Trumps Dangerous Attacks on Rule of Law

Donald Trump continues to attack the rule of law through his continuing comments degrading the FBI, the Justice Department, and federal judges and by recklessly branding his political opponents as criminals. I wrote about this last August in the Seattle Times and it's still true today:

I couldn’t believe what I heard Friday from the president of the United States about the rule of law. Perhaps I shouldn’t be shocked because of all his previous vulgar, disrespectful and downright harmful comments. Maybe that’s his intent, to over time lull the country into stunned silence, a dulled acceptance of his radical, authoritarian mindset.

But it’s a big deal when President Donald Trump attacks the rule of law, the principle that we are governed by laws, standards and broadly accepted norms, not the whims of an individual. These attacks reached an alarmingly dangerous new level when Trump said these words to police officers about the arrest of violent subjects:

“ … when you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon — you just see them thrown in, rough — I said, please don’t be too nice. Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over? Like, don’t hit their head and they’ve just killed somebody — don’t hit their head. I said, you can take the hand away, OK?”

That’s the president encouraging police officers to rough up people they have arrested. Telling police officers not to use their hands to guide an arrestee’s head into the back seat of a patrol car so it doesn’t bang against the door frame. The president was encouraging police misconduct. Shameful.

This on top of his previous attacks on federal judges, the director of the FBI, our intelligence services, the Department of Justice, and his own attorney general. Words matter. Trump’s constant barrage of verbal attacks matters. By his words and behavior, Trump is tearing down the rule of law, the fragile standards and mores built up over generations. The president’s scorn, his contempt, is very damaging. Yes, we have serious problems, especially when it comes to criminal justice, but, believe me, these problems will not be correctly addressed by destroying the rule of law.

Friday’s comments elevated the danger to a new level. Any elected official, but especially the president, who encourages illegal police violence should be roundly condemned. Trump was wrong, absolutely wrong.

The rule of law — and the peace of our communities — is only assured when people respect, understand, and welcome the police and the other elements of local government dedicated to keeping us safe. This doesn’t happen by chance or automatically; it takes intentional effort. It’s hard work building community trust.

We’ve experienced this here in Seattle. Since the Department of Justice issued their report in 2012 about use of force, biased policing and mismanagement of the police department, a lot of people have worked diligently to create sustainable reform — the elected leaders of the city, Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, the Community Police Commission, City Attorney Peter Holmes and his colleagues, civil rights advocates, and, importantly, the women and men of the Seattle Police Department. Excellent progress has been made, as evidenced by the 10 compliance assessments completed by the federal monitor, Merrick Bobb.

Much more remains to be done to make certain the reforms take root and actually change the culture of the police department. For example, we have yet to tackle hiring and promotion standards; how best to structure an in-service leadership academy to prepare future leaders; and how to create a political climate that recognizes the importance of effective policing and civilian oversight, yet doesn’t lead to inappropriate interference — the kind we’ve come to expect from the president at the national level.

The rule of law is a revered treasure of our democracy. It’s clear by his words and actions that President Trump doesn’t share, doesn’t understand and doesn’t care about this fundamental value of America. Let’s stand up and defend the rule of law and condemn those who would tear it down, including the president of the United States.

Trumps Dangerous Attacks on Rule of Law

Donald Trump continues to attack the rule of law through his continuing comments degrading the FBI, the Justice Department, and federal judges and by recklessly branding his political opponents as criminals. I wrote about this last August in the Seattle Times and it's still true today:

I couldn’t believe what I heard Friday from the president of the United States about the rule of law. Perhaps I shouldn’t be shocked because of all his previous vulgar, disrespectful and downright harmful comments. Maybe that’s his intent, to over time lull the country into stunned silence, a dulled acceptance of his radical, authoritarian mindset.

But it’s a big deal when President Donald Trump attacks the rule of law, the principle that we are governed by laws, standards and broadly accepted norms, not the whims of an individual. These attacks reached an alarmingly dangerous new level when Trump said these words to police officers about the arrest of violent subjects:

“ … when you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon — you just see them thrown in, rough — I said, please don’t be too nice. Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over? Like, don’t hit their head and they’ve just killed somebody — don’t hit their head. I said, you can take the hand away, OK?”

That’s the president encouraging police officers to rough up people they have arrested. Telling police officers not to use their hands to guide an arrestee’s head into the back seat of a patrol car so it doesn’t bang against the door frame. The president was encouraging police misconduct. Shameful.

This on top of his previous attacks on federal judges, the director of the FBI, our intelligence services, the Department of Justice, and his own attorney general. Words matter. Trump’s constant barrage of verbal attacks matters. By his words and behavior, Trump is tearing down the rule of law, the fragile standards and mores built up over generations. The president’s scorn, his contempt, is very damaging. Yes, we have serious problems, especially when it comes to criminal justice, but, believe me, these problems will not be correctly addressed by destroying the rule of law.

Friday’s comments elevated the danger to a new level. Any elected official, but especially the president, who encourages illegal police violence should be roundly condemned. Trump was wrong, absolutely wrong.

The rule of law — and the peace of our communities — is only assured when people respect, understand, and welcome the police and the other elements of local government dedicated to keeping us safe. This doesn’t happen by chance or automatically; it takes intentional effort. It’s hard work building community trust.

We’ve experienced this here in Seattle. Since the Department of Justice issued their report in 2012 about use of force, biased policing and mismanagement of the police department, a lot of people have worked diligently to create sustainable reform — the elected leaders of the city, Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, the Community Police Commission, City Attorney Peter Holmes and his colleagues, civil rights advocates, and, importantly, the women and men of the Seattle Police Department. Excellent progress has been made, as evidenced by the 10 compliance assessments completed by the federal monitor, Merrick Bobb.

Much more remains to be done to make certain the reforms take root and actually change the culture of the police department. For example, we have yet to tackle hiring and promotion standards; how best to structure an in-service leadership academy to prepare future leaders; and how to create a political climate that recognizes the importance of effective policing and civilian oversight, yet doesn’t lead to inappropriate interference — the kind we’ve come to expect from the president at the national level.

The rule of law is a revered treasure of our democracy. It’s clear by his words and actions that President Trump doesn’t share, doesn’t understand and doesn’t care about this fundamental value of America. Let’s stand up and defend the rule of law and condemn those who would tear it down, including the president of the United States.

Councilmember Burgess, Director Davis Statement On Consideration of Fossil Fuel Divestment

SEATTLE – Councilmember Tim Burgess (Position 8, Citywide) and Chair of the Seattle City Employees’ Retirement System Board, and Jeff Davis, Executive Director of the SCERS Board, issued the following statement at the conclusion of today’s Board meeting, during which time fossil fuel divestment was discussed:

“Today’s Board meeting was well attended by community members who made moral and financial arguments as to why SCERS should divest of its fossil fuel investments.

“The SCERS Investment Advisory Committee, composed of investment experts who advise the Board, reviewed the prior recommendations from SCERS’ investment consultant and staff on fossil fuel divestment that had been requested by the Board in April. They reaffirmed the prior recommendations that fossil fuel divestment would negatively impact SCERS’ investment portfolio and should not be pursued. The Investment Advisory Committee concluded that further analysis of the issue was not required and further recommended that the Board consider revising its policies for consideration of future divestment requests.

“Jason Malinowski, Chief Investment Officer of SCERS, reported on the positive action strategy that the Board adopted in February 2015 related to climate change, that includes engaging as shareholders with corporations and other entities, considering sustainability investments and integrating climate change risk into the investment process. Mr. Malinowski clarified that SCERS had not lost $100 million from its investments in fossil fuel companies, as had been suggested by community members, but instead had generated a positive return that lagged the broad stock market.

“Michael Monaco, attorney at Mondress Monaco Parr Lockwood PLLC and outside counsel for SCERS, provided an analysis of the Board’s paramount fiduciary duties and described the strict limitations the Board faces to taking action that compromises economic outcomes in the pursuit of environmental, social or governance goals. The Board voted to waive the attorney-client privilege so the Monaco analysis could be released publicly.”

After discussion, the SCERS Board took no action on fossil fuel divestment.

Council Passes Historic Police Accountability and Reform Legislation

Seattle, WA — By a vote of 8-0, Council unanimously approved Council Bill 118969, a measure related to Police Accountability.  The legislation, primarily sponsored by Councilmember M. Lorena González (Position 9, Citywide), is the first of its kind in the country and creates new, powerful, civilian- and community-led oversight systems that will effectively ensure constitutional policing in Seattle.

“Today’s vote crystallizes my vision for Seattle’s police accountability framework and our ongoing efforts to reform the Seattle Police Department,” said González, who chairs the Gender Equity, Safe Communities and New Americans committee. “Based on my experience in courtrooms, community and City Hall chambers I know that this legislation goes beyond systems-reform to get at the heart of police accountability: restoring trust between the police and communities most impacted by policing.” González also worked as a civil rights lawyer for a decade before seeking elected office.  Her prior law practice included representing people in excessive force and bias policing civil rights cases in federal court.

In December 2010, 35 organizations requested a formal investigation of the Seattle Police Department by the Department of Justice.  A settlement agreement with the City was reached in July 2012, and in August of that same year the court approved the settlement agreement, also known as the “Consent Decree” and appointed a Monitor to oversee the reform process.  In January of this year, Federal Judge James Robart’s initial approval of draft reform legislation provided the legal guidance the City needed to advance critical legislation to continue reforming the SPD.  Recognizing that the City’s Consent Decree was now five years old, González embarked on a public process to maximize input from Seattleites.

“This ordinance represents an important step in our ongoing work to strengthen Seattle’s system of police accountability. The City Council and the Community Police Commission, with support from the Mayor’s Office and City Attorney’s Office, have worked over many months to craft legislation so that the public and officers will have a system that is built on best practices, is consistent with community values, and will result in comprehensive and sustained independent oversight of the Seattle Police Department,” said Councilmember Tim Burgess (Position 8, Citywide). “We still have several critical steps to accomplish this year before this work is complete. We have asked the Mayor to move forward swiftly with seeking the review and approval of the Federal Court, and with collective bargaining with the unions, which provides officers a direct voice in shaping their working conditions and benefits. We will also be working with the Mayor to ensure that this oversight system is fully funded and that strong leaders are hired for these crucial oversight roles.  We will build on the foundation laid by this ordinance to fulfill our commitment for effective, constitutional policing in which all the people of Seattle have trust and confidence.”

For the past sixteen weeks, González has led Council’s public deliberations of the issues in a series of meetings in committee and after-hours public hearings. Additionally, Councilmembers González and Burgess, CPC leadership, Mayoral and Legislative staff, traveled across the Country to visit with officials and community advocates in New York, Los Angeles and New Orleans to gain invaluable insights into best practices.

The crux of the legislation rests in the creation of three co-equal organizations that will collaborate but remain independent from undue influence from each other and external forces: the Community Police Commission (CPC), the Office of Inspector General (OIG) and the Office of Police Accountability (OPA). The goal is to establish an accountability system that inspires confidence and legitimacy amongst complainants and law enforcement.

“Today, Seattle set a national model for civilian lead community oversight of the police.  As I said when I sent this legislation to Council, we in Seattle had a higher goal than simply meeting the requirements of the Department of Justice Consent decree. Our goal was to set the highest possible standard for police conduct, public oversight, and civic collaboration. Thanks to years of work by my team in the Mayor’s office, City Attorney Pete Holmes, the Seattle Police Department, Councilmember M. Lorena González and the Community Police Commission, this historic accountability legislation does just that. After this unanimous passage by Council, I will send this historic legislation to Judge Robart for his review and we will continue to engage in negotiations with the city’s police unions as we progress toward implementation of these monumental reforms,” said Mayor Ed Murray.

Upon passage, González thanked the Mayor’s Office, City Attorney Pete Holmes and recognized Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, the CPC, the Department of Justice, current and former civilian SPD oversight entities, and many others who contributed to the process of writing the legislation. Her biggest thank you was delivered to Seattle’s community members, for their perseverance and commitment leading up to today’s landmark legislation.

Assuming approval by Judge Robart, the City will satisfy its legal obligations with regard to any aspect of the legislation that requires collective bargaining with the unions. As with the majority of Council-generated legislation, the remainder of the bill will take effect 30 days after Mayoral signature.

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Editors please NOTE:  Additional details, including an infographic, is available ONLINE.

Defending the Rule of Law

ImagesOver the past couple of weeks, it has been suggested that Seattle police officers should not be present at “anti-Trump protests” or instances of nonviolent civil disobedience. Further, the idea has been raised that police officers should be deployed to prevent federal officers from making immigration arrests in the city.

This approach to policing is deeply troubling because it imposes a content or ideological filter over what should be independent, objective decisions to preserve public health and safety. Imagine if the mayor in another city believed that protests

against immigrants, or white nationalist demonstrations, should not have police presence. Take the case of the U.C. Berkeley protests against a planned appearance by former Breitbart contributor Milo Yiannopoulos that resulted in violence and vandalism, or the University of Washington protest against Yiannopoulos that resulted in a shooting. Police presence at demonstrations should be about maintaining safety and rule of law for everyone, regardless of ideology or personal preference.

Denying police services—and using the police as the Mayor’s or Council’s paramilitary body—is a dangerous and irresponsible approach that undermines the essence of policing in a free society. The police should do their work in a fair, professional, and constitutional manner without regard for ideology or any politician’s personal preferences.  

Sir Robert Peel, the founder of the Metropolitan Police in London in 1829, is credited with crafting a set of key principles for just and fair policing. Three of Peel’s principles apply specifically to this issue of political ideology or personal preference driving policing decisions. Here they are:

  • Police depend on the approval and trust of the public to effectively do their jobs.
  • Police must be unwavering in their duties and adherence to the law, maintaining impartiality and avoiding the temptation to be swayed by public opinion.

  • Police must maintain the public favor and cooperation by providing impartial and independent law enforcement services, as opposed to succumbing and pandering to the whims of the public. They must extend the same courtesy and respect to everyone, regardless of economic or social standing.

Peel was right, of course. Today, perhaps more than ever because of our current political climate, we need to reaffirm Peel’s sage counsel. The issue with police presence at protests is not whether they should or should not be present at this protest or that one, but rather that they should help maintain public safety at all protests. We should never base our police services on whether we agree or disagree with a particular political message or motive. Police services need to be based solely on fairness, professionalism, and the Constitutional mandates we all cherish.

City government has been laboring under a federal court mandated consent decree since 2014 to improve police services, reduce the use of force, and remove any hint of bias or prejudice in the delivery of police services. We’ve spent millions of dollars to comply with the federal court’s requirements and will likely spend millions more before we are in full compliance. We’ve revised training for officers and we have tripled the amount of training officers receive. We’ve hired more supervisors. We’ve changed accountability and reporting requirements. We’ve improved transparency. Deploying police services through a political ideology or personal preference filter would run directly counter to this reform work and represent a huge and dangerous step backward.