The real reason an abolitionist Seattle city attorney candidate is taking heat

The real reason an abolitionist Seattle city attorney candidate is taking heat
Portland, OR / USA - June 1 2020: Demonstrators with "Defund Police" banner on a Morrison bridge during George Floyd killing protest Shutterstock/ Alexander Oganezov

Nicole Thomas-Kennedy, a Seattle candidate for city attorney and self-identified prison and police abolitionist, can be characterized as a member of the "extremely online" left. She's tweeted about her "rabid hatred" of the police, and in a now-deleted tweet from last winter replied to a holiday message from Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz with: "Eat some covid laced shit & quit ur jobs."

Tweets of that nature were bound to surface once she announced she was running for office—this office in particular. The city attorney—the nominally nonpartisan official in charge of all misdemeanor prosecutions and a smattering of civil legal disputes—must cooperate with the city police to prosecute misdemeanor cases. The election is taking place November 2.

In October, the Seattle Times editorial board authored an op-ed declaring that Thomas-Kennedy's tweets made her unfit to serve.

In the field of criminal justice reform, abolitionist and anti-carceral law professors usually have productive things to say. Due to their overall calm, balanced tone, they usually don't get that much attention.

Twitter, which for both better and worse is the platform where a large proportion of journalists and public officials spend their time, rewards and amplifies anger. People are often their loudest, angriest selves on Twitter. It doesn't necessarily mean they aren't capable of nuance, or of upholding the ethics of public office.

Outside the powder keg of Twitter, Thomas-Kennedy can make a very different impression.

"[Abolition has] never been about letting everyone out overnight and having a crime fest à la The Purge," Thomas-Kennedy told Filter. "It is about scaling up community-based support, services and accountability programs that eventually take the place of policing and prisons. It's a goal and a process."

She emphasized that "traditional prosecution must remain an option while we scale up those programs, but it's not a one-size-fits-all approach."

Thomas-Kennedy voiced concern with ending the criminalization of poverty and listening to the voices of anti-carceral crime survivors—while still prosecuting cases she deems appropriate.

"If you live in a neighborhood that is resourced and where you can get help if you need it—good schools and after-school programs, access to necessary health care, available addiction and treatment services—then you already live in the neighborhood that I want for everyone," she said. "It's the healthiest communities that are the safest, not the ones that are over-policed or over-incarcerated."

Opponent Ann Davison, a perennial candidate who unsuccessfully ran for Washington lieutenant governor as a Republican last year, appears much more concerned with so-called under-prosecution of crimes, especially by people with past convictions. Davison did not respond to Filter's request for an interview.

The same day it ran its op-ed on Thomas-Kennedy's tweets, the Seattle Times editorial board ran a second op-ed reaffirming its support for Davison, whom it had already endorsed in July.

Thomas-Kennedy described the editorials as lacking in "both context and an analysis of power." Although she stood by her tweets as a private citizen, since becoming a candidate for public office she's deleted the more controversial ones and taken a more tempered approach to social media.

While the Seattle Times board frames its objection as a call for "civility," it also warns readers in horrified tones of her quest for abolition and her support of "riots." And—in a prime example of saying the quiet part out loud—her intention to decline prosecuting "most, or all, of the misdemeanor cases officers bring in."

One of the editorial board's seven bylines belongs to Frank Blethen, who is also the Seattle Times Company CEO and who once bought a Republican candidate for governor $75,000 in ads. It seems clear that what has the board members aghast is less the candidate's social media presence and more her policies.

This article was originally published by Filter, a magazine covering drug use, drug policy and human rights. Follow Filter on Facebook or Twitter.

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