Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan (a Democrat, in case you even had to ask) has tried to shore up activists on the far left of the spectrum since she busted up the Capital Hill Autonomous Zone/Capitol Hill Occupied Protest, depending on what you called the lawless multiblock police vacuum in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of the Washington city.
Some of these methods are more unusual than others.
In that vein, she’s hired Andre Taylor, an activist who founded the group Not This Time, to explore “alternatives to policing.”
His salary: $150,000 a year as a “street czar” community liaison.
Taylor’s unlikely path to becoming an activist began when his brother Che was shot and killed by police in Seattle in 2016. Since then, his police accountability group has helped force a change in the state’s use of force laws as they relate to police shootings, according to The Seattle Times.
This all might sound fine except for the strange title and the rather exorbitant salary.
Also problematic: Taylor is a former pimp.
He’s not just a pimp, mind you. He was one of the pimps featured in the 1999 Hughes brothers documentary “American Pimp,” a truly eye-opening film surveying the state the pimp game at the turn of the millennium that needs to be seen to be believed. If you can put off that believing part, I can assure you it’s worth putting off seeing. I’m trying to come up with an excuse why I’ve watched it, drawing a blank and wish I weren’t. What I can tell you is that I’ve watched it — once, and it’ll forever remain that way.
Taylor was eventually sentenced to five-and-a-half years in prison after being convicted of seven counts related to prostitution, including three involving a 16-year-old girl, according to the Las Vegas Sun.
So, yes, that’s an unusual way to become an activist. That’s also an unusual way to become a highly paid public servant, which is why the contract — originally reported by PubliCola — is attracting interest.
“The Scope of Work for this Agreement and the time schedule for completion of such Work is as follows,” it reads.
“In the wake of current and historical police brutality and racial injustice, the Consultant will act as an advisor to the City of Seattle and ‘Street Czar’ community liaison to achieve short-term and long-term outcomes, including but not limited to the following” five matters:
“Urgent de-escalation of conflict and violence between the police and the community assembling in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. …
“Continuation of the conversations with the streets program established by Not This Time. …
“Provide recommendations to the City on de-escalation, community engagement, and alternatives to policing. …
“The option for Not This Time to direct funds from this contract to other community organizations supporting the Black community for services to be determined in consultation with the Department of Neighborhoods. …
“Not This Time will work in partnership with other community organizations and coalitions also involved in de-escalation.”
As for the “[c]ontinuation of the conversations with the streets program established by Not This Time,” keep in mind the city had already paid his group $100,000 for “Conversation with the Streets,” a series of sponsored talks.
For a concept of what “the streets” entail, I give you Mr. Taylor, who explains better than I could:
WARNING: The following video contains graphic language that some viewers will find offensive.
With a few exceptions, primarily Taylor’s, this contract was a problem for everyone who cared about it.
For the left, it was proffered on June 22, as the CHAZ/CHOP occupation was still ongoing — something that makes it look a lot like the city was paying a community activist to quell problems among leftists. (Taylor was against CHAZ/CHOP, and demonstrators viewed him as being an agent for city officials, according to The Seattle Times. They may have been uninformed, but not necessarily that uninformed, particularly when Taylor suggested they ask Durkan’s City Hall for money to leave the zone.)
For the right, well, Seattle was paying a former pimp $150,000 a year to help find “alternatives for policing” when the city apparently was willing to do anything but actual policing.
In the wake of the contract becoming public knowledge, Taylor decided to do the sensible thing and give an interview with Seattle’s KOMO-TV that all but told taxpayers they were lucky to have his services so cheaply.
“Me, as a black man, has the right to be paid for my genius or for whatever my organization can provide,” Taylor said in the Tuesday interview. “Black people as a whole have not been in a place to be compensated for their genius or their work for a very, very long time.”
“A street czar is a person who has a particular genius in a particular area,” he added. “I know the term ‘street czar’ is quite provocative.”
Who came up with it? Taylor, of course. KOMO reported he came up with the term by “following a practice by former President Barack Obama of designating ‘czars’ to handle a variety of areas of interest while he was in the White House.” (The term has existed in colloquial media usage to denote an appointed, unelected and unconfirmed individual with significant power over a wider subject since 1926 and took off at a White House level in 1973 with the appointment of “energy czar” William Simon by Richard Nixon — but Seattle isn’t paying Taylor for research, if indeed they’re paying him for anything substantive.)
Taylor says he’s earned the money by going out into the community and de-escalating tensions in a place where city officials were unable to, even though he was dismissed by CHAZ/CHOP demonstrators as a tool of Durkan’s.
“Somebody can’t put a price tag on going into community meetings and having sit-downs with gang members, [who] won’t sit down with anybody else,” Taylor said.
“No one raised any questions about the $100,000 that the city gave us for Conversations with the Streets,” he added. “And we are kind of bewildered that people are now raising an issue about $150,000 for our de-escalation that we’ve been doing since my brother Che Taylor was killed. It’s amazing to me [and] this is a nonstarter and nonissue.”
Not for Taylor, no. As for the mayor, she was more cagey about the controversy.
“Mayor Durkan believes that we have to make deep investments in community — one of the key demands of the Black Lives Matter protests,” Durkan spokeswoman Kelsey Nyland said in a statement.
“In early June, she committed in her 2021 budget a $100 million investment in community. Andre spoke with organizers about how to turn activism and organizing into action at the state, local, and federal level, and urged individuals to leave Capitol Hill.”
How did this manifest itself successfully?
Take a recorded meeting between CHAZ/CHOP representatives and Taylor on June 21 just before the city offered him the contract, reported by The Seattle Times. In it, he told them that he could tell Durkan, “Listen, I went down and talked [to the CHOP activists]. … They’re so serious about this space, they’re willing to die. But we have an out. … They’re more concerned about being able to have some money for communities that are devastated right now, and if we can move that, they’ll be willing to leave.”
He told them to meet with Durkan the next day, saying, “Don’t just leave. Leave with something.”
“You gotta get something,” Taylor said. “Let me make that happen for you, and then I can bring that back to you.
“I don’t know, we’ll ask for $2 million. They might give us $1 million, but let’s ask for it. Because the reason why we’re holding that space is not only for George Floyd but for the millions of George Floyds.”
They declined. Taylor signed the “street czar” contract a few days later on June 27. Seattle decided to clear CHAZ/CHOP by force in the end.
Perhaps instead of paying $150,000 for “alternatives to policing,” they could have just gone with policing in the first place.
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