Bruce Harrell Mug.jpg
Bruce Harrell was a major force behind the resolution.
On Monday the City Council unanimously voted to declare Seattle a "Civil Rights City." In joining


Seattle Declares Itself a 'Civil Rights City.' So What Does That Mean?

Bruce Harrell Mug.jpg
Bruce Harrell was a major force behind the resolution.
On Monday the City Council unanimously voted to declare Seattle a "Civil Rights City." In joining three other major U.S. cities that have passed similar resolutions - Boston, Washington D.C., and Pittsburgh - city officials say Seattle's declaration will help them incorporate human rights standards into policy decisions, budget planning, services, and just about every other function of city government.

*See Also: Attempting to Summarize What Was Accomplished at SPD 'Consortium'

The resolution -drafted by the Seattle Human Rights Commission and championed by council member Bruce Harrell - uses the U.N.'s Universal Declaration of Human Rights as its backbone, and dictates that the city will now use the Declaration for guidance when governing.

Of course, it's hard to argue with the resolution or its motives. But, at the end of the day, will passing a resolution actually help Seattle better itself? Or is this purely symbolic?

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights outlines the basic right to education, safety, equality, and an adequate standard of living - and using this as a lens to craft city policy and governance will provide real, tangible benefits to residents, says Seattle Human Rights Commission Chairman Chris Stearns.

"In practical terms it means that the citizens, the Seattle Human Rights Commission, the Seattle Women's Commission, the Seattle LGBT Commission, the Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities will have some more leverage to seek legislation, budget priorities, and other policy actions that protect or advance human rights," Stearns tells Seattle Weekly. "Those rights include rights to equality and safety and an adequate standard of living. The latter includes strong concepts like the right to food, the right to housing, the right to seek work, the right to education and health."

"While the resolution is symbolic ... it is critical for the City at important times to reaffirm the City's commitment in our policy work to achieve equity for all residents," says Harrell via email with Seattle Weekly. "This should be the basis or lens by which we make all policy decisions; our framework. The resolution is providing affirmation that we recognize the inherent or natural dignity of each individual, regardless of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or cultural background; and recognize the equal and inalienable rights of all."

Taken at face value, Seattle's move to become a "Civil Rights City" has all the talking points of an improvement. But it also raises the question: So is this an affirmation Seattle has ignored important civil rights issues in the past? And, even if it's not, what will this resolution help Seattle do that it couldn't do for itself previously?

Harrell says Seattle is in the process of defining who and what it is, and part of that process involves defining what our vision of growth impacts every member of our society.

"If the City did not pass a resolution calling Seattle a 'Human Rights City,' there may not be a negative impact, but for advocates who believe our growth must be balanced against the needs of the vulnerable or underrepresented, the resolution affirms a belief by the City that human rights are the basis to determine our values as a City," says Harrell.

One of the obvious areas the declaration can help Seattle - and one of the things that makes it feel like a positive step - is in the reforms prescribed under the city's agreement with the DOJ. It's a fact not lost on Harrell, and one of the reasons he pushed for it.

"Article 1 [of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights] states that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Article 3 states that everyone has a right to life, liberty and security of person. These articles do not exclude people being arrested or suspected of a crime or people who are mentally ill; it states all people," says Harrell, who goes on to point out that, "Article 7 of the Declaration: 'All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination."

"The bottom line is that our new and reformed policies for our police department must recognize the human rights of all, even when dealing with the most stressful or challenging circumstances; in fact, that is when it matters most,"says Harrell.

The proof, of course, will be in the pudding.

But stating such objectives - on the record and for all to see - certainly can't hurt.

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