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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Why Did Council Member Sawant Vote No on Our First Female Police Chief?

Posted by on Tue, Jun 24, 2014 at 1:53 PM

Yesterday, Kshama Sawant voted against the confirmation of new police chief Kathleen O'Toole, the only council member to do so. Why? It was kind of hard to tell. Here's her 10-minute speech on the matter:

It's easier to decipher her reasoning if you read the text of her speech, much of which is below the jump. But it was still a funny, sort of grandstanding move. O'Toole, Sawant acknowledged, seems committed to police reform, creative about policing, open and sincere, and also only one small part of a larger broken system she's inheriting wholesale. Sawant even mentions her appreciation of O'Toole's role as the first female head of a male-dominated institution.

But, she eventually gets around to arguing, she just doesn't think O'Toole will "challenge the status quo" enough. That part gets lost and muddied in the middle of a long, laundry-list speech about SPD's entrenched problems that have little to do with O'Toole herself. O'Toole, a frank public speaker with a long résumé, has proven so far to be popular with city leaders and the public, though we'll have to see how she, you know, actually runs the police department. Sawant's no vote seemed calculated to draw attention to her political perspective rather than be an actual vote of no confidence—would Sawant really prefer that O'Toole wasn't confirmed and the search process reopened? (I've called her office for comment and will update when I hear back.)

At the same time: The points she made are much clearer when you read them instead of listen to them, and she's not wrong, here, just speechifying. If you want to read Sawant's statement, a link and excerpts are below.

Full text of the speech is right here. Here are some portions particularly relevant to Sawant's vote:

[O'Toole] has expressed a commitment to really build a relationship with the community. She calls for a tiered approach for policing protests, in which riot gear police are used strategically, and only pulled out if they are absolutely necessary. Unauthorized protests would be met with bike police first. She has invited the ACLU to work on the SPD’s planning committee, as she did in Boston.

All that would be welcome change—and I am happy to support any such positive moves. Also positive is that a woman will be at the head of what has been and still is a male-dominated bastion.

However, I have not seen sufficient evidence that she would be willing to challenge the status quo of the police and the political establishment. The DOJ investigation clearly shows that a thorough-going fundamental, structural change is necessary to rectify the deeply problematic state of affairs, a state that has been decades in the making.

Ms. O’Toole has said that she would like to run SPD like a business. By that she means she wants SPD to be efficient and accountable. While I don’t doubt her sincerity at all, that is troubling to me, since private businesses and corporations are NOT accountable to working people, they are accountable to the profits of a few. Private businesses keep their affairs closed and secret. The opposite is needed for a public service, for policing in alliance with the communities, for accountability, for transparency...

I think that if Ms. O’Toole is indeed sincere and serious about overhauling the department, and carrying out even the steps she herself has outlined, she will run into bitter opposition and obstacles from the entrenched forces in the SPD and the political establishment. This is not a comment on her, because this is not something that can be accomplished by one person. We know we have a Community Police Commission, but it is neither elected nor has any binding authority over the SPD. What we need is a democratically elected civilian review board, with real powers over the SPD to hold them really accountable. If Ms. O’Toole is willing to take steps towards that, I will be happy to do everything in my power to help her.

 

Comments (16) RSS

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2
That wasn't "speechifying", that was making a valid point. Until they are accountable to the community it is supposed to serve, most of these department reforms are merely cosmetic and still entirely decided top-down. We're so used to that, that some liberals think a female spouting the status quo is enough. It is not enough. And yes, I am una feminista. I am from the communities that get profiled, criminalized and shot by police. Sawant speaks for me.
Posted by Activist on June 24, 2014 at 2:03 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 3
Who will speak for the Drones?
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on June 24, 2014 at 2:05 PM · Report this
5
She sure wasn't standing up for the poor in the SE when she voted for an upzone in Mt. Baker, was she? SOCIALIST FAIL.
Posted by hmmmmm on June 24, 2014 at 2:21 PM · Report this
theophrastus 6
She suffers from some of the same syndrome as did Mike McGinn, transitioning from activist to part of the (eeeevil) system. maybe she'll never be able to do it. so there she is perpetually railing against the dais on which she's a member. particularly if you need a majority vote to get anything accomplished it will eventually make you a feckless and established irritant.
Posted by theophrastus on June 24, 2014 at 2:29 PM · Report this
7
I've got a better idea for policing Seattle . . .

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=93n-EmGk…
Posted by Ken Mehlman on June 24, 2014 at 2:33 PM · Report this
9
Sawant doesn't appear to put a whole lot of strategic energy into her grandstanding. She just does it for the sake of doing it.

She sure wasn't standing up for the poor in the SE when she voted for an upzone in Mt. Baker, was she?

I actually find that vote an encouraging sign for her, given how she indulged in some of the moronic "stop the greedy developers" demogoguery last year. As San Francisco amply demonstrates, restricting new housing supply at a time when thousands of people with money doesn't work out very well for the poor, because they'll eventually start getting outbid for even the crappiest apartments. Pretending that restricting development helps the poor is just a way of pandering to neighborhood NIMBY types who flatter themselves by irrationally believing their selfish, reactionary policy preferences are consistent with their left-wing self image. I was worried Sawant may not fully understand that; now I am less so.
Posted by david jw on June 24, 2014 at 3:31 PM · Report this
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn 10
It's almost as if the Democratic Party of Seattle has one agenda, and Kshama Sawant has a whole separate agenda.
Posted by Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn http://youtu.be/zu-akdyxpUc on June 24, 2014 at 4:04 PM · Report this
11
Sawant is flying wa-a-ay over the cuckoo's nest. O'Toole wants SPD to apply "best business practices" (that's just management talk for "doing shit that works"), and Sawant reads it as making SPD "accountable to the profits of a few".

She further describes her vote as "not a comment on her [O'Toole], because this [Sawant's ideal model] is not something that can be accomplished by one person".

Sorry, Kshama, but in this world we're voting on a Chief of SPD to do what that one person can, and if a NO vote is not a comment on O'Toole, it's not a comment on anything - it's just open mike amateur night at the City Hall Comedy Club.

Posted by RonK, Seattle on June 24, 2014 at 4:07 PM · Report this
12
She lost me when she suggested Boeing workers could take possession of its factories and start building transportation vehicles instead of "weapons of war" - without management of course; let the workers manage themselves... or something. She's a total con artist, and not a very good one.
Posted by Jim Detwiler on June 24, 2014 at 4:45 PM · Report this
13
This is not a comment on her, because this is not something that can be accomplished by one person. We know we have a Community Police Commission, but it is neither elected nor has any binding authority over the SPD. What we need is a democratically elected civilian review board, with real powers over the SPD to hold them really accountable. If Ms. O’Toole is willing to take steps towards that, I will be happy to do everything in my power to help her.

Sawant votes NO because she thinks the idea of a police chief being in charge is a poor one. She would prefer, if not a leaderless-collective like occupy, at least a citizen council that does the job of the police chief.

It all reminds me of the metro parks district, or rather, the complaints by those opposed to one where the city council serves as the controlling board and individuals have no real ability to control the spend of it directly (like we do with levy votes).
http://www.seattlemet.com/news-and-profi…
Posted by ChefJoe on June 24, 2014 at 5:05 PM · Report this
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn 14
If the voters who picked Sawant had wanted to see 9-0 rubber stamp decisions, they'd have voted for Richard Conlin and gotten 9-0 Council votes.
Posted by Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn http://youtu.be/zu-akdyxpUc on June 24, 2014 at 5:06 PM · Report this
15
Sawant's grandstanding is boring. And, as noted above, with speeches like this, increasingly irrelevant.
Posted by Fluffy on June 24, 2014 at 5:42 PM · Report this
seatackled 17
I don't understand Anna's assertion that CM Sawan't "[isn't] wrong, just speechifying." This seems to be a contradictory assessment. Or is this a Linda Brillesque comment about the little Indian girl talking funny?
Posted by seatackled on June 24, 2014 at 9:08 PM · Report this
18
Hear hear! @ 14
Posted by Upchuck on June 24, 2014 at 10:19 PM · Report this
20
attention whore
Posted by delbert on June 25, 2014 at 5:59 AM · Report this
Quintus Slide 22
Her Indian origins notwithstanding, Sawant is, in several respects, the typical American activist; she is drunk on earnestness, is utterly humorless, and is incapable of compromise. She is Upton Sinclair in a female body. She is a bore. Where, say, Charles Dickens, could paint devastating portraits of Victorian-era institutional injustice while remaining beguilingly funny, your American counterpart is so permanently indignant, is such a goddamned fucking tedious tub-thumper, that he eventually but reliably taints any cause he takes in hand.

If you love the left, you should already have begun to sour on this caviling creature. We should insist that it is both possible and desirable to advocate for social justice while being charming.
Posted by Quintus Slide on June 25, 2014 at 10:18 AM · Report this

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