SeaTac residents dismayed by city’s blind eye towards racism
By Gwen Davis
This past year, SeaTac's interim city manager, Donny Payne, wanted to map out where Muslim SeaTac residents lived. He was hired by the SeaTac city council in January. By April, the city had conducted an investigation on Payne, concerning this issue and other racial profiling attempts. Payne resigned.
Many SeaTac residents are outraged by the city’s decision to hire Payne. They say such Islamophobia cannot be tolerated, especially in a city like SeaTac, made up of mostly nonwhite, working class residents. Approximately 28,000 people live in SeaTac.
"Does the city want to create an environment that disenfranchises a significant part of the population, or that helps create an environment of fairness?” asked Luis Escamilla, SeaTac resident for 10 years, who teaches at Foster High School. “The mapping of our Muslim neighbors is downing.”
While some residents were fine with Payne’s plans, Escamilla speculated, others were not.
“For residents, there’s a degree of anger and fear,” he said. “‘Am I being watched? Am I being monitored?’”
Escamilla said this decision could tarnish SeaTac’s reputation.
"Considering that we live in one of the most diverse areas in Washington State, it’s shameful,” he said. "It’s shameful that our name in the city is being connected to this rightwing, Islamaphobia mindset.”
In January, four city council members, known as the “Forschler Four” ousted four incumbents, and were then quick to fire the city manager. Forschler, the leader of the group, asked Payne to apply for the interim manager’s job. One candidate who had 35 years of experience was turned down over Payne, who had zero years of municipal management experience.
Once on the job, Payne was swift in attempting to initiate policy that would target Muslims, among other controversial ideas.
The city issued an investigator, led by Michael Griffin.
According to the report Payne “stated an interest in knowing with a great deal of specificity (to the neighborhood, house, and even person) where Sunni and Shiite Muslim residents lived,” the report stated. This “tactical map” of Muslim residents from census data would be used “in case he needed to go into the neighborhoods to ‘make the peace.’”
Because of his ethnic profiling attempts, Payne resigned on April 6, after less than three months on the job. Griffin said that “Mr. Payne’s concerns about Muslims committing acts of terrorism seem to be the main motivation for his GIS mapping request,” he wrote, according to the Seattle Times’ coverage.
Payne denied the findings.
Now residents are fervidly questioning the intent behind Forschler and his other three council member friends.
“To what extent did they know what the gentleman’s beliefs and visions were in regard to policy?” Escamilla said. "I think there are a lot of questions that need to be asked.”
The future is uncertain, as well.
“The hiring of the former city manager spoke volumes to the leadership or lack of leadership the city has,” Escamilla said. “Whose interests are they representing? Are they representing a narrow slice of the electorate or the whole?”
Escamilla speculated that the right-to-center “Forschler Four” got elected as a backlash to the $15/hour minimum wage law. They had campaigned on "reforming SeaTac" and people angry about the new legislation jumped on voting for these new fresh faces, while scooting the more left-to-center ones out. Meanwhile, the residents who were pro the minimum wage movement did not do enough to galvanize the support of the liberal former council members.
“It was a post-Tea Party resurgence,” Escamilla said.
But it’s not only this issue that currently has the city council in hot water.
Residents are also concerned with an episode in the spring in which council members were hesitant in accepting grant money to beautify the neighborhood, specifically to beautify northern SeaTac.
“The grant would have beautified the section of the city where an elementary school on 148th used to be,” Escamilla said. “It had been brought down and now there is a vacant field.”
People were unhappy.
“There was a lot of resistance of the new city council members, to the point where you had a lot of residents come to the council meetings and say, ‘Why are you afraid to take free money?’”
Escamilla is curious about what the next several months will look like.