The Seattle City Council already made news earlier this year with its effort to defund its own police department at the same time that rioting in the city was occurring on a nightly basis. In what seems to be a continuing disconnect with reality, the council is now exploring a “poverty defense law” that would provide a “get out of jail free” card to criminals who commit misdemeanor theft.  

Introduced by City Council member Lisa Herbold and Anita Khandelwal, the King County director of the Department of Public Defense, the proposed ordinance would provide an affirmative defense to those charged with theft, as long as they can prove they committed it to provide for “a basic need.”

“It’s giving people an opportunity to tell their stories and giving judges and juries the opportunity to hear those stories and make a decision based on the values of our city,” Herbold told a subcommittee examining the proposal.

“It’s a green light for crime,” said Scott Lindsay, a former mayoral Public Safety Advisor.

“I think it’s absolutely insane,” said barbershop owner Matthew Humphrey, whose business was recently broken into and over $4,000 in goods were stolen. The proposed law would also excuse thieves who steal property and then resell it for cash.

But those who have voiced opposition to this new law have been accused of “bias.”

“We know that this is simply fear mongering. The early attacks against it are rooted in anti-poverty bias,” Tiffany McCoy, a lead organizer for a group called “Real Change,” told the City Council’s Public Safety Committee.

Khandelwal even suggested that defendants need not prove they didn’t know of a legal alternative to theft, such as the existence of a food bank nearby.

“To show that there wasn’t something nearby seems to just go in the direction our criminal legal system has been, ensnaring individuals within it,” she said.

The proposed law isn’t just about poverty, but drug addiction and mental disorders as well. Picture a drug addict breaking into a pharmacy to obtain a “fix.” As long as he doesn’t steal enough to get over the monetary threshold into felony theft, he’ll be good to go under this new law.

Critics predict the new law will result in “non-stop shoplifting.”

The proposed law will be discussed further at another City Council subcommittee meeting in January.

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