Seattle, WA — Ever since moving to Seattle it’s become clear to me that though most of its inhabitants identify as liberals, the dominant white culture enables a culture of armchair liberals. When it comes to LGBT rights, Seattle will stand up, but when it comes to addressing issues that actually threaten the comfortable, largely white and privileged population of the Seattle, it’s another story.
In 2015, the Washington State Supreme Court started fining the state government $100,000 a day for continuing to underfund K-12 public education. In 2011, after a 9-month investigation, the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice sued the Seattle Police Department for a “pattern of excessive force” that violates the US Constitution and federal law.
This year, Washington has a second chance to address police brutality and in compliance with international human rights laws.
As it currently stands, Washington has some of the most feudal police use-of force-laws in the country. It is essentially impossible to prosecute a police officer for murder. As it is currently written, Washington law states that if a police officer kills someone, as long as the cop acted “without malice and with a good faith belief that such act is justifiable,” he or she is immune from prosecution. King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg stated, “This almost perfect defense to a mistaken use of force has kept police officers out of court as defendants.”
In fact, according to an analysis done by the SeattleTimes, from 2005 to 2014, 213 people were killed by police officers in Washington only one of whom has been prosecuted.
Earlier this year, House Bill 2907 was considered which would have struck the “malice” clause from the state law, but it wasn’t even voted on. Frustrated with the lack of action from politicians, an activist group called Washington for Good Policing have proposed Initiative-873, which if passed, will strike the “without malice and with a good faith belief” clause from state law. The initiative will need over 250,000 signatures to get placed on the ballot for general voting.
Ironically, the legislation uses the term “peace officers” to denote law enforcement officers.
While the Black Lives Matter movement has drawn attention to the racism that continues to lead to the murdering of innocent black citizens in this country and the destructive American system of mass incarceration of Black Americans, it must be pointed out that Washington police officers have targeted more than just Black Americans. In 2015, Antoni Zambrano-Montes, an unarmed Mexican man, was shot at 17 times by police officers while running away with his arms raised in the air. He was dead at the scene.
Other particularly egregious events include Che Taylor, a 46-year-old unarmed father who was shot dead despite his having raising his hands and lowered himself to the ground. John T Williams, a Native American, was murdered in 2010 by police officers as he crossed the street. An artist and carver, he was walking across the street with a piece of wood and a carving knife in his hand.
No charges have been filed against any police officers in any of those cases.
Jay Inslee, the governor of Washington, has remained silent on the initiative. Ed Murray, the current mayor of Seattle, recently tentatively endorsed the initiative. While Murray’s endorsement is hopeful, he has long been criticized for not taking enough action to reform the Seattle Police Department (SPD). In fact, just before the July 4th holiday, he announced that he would not be reappointing either Director Pierce Murphy or Auditor Anne Levinson to their positions in the Office of Professional Accountability (OPA). Though the OPA is a government-run organization, both the position of director and auditor are civilian positions. The purpose of the OPA is to oversee SPD’s Internal Affairs investigations. Anne Levinson has been a longtime vocal critic of not only the use of force in the SPD but also Mayor Murray’s refusal to adopt any of her suggested reforms.
With the introduction of Initiative-873 and the change in leadership in the OPA, the direction that Seattle and Washington will take is unclear. Seattle is the largest city in Washington. With close to 700,000 people, it is three times larger then the next largest city, Spokane. As in every other election, the citizens of Seattle have the power to really influence state-wide elections. It’s clear that 2016 is a chance for Washington to take a small step in the right direction. What’s unclear is whether the city’s so-called liberals, a group largely dominated by white folks, will actually step up to the plate.