Despite assurances from Mayor Norm Rice that the Weed and Seed crime-fighting program would not lead to police harassment of Central Area African-American teenagers, nearly every speaker at a public hearing yesterday told the City Council to withdraw the city's application for the $1.5 million in federal aid.
"This mayor will not tolerate abuses that will affect the human dignity and rights of the people in this community," said Rice at the beginning of the nearly three-hour hearing before the council's Public Safety Committee.
Nevertheless, the speakers, many of whom represented churches and community organizations, said that to accept the federal money would bring an occupying army of federal agents to a community that already has problems with police.
"They're gunning for us. They're gunning for black youth," said Omari Salisbury, expressing a view of law-enforcement officials shared by many in the African-American community.
The Weed and Seed program combines $1 million in law-enforcement money with $500,000 for social services, such as youth anti-drug-use efforts and job training and counseling.
The idea is to get repeat and violent offenders and drug traffickers off the streets, then build up an area with more social programs.
Salisbury, a 16-year-old Garfield High School junior, has college plans and hopes to go into politics, but worries he and other innocent young men would be swept into the net because the FBI
would be "breathing down my back" under Operation Weed and Seed.
"You should be able to get this money without any strings attached," Salisbury told the council.
It fed the fears of the audience of about 100 mostly African-American people when Seattle police officials - questioned by Councilwoman Margaret Pageler, who heads the Public Safety Committee - said they could not rule out the involvement of federal law-enforcement officers.
Seattle police will continue to cooperate with the FBI when "high-impact offenders," career criminals and "people that are using weapons in crimes" are involved, said Police Chief Patrick Fitzsimons.
Pageler said she would propose conditions and guidelines for the program before the council gives its approval, possibly on Monday.
The Rice administration has already submitted the grant application, and winners may be announced next week, with money beginning to flow within a couple of months, said Andrew Lofton, Rice's aide for public-safety issues.
Eight to 10 cities nationally will get the grants with the potential to share in another $500 million in the Bush-administration budget for next year.
Seattle could get up to $10 million, "mostly for social services," in coming years, say local officials.
Opponents frequently referred to a write-up put out by the U.S. Department of Justice that said the program emphasizes "weeding," the removal of violent criminals from the target Central Area neighborhoods. The department administers Weed and Seed, a name city officials agree is appalling in its insensitivity.
Rice, who left the meeting after making his statement, said the city has designed its own program to use the money primarily for "community policing," a program Seattle already uses to expand the role of police in solving public-safety problems with increased community involvement.
State Rep. Jesse Wineberry, D-43rd District, who represents the Central Area, said Rice's plan was certainly better than the federal proposal, which included "some of the most egregious programs I have ever seen," but still "has enormous need for improvement."
Wineberry said federal anti-drug money should be spent to cut off the supply of drugs by targeting the importers and dealers. "The drug problem and the crime problem does not begin in the Central Area," he said.
"I do not know about any Crip or Blood or BGD (Black Gangster Disciple, another gang name) who owns an airplane . . . or knows anything about money-laundering," Wineberry said.
Rice should go back to the African-American churches and community organizations and work out a mutually acceptable program, Wineberry suggested. "I have to withhold my support at this time," he said.
A citizens advisory group will be formed to oversee the program, Rice said yesterday.
None of the 29 groups that make up the Central Area Neighborhood District Council were consulted before the grant went in, said Arnette Holloway, council president, who, along with Harriett Walden of Mothers Against Police Harassment, has been a leader in the fight against the Weed and Seed program.
One area resident, Marc Stepper, spoke in favor of keeping at least part of the plan.
"My complaint is I can't get enough law enforcement . . . to get rid of the drug dealing on the street corners and the drug houses. Let's not throw the whole thing away and go back to the way it was," he said.
Yesterday afternoon the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington said it opposed the Weed and Seed plan.
"It's a load of federal fertilizer that ought not to be dumped on Seattle," said Gerard Sheehan, lobbyist for the group.
In addition to Pageler, Councilwoman Cheryl Chow, Sherry Harris and Jim Street attended most of the hearing.