Making a tough job tougher

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I get a few newsletters in the mail and via email.  They’re often the best sources for what’s going on in a neighborhood or within an organization.  That can be true of the Seattle Police Guild’s Guardian newsletter, but the Guardian can also, from time to time, serve as a tool for people whose aim is provocation rather than information and critical thinking.  I’ve found plenty of helpful information about SPD staffing, technology, and accomplishments in the Guardian.  It’s too bad the good gets shadowed by articles like December’s “Shut Up and Be A Good Little Socialist.”  In the article the author goes out of his way (at least I hope it was a stretch) to cast himself proudly as opposed to the City’s efforts to help officers (and other city staff) think openly and critically about race in our city and in how we do our jobs. Even in a newsletter a good editor can be a writer’s best friend. In this case some healthy writer-editor debate might have helped avoid:

1.     Intellectual sloppiness – The author calls social justice a “socialist scheme” and pines for the good old days when communism and socialism were considered bad. OK, totalitarianism of whatever stripe is bad. Single-party, de-facto dictatorship is bad. Blind zealotry to a leader or ideal is bad.  Socialism as an economic organizing principle, though? Degrees of socialism run a spectrum depending upon the amount of state involvement in the economy and in provision of social programs. North Korean socialism (coupled with dictatorship) is vastly different from Norwegian socialism (coupled with a constitutional monarchy and parliament). “Social justice = socialist scheme” might be alliterative and sound nice when said out loud, but it’s sloppy thinking. If you think the City’s Race & Social Justice Initiative is brainwashing propaganda, maybe just say that.

2.     At least implied insubordination – First from the newsletter article: “I’m not conflating Seattle’s quaint socialist cabal with the brutal tyrants of the last century.” Phew! Then: “I’ve given some thought to my own RSJI participation to date. The ‘Perspectives in Profiling’ class (or as one officer put it, one of our ‘de-policing classes’) served as a good way to learn what the enemy is up to (Yes, enemy. A liberal after my money in taxes maybe my opponent, but a socialist attacking the Constitution and my liberty is my enemy).” Language has been in the spotlight since the Tucson shootings and plenty of people on the Right and Left are guilty of using loaded language, but repeating a mistake doesn’t make things better. Dave Ross talked about this passage on his radio show this morning and argued that by extension this officer is calling his command staff, the Mayor and the City Council his enemies. And is “enemies” the word you really want to use? Words matter. Which takes us to…

3.     Compounded distrust – With all the current focus on how SPD officers engage with people of color in our city, could this article have been printed at a worse time?  I’m not using the officer’s name here because I don’t want to draw more attention to him while he’s on-duty. I have faith that every encounter he has is professional and that he gives 110 percent of himself to whoever needs help, no matter his take on the caller’s or victim’s political beliefs. However, this is the age of immediate information.  His article has been reproduced on blogs and talked about in the Stranger, in The Seattle Times and on KIRO. Do he and every male Seattle officer really need people checking their name plates and wondering, “Is this the guy who calls social justice advocates his enemies?”

As much as I’d like for Seattleites to recognize that police officers are individuals and that the extreme views of one officer don’t represent the views of even a fraction of his colleagues, people make generalizations. The irony is that a couple of weeks ago I attended a youth-initiated forum called Building Bridges. More than a dozen SPD officers took part talking with youth from different parts of the city, but mostly from the Central and South parts of Seattle where violence and silence have been too destructive.  While the kids expressed frustration at not being respected by the police, the police had the exact same frustration. Both sides felt stereotyped and never given a fair shake; never seen as an individual. They talked about race, they talked about poverty, they talked about violence and they walked out of the rooms knowing each other just a little bit better.

I hope the Guardian takes moment to recognize the hard work of these officers in an upcoming issue.