Taking a knee for justice

Football teams and their fans are conflicted over the practices of kneeling, sitting, joining arms, raising a fist, or staying in the locker room during the National Football League’s (NFL’s) pre-game national anthem ceremonies. The protests began in the wake of the videotaped police shootings of 2 young Black men, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling.  To draw attention to these events and to issues of racism and injustice, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick declined to stand while the national anthem was being played at preseason games in 2016.  Over the past 2 football seasons, Kaepernick’s individual protest has gathered both support and condemnation.

Some wonder what the protests are accomplishing.  Back when it all started, in the summer of 2016, Garfield High School football team member Duncan King wondered the same thing. He offered some personal answers in his essay, “Kneeling for a Nation: How One Team’s Participation in a Nationwide Movement Developed into a Force for Local Civic Change.” The essay won a 2017 Stim Bullitt Civic Courage award – and a $5,000 scholarship – from the Seattle Public Library Foundation.

In his essay King discussed the aftermath of his team’s decision to kneel – media attention, Facebook likes, threats of violence (and actual violence), as well as shared introspection about why they chose to kneel: “Common themes were police violence against black males, school segregation and underfunding, and governmental and institutional racism.”  In addition to kneeling on the field, the Garfield team initiated an open discussion with the Seattle Police Department and were invited to the regional conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Local NFL players have also taken action.  Last month Seattle Seahawk Doug Baldwin joined NFL President Roger Goodell in a letter to the U.S. Congress that supported a bill to reduce minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders.  One quote from the letter emphasizes the deep connections between NFL teams and their home communities:

“When the hometowns of our players or the 32 communities in which our clubs are located are hurting – whether from natural disasters or those that are man-made – so too are our teams. And like most Americans, our owners, players, coaches and clubs spring into action to help. Over the last two seasons, one particular issue that has come to the forefront for our players and our teams is the issue of justice for all…. The bottom line is, that we all want to make our communities better.”

To provide a platform for maintaining a clear focus on free speech and collective action, Seahawks player Michael Bennett joined other athletes in founding Athletes for Impact (A4I), a new organization to “build an inclusive and global network of athletes committed to equity and social change.” Bennett’s reach extends beyond an elite circle of athletes: a recent pregame ESPN video featured his volunteer work with youth at King County’s Juvenile Detention Facility.

On the field and off, in Seattle and across the nation, football players find themselves in an unfamiliar and possibly uncomfortable spotlight.  American heroes by definition, until recently all they had to do was play the game.  Now, under intensive scrutiny by the media and even the President, they’re having to take a stand.

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Essay submissions for the 2018 Stimson Bullitt Civic Courage Scholarship Competition will be accepted from January 1 to March 15. More information can be found at the Seattle Public Library Foundation.

Communities Count provides data on racial disparities for almost every indicator, including income, wealth, on-time graduation, and public safety.  In 2011-2015, the homicide rate among King County Blacks was 5.2 times the county average (forthcoming on Communities Count).  And in 2016, race/ethnicity/ancestry accounted for 62% of the motivations for hate crimes in reported by Washington Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs. Communities Count will update hate crime data for King County in early 2018.

La La Land on economic equality

Yale University researchers recently revealed a striking mismatch between perceptions of inequality and actual inequality.  Asked to estimate progress toward black-white economic equality, participants in several studies consistently overestimated racial equality for annual income, wealth, employee benefits, and hourly wages.  “The headline finding,” according to City Observatory, “is that the average respondent thinks that black wealth is about 80 percent that of whites; whereas Census data suggest that black wealth is about 5 percent that of whites.”

As reported by The New York Times, the study’s authors attribute these overestimates of racial economic equality to several factors:  continued economic and racial segregation, unconscious denial of a reality that doesn’t fit our idealized version of a fair democracy, and overgeneralization from other signs of progress toward racial equality (such as passage of civil rights laws and election of a black president). Blacks and whites alike overestimated economic equality, but estimates made by wealthy whites were furthest from the mark.

Although the Yale researchers didn’t collect data on geographic differences in perceptions of racial inequality, we can compare racial economic inequality in King County to national figures.  While the national black/white income gap is substantial ($22,794 in 2016, according to the American Community Survey), it pales in comparison to King County’s whopping 2016 disparity of $45,733.

And the disparity in King County has gotten worse.  Nationally, from 2006 to 2016 median household income grew by about 19% for blacks and for whites, preserving a consistent (and large) racial gap: at both times blacks earned $63 for every $100 earned by whites.  Over the same period in King County, black median income grew by 20%, lagging considerably behind the 36% growth of white median income.  While in 2006 King County blacks earned $56 for every $100 earned by whites, by 2016 the gap had widened, with King County blacks earning only $50 for every $100 earned by whites.

Many King County residents support the goal of achieving economic security for all.  Before we can do that, however, we first need to acknowledge our increasing racial disparities in the face of explosive economic growth.  Only then will we be able to rationally make policy choices that will move our region toward greater equity.

Communities Count has just updated King County data on income by race/ethnicity, and also presents recent national wealth trends by race/ethnicity and national black/white wealth trends for the cohort born between 1943 and 1951 (in their 30s, the mean wealth of whites in this cohort exceeded the wealth of blacks by less than $150,000; by the time they reached their 60s, the difference had grown to more than $1 million).  Other data on economic inequality can be found in a data spotlight, The rising fortunes of the top 1%, and charts on wealth trends by income tier.

Homelessness: 2nd annual media blitz

A year ago, more than 30 Seattle media outlets joined a coordinated media response to the region’s homelessness crisis.  Despite sincere and sometimes successful efforts by city and county governments, local businesses and philanthropies, and community-based organizations, homelessness in King County still qualifies as a crisis.

In January, the one-night count of sheltered plus unsheltered homeless in King County was 11,643, generating the local headline, “A city the size of Woodinville is sleeping in our streets.”  But the annual count used a new method in 2017, so that number can’t validly be compared to previous results.

We have another source of data, though. School districts in Washington are required to “track their homeless students and report that data annually to OSPI” (Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction), which in turn reports to the state legislature.  Communities Count has compiled these data for King County school districts going back to the 2007-2008 school year.  By 2015-2016, student homelessness statewide had ballooned to 39,671 – a 52% increase in just 5 years. Over the same period, student homelessness in King County almost doubled — from 4,423 in 2010-11 to 8,411 in 2015-2016 (see chart). Of the 19 school districts in King County, the number of homeless students declined in only 2 (see school district trends).  Washington schools use the U.S. Department of Education’s definition of student homelessness, explained in detail here.

Options for monitoring national and local media coverage of homelessness on June 28th include a national conversation curated by CityLab, Crosscut’s social media pages (Facebook and Twitter), and hashtag #500kHomeless.

 

Boom time in Seattle

We may not need an earthquake to get a feel for The Big One. A sampling of 2017 news articles (and accompanying data) suggests that the Emerald City is growing at such a breakneck pace that we can barely track it. And local residents, especially those with limited means, are increasingly unable to find affordable housing in this boom town. Some examples from local media:

According to Seattle Times’ FYI Guy, Gene Balk on May 25th:  From the middle of 2015 to the middle of 2016, Seattle’s population grew 3.1% — faster than any major U.S. city (defined as those with population greater than half a million).  At an estimated 704,400, Seattle is now bigger than Boston, Washington, D.C., and Denver.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, other large, fast-growing cities in King County are Redmond (+3.2% to 62,500), Federal Way (+1.8% to 96,800), Bellevue (+1.3% to 141,400), and Burien (+1.2% to 51,000).  Renton, Auburn, Sammamish, Kent, and Kirkland also grew.

At the same time, according to the Seattle Times on May 30th, “Seattle housing market tops nation in bidding wars and price gains.” Over the past two months, about 90% of houses on the market ended up in bidding wars. And, according to the Northwest Multiple Listing Service, the April median price for a single family home in Seattle was an all-time high of $722,2500; on the Eastside it was $880,000.

And, despite the expectation that rent increases would slow in 2017 as thousands of new apartments went on the market, a March 27, 2017 Seattle Times headline queried, “After brief slowdown, Seattle-area rents surge back up again; when will it end?”

Finally, on the last day of May, Crosscut announced, “A city the size of Woodinville is sleeping in our streets.” That’s right. When the tally from King County’s annual count of unsheltered homeless was added to the number in shelters on the same night (January 27), the total came to 11,643. about the same as the U.S. Census Bureau‘s 2016 population estimate for Woodinville. A new counting method was used in 2017, so valid comparisons of the 2017 numbers to those of earlier years can’t really be made. But a homeless population the size of Woodinville is substantial, and 77% of those who responded to survey questions said they were living in King County when they became homeless. Not a big surprise in a place where record population growth is paired with skyrocketing prices for housing.

Policymakers, businesses, and philanthropists are working to provide more affordable housing for our growing population — with re-zoning, residential assistance, donations of space, and construction of “tiny houses.” So far, though, it’s been a losing battle.

Welcoming immigrants and refugees

In King County, 1 in 5 adults was not born in the U.S. In light of the President’s executive orders regarding federal immigration laws, many in our immigrant and refugee communities are uncertain about the extent to which local governments cooperate with federal immigration agents. Across the US, cities, counties, and states have declared themselves “sanctuary” jurisdictions. Seattle and King County prefer the term Welcoming City and Welcoming County, respectively, which, according to Seattle’s broad definition, means prioritizing “policies, actions, and practices that help immigrant and refugee communities succeed.”


Q. What’s an example of these “policies, actions, and practices”?

Although details differ, a “welcoming” designation generally signals that a government does not use jurisdictional time/resources to target residents on the basis of immigration status. In most cases, government employees (including police) will not ask residents about their immigration or citizenship status. While these “don’t ask” policies protect residents’ privacy, they also protect government employees, who cannot be compelled to disclose information they do not have. This restriction can be negated, however, by a court order, or by “reasonable suspicion” that a person has been previously deported and has committed a felony.

Q. What policies are followed at King County detention facilities?

King County limits compliance with federal immigration requests to hold prisoners beyond the time when they should legally be released. The County will only honor “detainer requests” that are accompanied by a criminal warrant issued by a federal judge or magistrate. This policy is consistent both with federal law and a 2014 King County ordinance.

Q: What is the intention of declaring status as a welcoming jurisdiction?

Backers of “welcoming” policies believe they make communities safer. Why? Because residents are more likely to report crimes, testify in court, and call for help when they need it if police are under orders not to ask about immigration status. In addition, welcoming jurisdictions want to assure people of different religions, races, and national origins that they are welcome and should continue to seek assistance at public health clinics and other government facilities.

Q. Do crime rates in these jurisdictions support the “safer communities” rationale?

Yes, according to a recent analysis of FBI crime reports. After controlling for population characteristics, sanctuary or welcoming cities averaged 35.5 fewer crimes per 10,000 population. These findings support the conclusion of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, representing the 68 largest law enforcement agencies in the country, that mixing local law enforcement with federal immigration enforcement “would result in increased crime against immigrants and in the broader community, create a class of silent victims and eliminate the potential for assistance from immigrants in solving crimes or preventing future terroristic acts.”

Q. How can immigrants get accurate information about their rights?

This week the King County Council approved $750,000 to support immigrant and refugee communities’ needs for legal assistance, information about their rights, and (in partnership with The Seattle Foundation) capacity-building of community-based organizations. In addition, the Seattle City Council unanimously passed an ordinance setting aside $1 million to create a legal defense fund for immigrants and refugees. Access to information about these and other resources is available through:
 Seattle’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs
Welcoming Immigrant and Refugee Communities (King County)
 The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, which has a wealth of information on its website, including a new advisory for non-profit and social service organizations seeking to protect their clients.
 A hyperlinked list of (mostly) King County cities with ordinances, resolutions, and proclamations that they “promote safe, welcoming, and inclusive communities.”