by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Elected officials in a major U.S. city plan to pass a law that will allow thieves to sell items they steal if they do it to earn money for basic needs and trespassers to set up camp on private property when it is to obtain adequate shelter. Dozens of other crimes—including assault and harassment—will be excused under the preposterous measure if suspects are poor, mentally ill or addicted to drugs. It is being crafted as a poverty defense and will allow municipal court judges to dismiss a multitude of crimes if poverty, mental illness or a substance-abuse disorder drove the perpetrator to commit them.
Even for a famously liberal left coast city like Seattle it seems like a bit much. The proposal was first introduced during the Seattle City Council’s budget deliberations weeks ago, according to a local news report. It was put on hold over a budget process bureaucracy but has gained incredible steam and appears to have enough support to alter the city code early next year. “The idea could enormously impact the city — and set Seattle apart from the rest of the country in its approach to misdemeanor crimes,” according to the news story, which includes the concerns of frustrated public safety advocates who say the law will essentially legalize most crimes in Seattle. Not surprisingly, the idea came from a “wave of activism and historic protests after the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota,” the Seattle newspaper story says. That motivated public defenders and community organizers to take advantage of the attention to police and court reforms to fix a “long-held frustration.”
The force behind the push for the new law is a leftist organization called Decriminalize Seattle that opposes policing and the criminal legal system.