Heightened public scrutiny last summer over a catalyst movement demanding police accountability and racial justice has this “ahead of the curve” city scrambling to keep up. Over the course of a year of protests, an equity commission is being explored while the city’s own business agenda was updated to push for anti-racism. While the words have been updated, no noticeable changes have yet to be seen, especially on the demand for a city “reflective of its residents” in the racial makeup of public employees, including public leaders.
While city leaders have promised to do more on justice for Black and other BIPOC communities, the city has altogether ignored issues facing Black communities regarding public appointment and leadership in Renton. When the former City CEO stepped down, the city rushed the appointment of the former police chief, a white guy, to the position, which is the highest in the city administration. Residents commented to the council asking for a process which would be inclusive to BIPOC communities and consider seriously candidates of color who apply for public positions. Without any public input or reforms to the process, the mayor this week appointed Deputy-Chief Jon Schuldt, a white guy, to Police Chief
This is partly a power play. The mayor has the authority to appoint the police chief in our strong-mayor system, which some residents have begun to criticize over the last two years. While neighboring cities, like Tukwila, have pressured their mayor into modernizing the practice, the City of Renton has ignored their community insisting that the old ways are the best ways, and that their picks for appointment “were the best of those who applied”. City councilmembers voted unanimously on these appointments, drawing more concerns about the council’s authority and the city’s intentions for racial justice and equal opportunity in employment and leadership.
This has come with little surprise. Mayor Armondo Pavone ran strongly on police endorsements, as the son of a retired officer, and has insisted on keeping even police officers tied to extremists on the police force rather than work to bridge communities to the police. Pavone even endorsed extremist candidate Ben Johnson this year, who has in the past advocated for brutal police practices, “Spartan” prisons, and used defamatory language to describe marginalized people. The mayor’s administration has even involved itself in suing King County in order to block police reforms, which was unsuccessful. The impression being given by this is there exists a streamlined system for white men to secure positions of authority in Renton, a “Good Ol’ Boys Club” that protects itself, as it might be described in decades past.
Even with the appearance of this good boys club, overall the feeling isn’t helplessness, but an emboldening act for local advocates to demand more reforms. “They want us to react by shutting down, but we’re only going to push for more reforms” a local resident comments when asked about the situation. The decision by the city to ignore marginalized communities while continuing the same systems that marginalize them is growing tensions and divisions in a community desperate for reform and unity.