Seattle Cops Must Earn Our Respect. And They're Not.

By David Meinert May 7, 2010

KIRO TV released a new video Friday morning of two officers assaulting an innocent man. One officer used racial language during the assault, saying he would "beat the fucking Mexican piss out of you, homey." Officers were responding to a complaint about an armed robbery in the parking lot of the China Harbor restaurant at around 2 in the morning April 17; the victims told dispatchers the men appeared to be Hispanic.

The video shows the two officers repeatedly kicking the man in the head as he lay on the concrete, then letting him go after confirming he was not the suspect.

The incident comes at a time when many of our political leaders are proposing ordinances that expand police powers, ostensibly to make the city more "livable" and safe. These sorts of laws usually address real problems (for example, I supported City Council member Tim Burgess' proposed panhandling law), but many Seattleites oppose them because they fear police bias or outright abuse. I myself have made this argument in the past, when I opposed new rules governing nightlife. This latest incident just confirms for me that those fears are justified.

Law and order proponents constantly say the citizens of Seattle should show more respect for our police. And I agree with them. Our police do a very difficult, very important, and often very dangerous job. But to get this respect, SPD needs to earn it. Police have a lot of power. And with more power comes greater responsibility. When the department acts responsibly, they will get the respect they want.

Unfortunately, over and over, we see SPD officers abuse their power with no consequences. If a group of friends and I attacked an unarmed cop who was innocently strolling down the street, we'd be prosecuted and harshly punished. But does anyone think the officers involved in this current incident will be prosecuted? It's an old story, one we hear far too often, and one that no one seems to be doing anything about.

We need stronger citizen oversight of the police. We need it now. The police union, the department itself, and our politicians have proven they are not qualified to control the bad cops.

So while the city considers proposals to add police and give them expanded powers, they must hold cops  to higher standards, with better oversight and increased punishment for cops who abuse their powers (and those who witness abuse without acting).

And let's get a new chief who will not only address the problem of crime on the streets, but also take a hard look at crime within the department. Then the police will get the respect they desire, and the politicians will be able to pass new ordinances without so much outcry from citizens concerned with fairness and social justice because they justifiably fear police abuse.
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