“To be credible, this must be an open public hearing, with the public given the ability to ask questions of witnesses and review subpoenaed documents independently. … I applaud and thank the members of the Seattle Human Rights Commission and the Seattle LGBTQ Commission, who called on the City Council to exercise its legal authority.”
Councilmember Kshama Sawant (District 3, Central Seattle), chair of the Council’s Sustainability and Renters Rights Committee, today announced she is calling on the City Council to use its authority under the City Charter to investigate the involvement of six officers in the Seattle Police Department in the violent far right rally in the U.S. Capitol on January 6.
“To date, there has been no accountability or transparency from either the Mayor’s office or from the Seattle Police Department about these officers, who traveled 3,000 miles to Washington D.C. to participate in a rally that was an attempt to overthrow a democratic election, a rally led by the far right and fascist elements that led to widespread destruction and the deaths of five people at the U.S. Capitol,” Sawant said.
Sawant is calling on the City Council to promptly convene a special public hearing to compel testimony and records from the Seattle Police Department. “To be credible, this must be an open public hearing, with the public given the ability to ask questions of witnesses and review subpoenaed documents independently,” Sawant said.
“Working people and community members in our city need answers to many questions:
- Were SPD officers encouraged to attend, and by whom? Did SPD management know in advance that officers would be participating?
- Which officers participated in the events of January 6, and what are their records using violence in the past? Have they been accused of excessive use of force in the past, and what happened to those investigations? What “Crowd Control” Weapons did they use during the Justice for George Floyd Protests, and other Black Lives Matter protests?
- To what extent does the culture within SPD permit or encourage white nationalist extremism?
- What specific actions have Mayor Durkan and the SPD executive leadership taken since January 6 to address systemic problems within the department?”
Sawant applauded and thanked the members of the Seattle Human Rights Commission and the Seattle LGBTQ Commission who on February 2 called on the City Council to exercise its legal authority to investigate the police and compel members of SPD to appear at a public hearing.
“The Human Rights and LGBTQ commissions are right to point out that the involvement of SPD officers in the January 6 mob points to a systemic ‘culture of supremacy and impunity within SPD which tolerates or fosters white nationalism,’” she said.
As the commissions noted, the Seattle City Council, under Article IV, Section 4 of the Seattle City Charter has the “authority to compel attendance of witnesses as well as production of papers and things pertinent to business before it or any of its committees.”
Sawant noted that Acting SPD Chief Adrian Diaz has referred the six police officers, most of whom have not even been publicly identified, to an oversight body – the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) – whose investigators are themselves experienced police officers.
“The past record of investigations by OPA of officer misconduct is dismal, to say the least,” said Sawant, “The public deserves answers that can only come from an open, public, and transparent investigation, and I am absolutely confident that no Office of Police Accountability (OPA) investigation will accomplish that.”
“Working people, especially communities of color, have no faith in the police investigating themselves in secrecy,” Sawant said. She pointed out that the Human Rights and LGBTQ commissions noted in their letter, “In recent weeks we have seen this body [OPA] dismiss several high profile cases of police misconduct perpetrated upon activists in the Summer of 2020 during the Uprising for Black Lives.”
“These recent events highlight how urgently our city needs a community-controlled, independent oversight board over the police, with full powers to investigate, set policy, and hold officers accountable,” Sawant said.
Sawant noted that SPD accountability is essential because the January 6 insurrection that SPD officers participated in has emboldened reactionary elements nationally.
“Now we are seeing elected socialists becoming the targets of some of these extremists’ most virulent threats. Socialist Alternative and I send our solidarity to my fellow left and socialist elected representatives, Congressmembers Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Cori Bush, and others in the Squad who have faced serious threats on their lives in recent weeks, only to be met with right-wing gaslighting and dismissal of their very legitimate fears.
“AOC in testimony recently described how she was forced to hide in a bathroom stall fearing for her life, only to be met with belittling accusations at the hands of Republican Congressmembers as they shamefully downplayed the severity of a far-right attempted coup. This is of course reflective of both their right-wing politics and sexist attitudes, but also the incredible cowardice of these corporate politicians who try to slither out of responsibility for the Capitol attack.
“These threats by the right wing on the lives of socialists are absolutely serious and must be taken as such. Unfortunately, my socialist Council office has also been forced to deal with escalating threats on my life and well-being, while the corporate media, police, and city establishment ignore or make light of this dangerous situation.
“This City Council investigation would only be a starting point, Sawant noted. “It is essential for the socialist and labor movement nationally to be united against what the violent attacks of January 6 represented. Just as the far right was defeated in Boston in 2017 when over 40,000 people marched in solidarity against them, so working people and the labor movement must use our collective strength to reject the putrid rhetoric of the right. We also urgently need to fight for Medicare for All, a Green New Deal jobs program funded by taxing Wall Street, a federal $15/hour minimum wage, and a cancellation of all COVID debt for working people.
“To win, we cannot rely on the Democratic establishment, but must base ourselves on building independent, fighting mass movements. Organizing working people around these popular demands will help the left provide a real alternative to corporate politics and cut across the growth of right populism.”