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.

Questions for SPD on the Killing of Charleena Lyles

Earlier today, my office asked the Seattle Police Department (SPD) questions about the horrific killing of Charleena Lyles. 

Charleena was killed by police in her home, in front of her children. This horrific killing happened just two days after the officers who killed Philando Castile were found ‘not guilty’ in Minnesota.

Let’s stand in solidarity with Charleena’s family and activists, and discuss how we can build a movement to fight against racially-biased policing, and to win democratically elected community oversight boards with full powers over the police, including department policies, procedures, budgets, and conducting investigations.


In our view, the question is not simply, did the officers follow department policies?

The questions that need to be asked are: What department policies and training led officers to shoot to death a 100-pound pregnant woman, allegedly holding a knife, in her own home and in front of her children? How should officer training and the use-of-force policy be changed to allow situations like this to be resolved without the loss of life?

Therefore, my office has asked SPD the following questions:

  1. Please list the last 10 fatal officer-involved shootings in Seattle, with the following information:
    1. Date of the shooting
    2. Name, race, and demographic information of the person killed
    3. Name and precinct of the officers who fired shots, and the officers’ records, including all Type I, Type II, and Type III uses of force, any OPA complaints, and any findings of excessive use of force
  2. Are Seattle officers required to use less lethal force whenever possible? What is the penalty for using lethal force when non-lethal force is clearly an option?
  3. Are Seattle officers trained to retreat from a dangerous situation rather than engaging, if engaging could harm someone and/or result in a possible fatality?
  4. Are officers trained to disarm a person holding a knife without resorting to firearms. With Tasers? With batons? With mace? With hand-to-hand combat?
  5. Are Seattle officers trained to shoot to kill, or are officers ever trained to shoot to wound, such as a shot to the leg?
  6. How would officers have resolved the situation if they were not carrying guns?
  7. In Crosscut, Norm Stamper was quoted saying, “Officers have been trained that if somebody approaches within 21-feet of you, you must fire.” Is this an accurate description of SPD’s policy?
  8. The same article quotes Deputy Joe Winters as follows: “We have to go one step higher” … “If the perpetrator has a stick, we use a taser; if [he or she] has a knife, we use a gun.” Is that an accurate description of SPD use-of-force policy?
  9. How would SPD recommend changing the use-of-force policy so that situations in the future can be resolved without the loss of life?

 

My Comments on “Police Accountability” Legislation

On May 22, 2017, the Seattle City Council passed “police accountability” legislation. Below are my comments explaining what in the legislation is positive, and how it falls far short of what is needed to provide real police accountability in Seattle. 



I would like to thank the Community Police Commission for their dedication to police accountability, and the dozens, if not hundreds, of hours you have put into amending this legislation.

When the Mayor’s Office first sent the draft legislation to Council, I heard the Commissioners and community advocates express concern that if it was passed without amendment, it would have been a step backward, not forward, and a net loss of accountability. Since then, however, the Community Police Commission has worked and organized to amend many of those original problems. It is due to their determination that we have this legislation today. It’s a step in a good direction. I also thank Councilmember González for listening to the concerns of the Commission. I intend to vote Yes on this bill.

As community activists and organizations like the NAACP welcome this progress, they are correctly urging the Council to follow through on the words in this legislation. They are also correctly urging that this legislation be viewed in proportionate light, with a sense of gravity, and to avoid setting up false expectations.

For example, the position of the Inspector General is described as independent, but independent from whom? According to this bill, the Inspector General is independent from the Seattle Police chain of command, yes, but is not independent from the power structure of the Seattle political establishment.

If we have some future mayor running for re-election who does not want a police scandal on their record, the question is: How independent will the Inspector General be in that situation?

The reality is, in a society with massive wealth and racial inequality, such as the current one, institutions are not independent or neutral, regardless of the establishment’s claims otherwise. Everyone has a social base, different classes and different political forces, that they depend upon or are allied with. I do not try to hide the fact that I represent regular working class people and those at the receiving end of police violence. I do not pretend to represent Big Business.

I have always advocated that for genuine police accountability it will not be enough to have someone who claims to be independent. We will need democratically elected and accountable community oversight that is unapologetically on the side of working people and oppressed communities, and which will doggedly fight for the rights of victims — because they are elected by and accountable to communities, not appointed by the political establishment.

We need to have a separate, democratically elected civilian review board, a body that has full powers to hold the police accountable, and that can itself be held accountable if it fails to defend our community members impacted by discrimination and excessive force.

This legislation takes a step towards that goal, but in truth, a small step. The closest that we have in this legislation to an independent review board is the Community Police Commission, which, while not elected, is currently made up of people with genuine community roots. However, the Commission has no direct power beyond the ability to speak out. It has no structure of authority over police rules, policies, or power to subpoena officers.

I do, however, greatly applaud the current Community Police Commission for retaining and strengthening their ability to call out the political establishment if it fails to produce genuine accountability, and I pledge my full support to you all in using that power to its full potential.

The legislation by itself will not end the excessive use of force and racial profiling by Seattle Police. It will not stop the police from targeting regular people who use their cell phones to record police violence, street medics, independent legal observers, journalists, and activists like myself at peaceful protests. It will not stop the political establishment from sheltering officers who violate people’s basic rights.
We live in a country with over 2 million people in prison, disproportionately people of color. No other country, including brutal dictatorships, have so many imprisoned.

It is not an accident that many black and brown people, and poor and working class people, view police officers as an occupying army, rather than an institution that serves the community.

Here in Seattle, Donald Trump received only 8% of the vote, but was endorsed by the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild. Imagine how terrifying it must be for our immigrant, refugee, Latino, and black sisters and brothers to know that many of our City police are among that 8% — the same police who have the authority to use violence against people of color and all working class people.

On February 5, 2017, Seattle/King County NAACP president Gerald Hankerson published an editorial in The Seattle Times that asked several important questions about the fatal shooting of Che Taylor at the hands of Seattle Police. He asked:

  • Why after Che Taylor was shot multiple times at point-blank range, was he left bleeding on the ground for 7 ½ minutes without any officer providing medical attention?
  • Why did Seattle Police release to the media information of his past criminal record immediately after they shot him? Does the leadership of Seattle Police believe past criminal records authorize the use of deadly force?
  • Why did the Mayor and the Police Chief tell the media that they thought officers acted appropriately in the days following the shooting before any investigation had been done?

So far, no real answers have been forthcoming from elected officials.

Che Taylor, and the countless others impacted by police violence, are a grim, but important reminder that we need to continue building mass movements for racial justice. The Black Lives Matter movement in Seattle and nationwide, the No New Youth Jail movement of Seattle and King County, and the successful Block the Bunker movement have shown that when activists get organized, we can make a real impact.

Congratulations to the Community Police Commission for their hard work. Thanks to Central Staff and City Attorney staff members, and, above all, to community activists. And, yes, Stop the Sweeps, and No New Youth Jail!

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.