Chief of Seattle Police Forced Out – Kshama Sawant Says “Good Riddance, Chief Diaz!”

The resignation of Seattle Police Chief John Diaz marks the end of an inglorious four-year term during which he oversaw the excessive use of force and racial profiling by the Seattle Police Department (SPD). Diaz’s early retirement, at only age 55, resulted from community outrage and protests against the abuses that the SPD has committed with impunity under his watch. Socialist Alternative City Council candidate Kshama Sawant is calling attention to an inconvenient truth that not only the Mayor but also the City Council (all Democrats) have completely failed to hold the Seattle police accountable.

Sawant is running against City Council member Richard Conlin whose past election campaigns were endorsed by the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild. This year Conlin’s re-election campaign has already received the maximum donation legally permitted from the Police Officers’ Guild. In his entire 16 years in office, including when he was President of the City Council, Conlin failed miserably to call attention to or address police brutality.

The SPD has a long notorious record of abusive, repressive, and racially biased actions. An investigation by the federal Department of Justice (DoJ) found that one in five uses of force by the SPD violated constitutional protections, with half of those cases involving people of color. However, Chief Diaz, as well as Mayor McGinn, essentially thumbed their noses at the report, claiming the DoJ’s statistical methods were invalid.

Under Diaz’s watch, in 2010 SPD Officer Ian Birk fatally shot First Nations woodcarver John T. Williams. Officer Birk was later forced to resign but escaped prosecution by city and county prosecutors. Also in 2010, several SPD detectives beat two Latino men while they were on the ground, with Officer Shandy Cobane yelling, “I’m going to beat the f***ing Mexican piss out of you, homey.” The DoJ report noted that “the use of this racial epithet failed to provoke any of the surrounding officers to react, suggesting a department culture that tolerates this kind of abuse.” In 2011 and 2012, the SPD harassed Occupy Wall Street activists, including indiscriminately using pepper spray, confiscating their possessions, and raiding their homes. After the signing of a consent decree between the DoJ and the SPD, allegedly mandating SPD reforms, an SPD officer showed nothing had changed after he brutally punched an African American man, Leo Etherly, in October last year, as two other officers stood by and watched while a dash-cam recorded video.

City Council candidate Kshama Sawant said: “The Mayor’s Office and the City Council run Seattle for big business and the wealthy. This is why the city government has shown itself utterly apathetic in stopping police repression of working-class communities, people of color, and activists. Seattle City Councilors, beholden to corporate interests, talk about penalizing the homeless for panhandling while remaining shamefully silent about the glaring abuses by the SPD, especially against people of color. We need to build a mass movement against police brutality and racism. But we also need to build a powerful community challenge against the control of the Mayor’s office and City Council by downtown corporate interests and the Democratic Party. We need to run independent left-wing candidates for the Mayoral and City Council offices who will fight for ordinary working people – in deeds, not just words.”

The City Council once again recently showed itself unwilling to rein in SPD abuse of power. In March, Council members, including Sawant’s opponent Richard Conlin, exempted the SPD from even a minimal process of public inquiry before acquiring drones. “Giving carte blanche to the SPD for the use of drones is like handing a club to a bully,” said Sawant.

Sawant argued that, unless ordinary people take control and demand living wage jobs, healthcare, and quality public education for all, whoever replaces Diaz will continue the same policies of neglect and repression, and nothing will be done to address the poverty, inequality, and alienation that create the conditions for crime. Interim Chief Jim Pugel, who was just appointed by Mayor McGinn to replace Diaz, has a similarly sorry history of overseeing police abuse, dating back to the violent repression of the historic World Trade Organization protests in 1999. Sawant continued, “We need a massive overhaul in Seattle policing, not yet another unelected, unaccountable, disconnected official. For starters, we need a democratically-elected civilian oversight board with full hiring and firing powers over the police force, including subpoena powers.”

Sawant charged Conlin with punishing the same communities abused by the SPD by promoting major real estate developments that push low-income housing outside the city center. Sawant declared, “We need working people, people of color, and the youth to join us in demanding a real change in Seattle leadership.”