Published February 28, 2011
Seattle’s police department is making news for all the wrong reasons lately -- and now it is being called "socialist" by one of its own.
First there was the African American jaywalker who tussled with a white officer and ended up getting punched in the face. Then came several more cases of officers using questionable force or excessive force, and in every incident the citizen involved was a racial minority.
There have been rowdy protests, clashes between the mayor and police union and one officer's resignation.
And now, another officer is accusing the city itself of injecting race into the debate on how cops do their jobs.
Officer Steve Pomper wrote an opinion piece in the local police union's newspaper newspaper entitled, “Shut up and be a Good Little Socialist." In it, he rails against Seattle’s race and social justice initiative, which has led to hours of training on racial profiling and sensitivity. Pomper also blasts the city attorney for its decision to cut way back on prosecutions for one particular crime partly because African Americans were disproportionately charged.
Pomper calls it socialism.
“When somebody comes in with a policy like that,” Pomper said, “it doesn’t allow us to treat people with equal justice.”
Driving with a suspended license in the third degree is almost always charged when a person’s license has been suspended for failure to pay a fine. City Attorney Pete Holmes says 44 percent of the people prosecuted were African American. Holmes believes that’s because blacks and other racial minorities are more likely to be poor than Whites and unable to pay their fines. He also says it’s a waste of city resources to prosecute those cases, so his goal is to reduce prosecutions by 90 percent.
“If we start to learn and understand that one of those institutional causes of racism is actually in the criminal justice system,” Holmes said, “it’s our obligation as prosecutors to address it.”
To that end Holmes is looking for other ways to promote social justice. He’s considering a one-day reduction in the minimum sentence for misdemeanor crimes so as to not trigger the deportation of legal immigrants convicted of crimes in the city. A 365-day suspended sentence automatically initiates immigration hearings for any immigrant. Reduce that by one day and immigrants are allowed to stay in the U.S. even after they’ve been convicted of a crime.
Holmes admits this is an end run around federal immigration law, but he makes no apologies, citing the importance of keeping immigrant families together.
The debate is raging as the Seattle Police Department comes under intense scrutiny for a rash of excessive force cases. One resulted in the death of an American Indian woodcarver who was shot and killed by an officer while carrying a pocket knife. Police ruled the shooting unjustified and the officer has since resigned. The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating.
Officer Pomper says his view of the city's race and social justice initiative is shared by a vast majority of beat cops. But his boss called his op-ed a “stupid thing to do.” Police Chief John Diaz supports the social justice initiative.
“We firmly and wholly support those programs,” Diaz said. “This is something that’s critical to how we run our department and this city.”