City We’d Love to Stop Writing This Story.
posted by December 12 at 17:22 PMon
Jonah Spangenthal-Lee has a story in today’s paper about alleged police misconduct against young African American men in North Seattle.
I’d like to say it’s an alarming story, but unfortunately, you’ve heard the basics before: Cop sees black man; black man gets “uppity;” cops beat the shit out of black man; black man turns out not to have committed a crime. (In this week’s installment, cops chase black man into his house and taser him).
Again, I’d like to say it’s an alarming story, but Jonah has already filed several similar stories this year.
Indeed, when it comes to police accountability, it’s been a bummer year.
But the public outcry and resulting attention that the issue got last June quickly fell away after Mayor Nickels announced he supported the chief and was putting together a panel to look at the problem.
(Coincidentally, the next time the cops showed up in the news was in September after they raided clubs and shocked city council members by possibly, and sloppily, violating the civil rights of those arrested.)
It is inexcusable that there isn’t more urgency in this city, on the council, in the press, in the public, to get to the bottom of the problem with police misconduct.
Personally, I don’t think it’s about forcing Chief Gil Kerlikowske to resign. I think it’s about finding a real way to hold officers accountable. Certainly, an aspect of holding officers accountable is by holding a hammer over the cheif, but firing Kerlikowske won’t accomplish long term accountability.
There will be two new city council members in January—Tim Burgess (a former cop) and Bruce Harrell (an attorney who says he’s about public accountability). I interviewed both men during our endorsement process and came away discouraged with how both men fielded the police accountability question. Burgess was certainly more engaged in the issue and promised to tackle it, but he was reluctant to get behind legislation that would strengthen council oversight on the chief. Harrell was vague on policy and seemed like a blue ribbon panel type guy.
This issue is a big deal. : ) And if I may step away from the trendy Seattle liberal point of view (which, apologizing for raising its voice, goes out of its way to say police are good people and this is just a few bad apples), I’m starting to think it’s not just about “bad apples.”
Evidence is mounting that there is a problem with the system and the culture that apparently allows police to get away with off-the-charts behavior (again, read Jonah’s story). As a result, more and more officers are getting caught—or at least sued.
Cops work hard and have uniquely demanding jobs. So, I understand why they get their backs up when they are criticized.
But it’s time to stop with the “few bad apples” rap. That point of view pretends their isn’t a larger problem. Problem: We have a system that doesn’t allow the public—or our representatives on the council—to play a role in holding public servants accountable. That set up doesn’t simply empower and protect bad apples, it also creates a culture at large that can breed delinquent behavior.
Anyone heard from Nickels panel lately?