Protesters threaten Indigenous Seattle council member
Special to Indian Country Today
Several tribal leaders in Washington state are denouncing “incredibly personal and targeted acts of violence” against Seattle’s lone Indigenous City Council member, Debora Juarez, who in recent weeks has received death threats and been harassed at home by mobs of protesters who support defunding police.
Juarez, Blackfeet, says she began receiving “really vile” messages July 10, after protesters shared her home address and contact information online.
“They put my personal cellphone number, my address and started putting pictures of my home and address on Twitter and Facebook, and then I started getting vicious calls,” Juarez said.
Protesters have showed up at her house by the dozens a few times, shining their car headlights into her windows at night and using a bullhorn to chant and hurl insults, she said. She stayed at a motel one night and warned family members to keep away.
People also spray-painted names such as “corporate bootlicker” and obscene messages on her street, and they continue to send her harassing and threatening texts.
“This is my life. This is home. This is not Coachella. This is not City Hall,” Juarez said. “Also, I’m not the toxic dumping ground where you need to come talk about your white privilege and how you need to talk about Black lives, because you sure as f---k don’t care about my life.”
The situation is particularly frustrating, Juarez said, because she supports the idea of allocating police funds elsewhere; she simply declined to sign a pledge to defund police that she found too vague, which is when the trouble started.
“We must balance our desire for expediency with foresight to ensure these reforms are permanent,” Juarez said in a July 15 statement.
“We need to plant a new tree because the roots, trunk, branches and fruit of this tree are poisoned, as are the future seeds,” she wrote. “Therefore, in order to reorganize, reduce and reallocate such funds and duties, we need a plan, not a percentage.”
Juarez noted her vote wasn’t even needed because seven of the nine City Council members made the pledge, which included committing to a goal of cutting the police department’s budget by 50 percent.
“So, their only purpose to come to my house and physically threaten me is to purely terrorize me,” she said of protesters.
The council has been discussing cuts to the department’s 2020 budget as part of an effort to address COVID-19 budget impacts, the Seattle Times reported.
Demonstrators also have gathered at the homes of Mayor Jenny Durkan and council members Alex Pedersen, Lisa Herbold and Tammy Morales, according to the newspaper. Messages written on Pedersen’s windows have included: “Don’t be racist trash.”
Juarez, who grew up on the Puyallup Indian Reservation, is a longtime attorney and former municipal and superior court judge who directed the state Office of Indian Affairs under two governors. In 2015, she became the first tribal citizen elected to the City Council in Seattle, a city that once barred Native Americans from living within its limits despite being named after the Suquamish Chief Seattle.
Juarez pointed to her lifelong commitment to social and tribal justice. She said she got her start in activism as a child participating in the Fish Wars, 1960s- and ’70s-era protests in the Puget Sound area aimed at pressuring the federal government to recognize tribes’ fishing rights.
“I’ve watched my elders be arrested and be put in the back of cop cars and watched Fish and Wildlife agents hurt our people and jail our people,” she said. “I was a lawyer for tribes for over 30 years in federal court defending treaty rights, economic development, Indian Child Welfare Act, doing depositions against white landowners.”
With Seattle ranked as a top U.S. city for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in a 2018 report, Juarez also sponsored a measure directing the city to work government-to-government with tribes to address the issue.
“The hypocrisy of these goofy white people who have these Black Lives Matter T-shirts are all of a sudden ‘woke’ and talking about centering BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) is bullshit,” Juarez said. “Because they didn’t live our lives. They didn’t live our trauma. That’s the hypocrisy that breaks my heart because they don’t know who I am.”
Colleen Echohawk, executive director of the Chief Seattle Club, which aims to provide a “sacred space to nurture, affirm and renew the spirit of urban Native people,” noted Jaurez’s humble commitment to helping Native nonprofits and youth programs and assisting Natives in getting housing.
“This behavior of terror toward Councilmember Debora Juarez is disgusting and the antithesis of the movement,” Echohawk said. “Perpetuating violence against Native women has been the standard practice for the non-BIPOC community, and it has to stop.”
Several Washington tribal leaders also issued a statement Monday in support of Juarez.
“Councilwoman Debora Juarez has dedicated her life’s work to protecting vulnerable families and communities throughout the state of Washington,” said Francis Charles, chairwoman of Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe. “The first peoples of these lands will not tolerate any hateful or dehumanizing behavior towards her or any other Indigenous woman.”
The Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe calls for the "incredibly personal and targeted acts of violence against Councilmember Debora Juarez and her family to cease," Chairman W. Ron Allen wrote.
"Seattle’s residents should be celebrating that they have a leader who is trying to make decisions based on a reasonable and viable plan, which could be sustained over time.”
Others included in the statement were Lawrence Solomon, chairman of Lummi Nation; Leonard Forsman, chairman of Suquamish Tribe; Steve Edwards, chairman of Swinomish Indian Tribal Community; and Willie Frank III, council member of the Nisqually Tribe.
Meanwhile, Seattle's Neighborhood for Smart Streets political action committee has called on City Council President Lorena González to speak out about protesters targeting officials' homes.
González said in a release last week: "I share the strong feelings with many of those who are still in the streets peacefully protesting. I continue to believe that this fight for collective liberation is strengthened by holding each other in community and calling each other into the struggle to do better."
Adrian L. Jawort, Northern Cheyenne, is a freelance journalist and fiction writer. She is founder of Off the Pass Press, which publishes literary works by Indigenous writers.