Fund communities instead
I stand with Black Lives Matter Seattle King County in demanding that racism be declared a public-health crisis in Washington. We must acknowledge the racist origins of policing and defund the police so that money can be used to support communities instead. We must focus right now on preventing any more harm to BIPoC (Black, indigenous and people of color) people and communities.
It has been made so obvious to us over the last month that police do not protect the people, and any attempts to hold officers accountable is met with state-sanctioned violence. This is unacceptable. Gov. Jay Inslee must move quickly and firmly to prevent any further violence by police.
Aubrey Pullman, Seattle
Independent review board
Proposals for “The future of policing in Seattle” [June 14, Northwest] need to include an elected civilian review board over police with the power to investigate, discipline, fire and press charges against violent and bigoted cops.
Such an independent review board is the only way to maintain public accountability and enforce penalties that could make officers think twice before running roughshod over the community. As we’ve seen repeatedly, appointed commissions that can only propose or suggest aren’t up to the vital tasks called for by reformers.
The independent, elected review board strategy has a history in Seattle. The campaign in the 1970s known as Seize the Time for Oppressed People (STOP) was a major step forward in uniting Blacks, gays and working-class whites in fighting the police harassment that was as prevalent and deadly then as it is today. My organization, Radical Women, was part of that effort, and we’d be happy to talk with anyone interested in learning more. STOP’s model ordinance went on to inspire similar efforts in Los Angeles and currently in New York City, where Councilmember Inez Barron is a sponsor.
Let’s seize the time for oppressed people once again!
Helen Gilbert, Seattle
Rethink first-responder role
The police are overfunded, overburdened and ill-equipped for too many of our social ills. It is time to radically re-envision their role in society. Jacqueline B. Helfgott’s Op-Ed calls the movement to defund the police “wrong” because, “The police are the first responders to a broad range of public-safety issues …” [“The movement to defund the police is wrong, and here’s why,” June 9, Opinion]. But should they be? We don’t expect the police to put out fires; we have a fire department specializing in that public-safety issue. We don’t expect the police to treat a medical emergency; we have emergency medical technicians specializing in that public-safety issue. Why do we expect the police to respond to the homelessness crisis, a behavioral-health crisis, or any other similar issue that would benefit from a specialist? Police cannot be our default response to every public-safety issue.
Helfgott argues for sticking with the current system because “police culture has been slowly changing for many years …” This is a shocking defense. This supposed change did not come fast enough for George Floyd or Breonna Taylor. How many more of our Black, brown and indigenous brothers and sisters alive today must die on the altar of incremental change? Is zero really such a radical proposition?
Joanna Armstrong, Seattle
Jacqueline B. Helfgott’s Op-Ed is spot on. Back in the mid ’70s, I worked with a police department before attending graduate school outside of Boston. I was impressed with how they handled themselves and the community. I helped get federal funding to provide the equivalent of Medic One ambulance services, because they wanted to have an additional positive and constructive role. It was novel at that time for law enforcement to have that as part of their services.
Defunding police is shortsighted and reactionary. More accountability, better hires, enhanced training and community policing are more helpful. Pay for those! Focus instead on more accountability/review; less legal immunity; more restrictions on unions; and piercing the blue code of silence.
But we need our first responders, and let’s appreciate those officers who are decent, conscientious and do the right thing. Let’s not forget about the four Lakewood officers who were killed mercilessly by Maurice Clemons in 2009, or Seattle Police Officer Dale Eggers, shot and killed in Beacon Hill in 1985.
Michael B. Goldenkranz, Seattle
Our law-enforcement system can’t be fixed by piling on more regulations and litigation against police officers, nor will it help to double down on “implicit bias training” that has proven ineffective. Substantial civilianization is the best way to evolve into a new paradigm of policing. Broadly, civilianization is the transitioning of sworn officer work to civilian experts. Existing police department infrastructure may actually be salvageable without complete abolition by civilianizing all technical and management positions. Defunding the police and civilianization are compatible ideas; it intrinsically reduces budget in the police force and takes power away from the police officer’s guild, forcing reform to help police function as community members.
Civilians can take charge of most department roles, such as management, crime-scene investigation and mental-health crisis intervention, allowing sworn officers to focus on the narrow, specific tasks they should be performing. Civilian members from underrepresented communities can partner with sworn officers to better work with those communities. Police and social science should be transitioned from university studies into the hands of the new paradigm of a civilianized department, directing new methodologies and moving away from current notions of policing that have been proven as a failed methodology.
Ryan Bowler, Seattle