In his 2023 budget proposal, Mayor Bruce Harrell slashed funding to prevent hate crimes against Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPI) by about half, from $333,000 to $166,000. 

Organizations that combat AAPI hate say the cut signaled that Seattle no longer prioritizes safety for this still-vulnerable population, while the Mayor’s Office defended the cut as a response to the $140 million deficit. His office went on to argue that investments in cop bonuses and sweeps respond to the AAPI community’s request for safety. 

In response to the surge in anti-Asian hate crimes sparked by racist and inaccurate associations between Chinese people and COVID-19, last year the City distributed more than $300,000 among nine local AAPI organizations that aimed to prevent violence. Those organizations include API Chaya, which supports AAPI survivors of domestic violence, sexual violence, and human trafficking; UTOPIA, which supports queer AAPI people; and Birth Beyond Bars, which advocates for perinatal health services for incarcerated people. 

In an email, the Mayor’s Office described those cuts as part of a broader move to address the deficit by defunding the Human Service Department, which … sounds better, I guess? However, the Mayor didn’t just take a red pen to the budget–he also added new programs at the cost of existing ones, such as the AAPI hate crime prevention fund. The new programs he wants to fund include his #OneSeattle Day of Service program and Shotspotter, a gunfire detection service that sucks.

"Not a Priority"

Even though the City constantly calls the budget a moral document that communicates its values, the Mayor’s Office remained adamant that its decision to defund AAPI hate crime prevention did not mean the Mayor stopped caring about the issue.

“As Seattle’s first mayor of Asian descent, Mayor Harrell has made it a priority to support the city’s AAPI communities–elevating a One Seattle vision to unite Seattle around shared values of inclusion and opportunity for all. Before taking office and as mayor, Mayor Harrell has frequently spoken out against anti-Asian racism and rallied against hate with Seattle’s AAPI community leaders,” the Mayor’s spokesperson said, links and emphasis his. 

Regardless of what he's rallied against, his use of power as Mayor shows his true priorities, according to national nonprofit Stop AAPI Hate.

“Unfortunately, it sends a message that our community's needs are not important. And that investing in community-based organizations is not a priority for the Mayor and for local government,” said Stop AAPI Hate Co-founder Manjusha Kulkarni.

Defunding Programs that Seem to Help

Kulkarni said meaningful hate crime prevention requires consistent funding for many years, even when conditions appear to be improving.

In 2021, the Seattle Police Department Bias Crime Unit received 112 reports of anti-Asian hate or violence, accounting for about 12% of all hate incidents in Seattle that year. So far in 2022, the Bias Crime Unit has received 43 reports of incidents targeting Asian people, which accounts for about 7% of hate incidents in the first 10 months of this year. 

Because people so rarely report incidents of hate, gleaning anything concrete from these statistics is always difficult. But even if this data completely reflected reality, defunding programs that reduced hate crimes seems counter-productive, Kulkarni said. Unless the council corrects the Mayor’s cut, local AAPI organizations will suffer, she added.

Last year, for instance, the City gave Kandelia, a local immigrant and refugee advocacy organization, $50,000 to prevent hate crimes. The organization used the grant to fund multicultural classes to build empathy for the AAPI community. Kandelia also created and distributed hundreds of safety kits, stocked with first aid supplies and “know-your-rights” pamphlets. 

According to council staffers, it's unclear if the same nine programs will get less grant funding or if fewer programs will receive funding at all. Either way, Kandelia Senior Program Manager Baeda Agonafer said the cut jeopardizes the quality of the programs because Kandelia will have to spend more time and energy hunting down grants, which will limit its ability to improve the classes and the safety initiative. Nevertheless, the programs at Kandelia will continue. Kandelia will remain consistent in its commitments, even if the Mayor and the City are not, Agonafer said.

What Harrell Is Doing for the AAPI Community Instead

Even with the cut, the Mayor’s Office said Harrell’s proposed budget broadly helps the AAPI community by addressing public safety, homelessness, and clean and safe parks–which translates to more money for cops, underfunding the King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA), and doubling down on the administration’s love of sweeps. 

In an email to The Stranger, the Mayor’s Office touted its budget’s “holistic” public safety approach, including a $5.8 million investment toward “community safety solutions,” $1 million toward victim support services, and $7 million for retaining and recruiting cops and firefighters. 

The Mayor’s Office bragged about investments into homelessness, not mentioning that his budget fails to fully fund the amount of money the homelessness authority needs to maintain current levels of service. In an amendment she submitted last week, Council Member Tammy Morales proposed an additional $9.4 million to the authority to save shelters, diversion services, and rapid rehousing services. 

Lastly, instead of funding hate crime prevention, the Mayor’s Office said its proposal serves the AAPI community by keeping parks “clean and safe” through investments in the Unified Care Team, one of the City’s two programs tasked with sweeping unhoused people. The Mayor gave both of those programs more funding this year, according to Publicola.

The Mayor's spokesperson also mentioned the Healthy Seattle Initiative, which will pilot a program to “improve access” to health care for uninsured and underinsured people. This initiative will specifically impact people of color, who tend to be uninsured at higher rates than white people. 

Additionally, his office mentioned, the proposal funds outreach to the Chinatown-International District for planning the West Seattle-Ballard link extension.

While Harrell’s office said these investments came directly at the recommendation of AAPI community members, Stop AAPI Hate recommended a completely different strategy to combat hate crimes. That group asked the City to continue investing in the prevention programs it funded last year, to build and maintain a civil rights structure to combat systemic racism, and to reduce bullying in school through education.