On the DOJ findings of excessive and racially biased use of force by the SPD
The Department of Justice findings of excessive and racially biased use of force by the Seattle Police Department is surprising to more or less nobody. We all know about the high-profile cases. The unfathomable and unforgiveable John T. Williams shooting. The teenage girl who was punched in the face during a jaywalking bust. Or the black teen who was kicked in the groin by a plain clothes officer. Or the cuffed man down on the ground with a cop beating “the Mexican piss” out of him.
There is a deep culture of unaccountability in the SPD, and the negative media attention these incidents have created in recent years have not brought anywhere near the departmental response that our community deserves. This reflects poorly on the vast majority of Seattle police officers who, every day, perform their jobs with integrity and honor.
Many of us have had personal experience with, or knowledge of, excessive police violence. In just the past few weeks, two ministers have been pepper sprayed or beaten while peacefully protesting with Occupy Seattle members. Both were wearing clerical garb. There was also the infamous pepper spraying of the diminutive 84-year-old Dorli Rainey.
A few years ago, a suicidal Real Change vendor was Tazered after cops were called to our Belltown office. His offense? He didn’t respond quickly enough to a request to empty his pockets. Our horrified staff has been reluctant to call police about anything ever since.
As for myself, I was pinned against a wall several years ago near Third and Bell by a Seattle cop who jumped the curb with his motorcycle to apprehend me for jaywalking across an empty street. The officer seemed to take my disregard for a traffic signal as a grave personal affront.
As someone who knows how to de-escalate a tense situation, I know what to do when confronted by an angry and out of control person. Many of us who work in human services have these skills. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect that the police should have them too. At the very least, we should know that the police will not be the ones who are angry and out of control.
The issues outlined in the DOJ report — excessive use of force, the need for de-escalation training, and problems with internal accountability — are long-standing problems. To those of us who have been fighting for greater police accountability, the DOJ recommendations are uncontroversial and long overdue.
City leadership has resisted meaningful change and accountability in the face of growing community outrage for more than a decade. Since the release of the DOJ report, the Seattle NAACP’s James Bible has called for police to “clean house” from top to bottom. Bible speaks for the vast majority of community leaders, and it’s high time for the mayor to get right with the people and get unequivocally behind the change that we need now.
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