By Scott Hamilton
Black Lives Matter.
Thanks to everybody carrying a camera in their pocket via cell phones, the world now sees just how common police misconduct toward blacks remains.
Whether it is excessive use of force or gunning down someone, cell phone videos make it clear and unequivocal there is a systemic problem in law enforcement.
This problem doesn’t stop with police agencies. We now can see that all too often, prosecutors are complicit in covering up these police crimes, either by commission or omission of investigating and prosecuting.
The blue wall of silence and complicity within police ranks extends beyond the offending officer as well.
Three other policemen stood by while George Floyd pleaded for his life. (One, a rookie trainee, at least raised a question about tactics. His senior officers ignored him.)
In Chicago, fellow cops stood by—and then falsified their reports—when one gunned down a black man who was no imminent threat.
There have been videos of police shooting blacks in the back. Local prosecutors did nothing until the videos hit the public domain.
Police misconduct is not new, sometimes encouraged by elected officials.
I am old enough to have lived through the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and the declaration by Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley that police should “shoot to kill arsonists” and “shoot to maim looters” that followed riots and burnings following King’s murder.
I’m old enough to have watched, on live TV, the “police riot” (as the investigating Walker Commission later called it) when Chicago cops clashed with demonstrators protesting the Vietnam War and racial discrimination as the 1968 Democratic Convention proceeded in Chicago.
I certainly know my history of the early 1960s clashes between police and civil rights demonstrators, the grainy black and white video footage of Alabama Gov. George Wallace standing in front of a college entry to block entry of the first black student and of law enforcement looking the other way of at lynchings and cruelties of blacks.
There was always an undercurrent of “knowing” cops abused minorities, but little made its way into the press.
Donald Trump likes to say more whites are killed by police than blacks. It’s an appalling position to take.
In absolute numbers, he’s correct. But as Chris Wallace, the anchor of Fox News Sunday, pointed out in last week’s sit-down with Trump, on a per capita basis, blacks are twice as likely as whites to be killed by police.
In Minneapolis, where George Floyd was killed by a cop, Wallace pointed out, there blacks are subjected to excessive police force seven times more than whites.
Seattle’s police department became subject to federal oversight because of a long history and pattern of police using excessive force on minorities, mostly blacks.
These abuses are not (and never have been) confined to the South.
Cell phone videos expose the abuses on a national scale.
In the aftermath of the George Floyd murder, a movement has begun to “defund” police.
The exact meaning of this term varies. For some, it means redirecting some of the police budget to social services of some kind, for the benefit of minorities.
In Seattle, the city council voted to slash funding by 50%. This means laying off a large portion of the police department.
The use of non-lethal crowd-control methods also comes under attack. During the height of the protests in Seattle, a judge issued an injunction prohibiting the police from using tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets to disperse crowds.
De-militarizing police departments also is a recent rallying point, although this is not a new issue.
Sammamish City Council Member Jason Ritchie on June 5 posted on his Facebook page a five-point policy proposal of police reform he supports.
He followed up on June 16 with an effort to put the over-arching topic on the city council’s agenda. Three council members are needed to put an item on the agenda. Only Pam Stuart supported his motion.
Motion: I move that we modify the SMC (Sammamish Municipal Code) and any applicable contracts to require all complaints of police use of excessive force and abuse of power to be investigated by a team outside of the jurisdiction of the Sammamish and the King County Sheriff’s Office. This could be either a separate prosecutor designated by the State Attorney General or some other entity.
Resolution: The City of Sammamish believes in accountability and transparency by all serving our community and specifically those entrusted with keeping the peace in Sammamish. To that end, we encourage the King County Sheriff’s Office to provide a plan and timeline for installing “body cameras” on all King County Sheriff Officers, including those serving in Sammamish.
Ritchie declined on his Facebook page to engage in discussion with readers asking for details.
I asked Ritchie some questions about his proposals. While he didn’t answer each question, here’s what he did write:
“I support the creation of a Civilian Review Board, a Community Outreach Program and working with the current boards, specifically human services, to facilitate cultural outreach. However, many of these ideas are challenging due to our contractual relationship with the KCSO. To that end, I plan on sending a proposal to the council for a study to review a Sammamish Police Department, separate from KCSO. We are growing and unique and deserve to have a public safety team that is responsive to Sammamish versus the larger and more complicated needs of King County.
“To your larger point, I support public safety, not a militarized police force that utilizes rubber bullets, choke holds, and other dangerous devices. I support actions that reallocate resources from police services that are more geared towards community relations, mental health, drug addiction treatment and community building. I support civilian oversight and removing qualified immunity from our public safety officers. I support cameras on public safety officers, including police. I support utilizing city resources to place additional school resource officers in our public schools.
“Maybe once the perseveration (sic) on traffic and the Town Center is over, these issues can be addressed or at least have their due time for debate.”
What are alternatives?
Militarization of police has been controversial for years.
The federal government has a program by which it gives surplus military vehicles to state and local agencies, including law enforcement.
Without deep research, it might be that the epicenter of militarizing the police began with the 1997 North Hollywood bank robbery.
Two heavily body-armored men armed with automatic weapons held up a bank. Police arrived and a 40+ minute firefight ensued. Some 300 police officers engaged these two men. The L. A. police standard at the time was to be armed with handguns and a shotgun in the squad car.
A dozen cops were shot, along with eight civilians. Police had to commandeer a bank armored car to drive into the firefight to rescue wounded police and civilians.
When it was all over, the two bad guys fired more than 1,100 rounds.
This was a wake-up call to police departments all over the country.
With the proliferation of automatic weapons available to virtually anyone who wants one, police concluded they need equal firepower and, in some jurisdictions, military vehicles capable of engaging in firefight battle zones.
With killers using automatic weapons to enter schools to kill children, what are the alternatives to police being prepared?
Critics haven’t offered any.
Lethal vs non-lethal force
Police use of tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets is controversial. But these weapons (and that’s what they are) were adopted as alternatives to the use of lethal force or night sticks in breaking up crowds.
Using them on peaceful protesters is an abomination. But when peaceful protests are coopted by those intent on looting and, in some cases, arson, are police expected to stand by and do nothing?
That’s what happened in Seattle’s “CHOP” zone. Business owners and residents on Capital Hill weren’t thrilled with this inaction.
When a judge banned the Seattle PD from using tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets, what alternatives did the police have?
Apparently, nobody, including the judge, gave much thought to this.
Night sticks break bones, as the Navy veteran in Portland confronting the federal law enforcement thugs proved when one beat him while posing no threat at all.
The same Navy vet was gassed and sprayed.
The issue is not the use of non-lethal tactics to break up violent crowds. The issue is using these weapons on peaceful demonstrators. This is a policy and training issue.
For the record, I was on the periphery of an anti-Vietnam War demonstration in 1972 by the US Capitol when things turned violent and tear gas was fired. I got a whiff, and this stuff is not the least bit pleasant. But I’d rather be gassed than shot or hit with a nightstick.
What are the alternatives to those who advocate eliminating this tool from police tactics? Those who do so don’t say.
What needs to happen
Most police get training in crowd control and some get training in riot tactics. But smaller departments probably don’t.
Whatever training takes place probably could be enhanced and recurrent training probably is needed.
But consider this:
As protests were at their zenith, police officers were on duty 12 hours or more at a time, day after day. At various points, they came under attack by those throwing hard objects and other things.
How would you or I hold up to this kind of pressure?
The point is that it’s easy to criticize and much of the criticism is spot on. But those who do owe alternative suggestions.
The Sammamish Police Department is the King County Sheriff’s Office, under contract to the city. Thus, there are limits to what the Sammamish City Council can do about police reform.
The city certainly controls the budget for how much it wants to spend for police services. A discussion of this clearly is relevant.
So is discussion with the Sheriff’s Office leadership about what’s been learned from the post-Floyd era and how to make improvements for the future. This includes the idea of creating a Sammamish civilian review board to review, as necessary, police actions. The Sheriff’s Office has its own review process—but local review may be worth consideration.
Sammamish certainly can create a Police Community Reach Out program. It can expand the charter of the Human Service Commission to take on a role more broadly as a Human Relations Commission.
According to 2020 analysis, Sammamish demographics are:
- White: 64.12%
- Asian: 29.57%
- Two or more races: 4.54%
- Black or African American: 1.11%
- Other race: 0.45%
- Native American: 0.12%
- Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander: 0.08%
In the 2017 city council election, candidates were asked about how to better improve cultural relations. Not surprisingly, all said they favored doing so. Some suggested said doing something to have “mixers” (for the lack of a better term).
More needs to happen
Not enough has been done, a member of the Human Services Commission told me last week.
Requesting anonymity to preserve working relationships, this person said there have been a few cultural events, but too few.
“Under the needs assessment we did, there is a cultural awareness side and when we look at grant system, we make sure all cultures are covered,” this commission member told me. “We will look at race relations, but as far as policies and cultural events go, that’s through the parks department.”
This member said there have been cultural events, including Chinese New Year and Asian-based activities.
“They could probably do more,” this member said.
“What the city can do above and beyond the Human Services charter to deal with grants and services that are out there is to expand our charter.”
This member noted that the Human Services Commission is more diverse than city council. Two out of seven are minorities.
In the past, members of the Asian-Indian culture have run for city council. They either didn’t make it past the primary or did not win in the general election. Unfortunately, some of those opposing these candidates on policy were accused of racism and/or misogyny. This kind of reaction only stoke divisions today.
The larger concern
The larger concern is the creeping creation of a quasi-secret federal “agent” paramilitary organization whose methods of violent intimidation have been employed in Portland. These armed groups, made up largely of agents of at least three federal agencies, battled leftists in the streets and and physically assaulted political opponents. This federalized and growing “police” force has been deployed to Portland and Kansas City and will arrive soon in Chicago and Albuquerque. Threats have been made to deploy them to other US cities, including Seattle.
If this language sounds vaguely familiar, it is meant to be. It was largely borrowed from here.
Reforming civilian police agencies is vitally needed. But there is a bigger picture. With a long-running, deliberate effort to undermine America’s democratic (small d) elections, how long before these federalized troopers are intimidating voters in national and local elections?
Scott Hamilton is the founder and former publisher/editor of Sammamish Comment. The opinions expressed above are his own.