommendation derives from the work of the “Seattle Re-Entry Work Group” which was created by legislation in 2015 to examine how the City could assist formerly incarcerated people to re-enter their communities. The Work Group’s final report found that poverty is caused by institutionalized racism and systemic oppression, all of which lead to mass incarceration. They further found that punishment and incarceration are harmful and ineffective tools to address behaviors triggered by poverty and illness.
As these words are spilling forth from her mouth I get the clear sense that she is spouting shibboleths and catchphrases that reside in her brain without any actual knowledge or understanding attached to them.
Having not spent the past 20 years tracking the descent into lunacy of the Seattle city government, I have to take seriously claims by some that what is at work here by the Social Justice Warrior class in Seattle is a long-term strategy of “reverse-oppression,” by which they mean that the “oppressed” shall become the “oppressors.” Criminal conduct against those with real or personal property would be a condoned expression of opposition to historic racism and oppression of the impoverished class.
The proposal would also dramatically reduce the traditional workload of the Seattle Police Department and the Court system which hears such cases. As noted above, 9 out of 10 misdemeanor cases filed by the City Attorney’s Office would fall under the “duress” defense, so all those prosecutors, judges, and court staff would no longer be needed.
In addition, Seattle Police Department crime statistics for 2019 show the public reported 25,993 misdemeanor thefts and 8,442 simple assaults, the two largest components of misdemeanor charges for the year. All would be subject to the new “duress” defense. The impact of such a likely “end-result” in the criminal justice system will obviously impact the “front-end” investigation of those cases by the Seattle Police Department which is already being hollowed out with dramatic budget cuts by the same City Council.
The City Council cannot make specific proposals on how the Police Department is structured or how it spends its budgeted funds — those decisions rest with the Mayor and Police Chief.
But the City Council can “starve the beast” via the budget process, and it can eliminate much of what the Police Department does by creating a legal defense to large categories of criminal offenses taking place within the City Limits.
But I have a news flash for the Seattle politicians that is based on over 40 years of experience and exposure to the law enforcement community and criminal justice system.
There is a significant “criminal element” in every community in this country that engages in criminal activity for two primary reasons — 1) it’s fun to them, and 2) they can accumulate more money in less time than they can by getting a job. Their free time is then committed to the pursuit of those things in life they enjoy. “Why work if you don’t have to?”
Most will qualify for your “duress” defense because they acquire little in the way of possessions that could be used to show they do not live in poverty. So they will claim “poverty” as the basis for the defense you are willingly providing them. When they are not arrested or charged, they will continue with their conduct. When they fully appreciate that they will no longer even be targeted for arrest or prosecution, they will increase their conduct.
These are willful and voluntary choices they make. They steal from communities because the communities’ response to them stealing makes that choice easier than the alternative.
Seattle is making itself a magnet for this anti-social behavior. Such behavior is learned and encouraged when it is rewarded.
While you may believe that eliminating prosecution and incarceration are positive developments in a “war on poverty”, you are deluding yourself in thinking that your efforts won’t be exploited to your detriment.
I have spent a bit of time looking for some information about the background of Councilwoman Herbold. There is almost nothing online that describes her education, background, or experience.
Here is her official bio on the City Council’s Website:
Councilmember Lisa Herbold has been a Highland Park resident for 19 years and Seattle resident for 27 years. She served as Councilmember Nick Licata’s Legislative Aide, since coordinating his 1997 campaign. Lisa was elected to the City Council in 2015 and serves District 1, West Seattle and South Park.
On the Council, Lisa has worked on issues of access, fairness, and a commitment to a shared quality-of-life. She’s helped craft and pass public policy that includes Paid Sick Leave, Secure Scheduling for retail and food service workers, a Rental Housing Inspection Program, legislation that prevents source of income discrimination against renters, $29 million housing bond for affordable housing, an acclaimed criminal justice diversion program, a police Observers’ Bill of Rights, and a municipal Income Tax. Each of these examples are model public policy and many are being replicated in jurisdictions across the country, and are just a few examples of the work she’s done to help Seattle residents.
Lisa has a daughter with a family of her own, and is a happy Omi (German for “granny”) to her granddaughter and grandson, as well as stepmom to her husband Bob’s two girls. As a community member and advocate, Lisa has served on the boards of Neighborhood House, Homestead Community Land Trust, the Tenants Union, and the Young Adult Independent Living Project. She currently serves on the Kenney Foundation Board of Directors.
Herbold ran for the position vacated by retired Councilman Nick Licata, after spending 18 years working as his aide. Beyond that, there seems to be nothing in her education or background supporting the idea that she’s got a clue about what she is doing.
Oh well. “Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind.”