Mr. Mayor, Please Don’t Resist a Less-Violent Police Department
I’ve never had a bad encounter with the Seattle Police Department. In fact, last year local police officers arrested a stalker who was harassing me, and this month I worked with the SPD to track down a shoplifter. Officers have been cordial, helpful, prompt and friendly.
But it’s clear there’s a very dark side to the Seattle Police Department. A recent Justice Department study found that the SPD has a routine and widespread use of excessive force. Progressive, enlightened Seattle has systemic weaknesses in its police force that put us all in danger.
This problem hit home to me a few months ago when a clergy friend, John Helmiere, was detained and beaten by an SPD officer. John Helmiere, a Dartmouth and Yale graduate, was peacefully protesting at a Port of Seattle demonstration when he was pulled down from behind (as video shows) and then beaten in the face. His story came as a wake-up call, and I started to connect this with other stories like this one, this one and this one and this one involving my friend, Dorli Rainey, that add up to clear evidence of a very significant problem.
Enter the Justice Department. When its carefully crafted study of the SPD was released in December, SPD chief John Diaz responded, “the department is not broken.” Along with Mayor McGinn the city’s response was a puzzling and troubling skepticism in the face of the incontrovertible evidence of the DOJ.
Since the DOJ report, Mayor McGinn has dragged his feet, claiming the DOJ findings would cost $5 million and now $41 million. Our mayor has decided to lock horns with the DOJ in defense of his police department rather than face the sad fact: our department needs help.
While we all appreciate the SPD in its careful and appropriate moments, I believe the City of Seattle deserves a police department that knows how to operate in difficult and emotional moments. I’m very deeply troubled by stories and videos of people who have been subjected to violence because of their racial or ethnic backgrounds, of protestors who have been beaten out of anger, and of other innocent people who found violence at the hands of the SPD rather than safety.
I don’t believe Mayor McGinn should compromise the safety of the people of the City of Seattle. Why would he want anything other than a well-trained and well-supervised police department? His budgetary concerns seem like a smokescreen designed to protect the status quo at the SPD, and his battle against the DOJ simply enables a culture of abuse in the SPD that hurts people and builds distrust with our police force.
As a leader of the religious community of Seattle, I ask Mayor McGinn not to resist a less-violent police department. Seattle deserves the best out of its officers, and it doesn’t do the citizens or the police any good to fight against reform. Mr. Mayor, your resistance of the DOJ’s recommendations is odd and backwards for our progressive city. Seattle’s taxpayers have consistently accepted responsibility to pay for what government we need, so there’s not a good rationale for giving this less attention and funding than it deserves. The DOJ’s efforts have repaired police departments in other cities. Let’s stop fighting the DOJ and listen carefully to what it has to say, then let’s incorporate those findings into a new SPD that protects and defends without resorting to unnecessary use of force. Seattle deserves a smart, cautious and effective SPD.