We haven't covered the SPD jaywalking incident much here at PubliCola---cops aren't really our beat, and the story, frankly, seemed like a bit of a tempest in a teapot---but the reaction to the video, which shows two young women assaulting a police officer, who goes on to punch one of the women in the face, has me in Crank mode.
The reactions, for those who haven't been keeping up on local blogs, have included the following:
1) Jaywalking shouldn't be illegal. In fact---according to Dan Savage---it should be encouraged.
PubliComix 2.5.5, Image by S. Mirk.
2) Because the girls were black and the cop was white, the cop was committing a bias crime.
3) Cops shouldn't hit women.
I'm ignoring that last one—because, seriously, it's 2010—and addressing the other two in turn.
First, yes, jaywalking can be an environmental positive. On busy urban streets, jaywalkers can help calm traffic (because drivers are more cautious when surrounded by pedestrians; see, for example, Pike Place Market) and make things safer for everybody.
But anyone who says that principle applies equally to busy city streets and the highway-like stretch of MLK where the four girls were jaywalking clearly hasn't been down there. The area where MLK and Rainier Ave. intersect is a massive arterial that has more in common with Aurora Avenue or I-5 than it does with, say, the intersection of 10th and Pine.
Between 2002 and 2006, according to the Seattle P-I, 61 pedestrians were struck by cars on Rainier, making it the most dangerous corridor for pedestrian-car accidents in the city. "Encouraging" people, in this case kids attending Franklin High School, to jaywalk across that road---where traffic frequently moves in excess of 50 mph---is irresponsible.
Not to mention the fact that the school district actually has asked the police department to watch out for jaywalkers at that intersection, which happens to also feature a pedestrian bridge over Rainier to Franklin.
The solution, obviously, is to add more stoplights along both MLK (where this has been done, with some success) and Rainier (which remains a freeway for commuters from South Seattle and Renton) so that traffic will be forced to slow down. In the absence of a comprehensive solution, though, pedestrians should be discouraged from dashing across Rainier---an imperfect solution that includes enforcement of Seattle's jaywalking laws.
2) Watch the tape. The first girl clearly resists arrest, which---whether the arrest is fair or not---you don't do, even if the officer is wrong. The second girl then shoves the cop, hard. That's how you get your ass beat. It isn't racist to fight back when you're literally under assault (and outnumbered). That's just human nature---and, for that matter, police policy. If the officer had Tased the girl, we'd be having this same conversation. If he'd taken out his gun or nightstick---same thing. The fact that he merely clocked her, in context, seems like restraint, not excessive force.
Don't believe this white girl? Check out what Sable Verity (PubliCola's onetime SoulNerd!) has to say:
We need to keep it real with ourselves and each other, as a people. We can not go around excusing bad behavior because of (insert random justification here).
It’s not about what the cop did. It’s not about institutionalized racism in law enforcement. Nothing excuses or justifies their behavior. You don’t go around fighting with police officers, and for those who seek to excuse these girls, you’re doing them a disservice in life, sending the message that they have a right to behave in that fashion and not expect some sort of consequence.
When I watch the video, I don’t see two girls defending themselves from an overzealous cop. Instead, I see two flagrantly disrespectful girls who probably talk to their parents, to teachers, to strangers, the same way they spoke to and dealt with the officer in the video. I see two girls who come from a mentality that says they have the right to disregard authority, that they have the right to disrespect anyone for any reason. I see belligerent anger out of control. I see bullies.