Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Memorializing police should not be an excuse to ignore their victims

I am sitting in a coffee shop, watching from the window someone being pulled over by a Kent police officer; I can’t tell if he’s Mexican or Southeast Asian. He probably made the mistake of not enabling his turn signals quick enough when he made the turn; he probably didn’t even know he did anything wrong. Another cop showed up the scene to “secure” the area. I won’t tell you what I thought about this, except to say that I don’t drive anymore because I am tired of being pulled over for no apparent reason, save that the cop was out fishing for the “usual suspects” who might have outstanding warrants or be on a terrorist watch list. The police need to be more creative to stop someone for merely walking on the sidewalk—or more brazen. I’ve had to file complaints against the Kent police department after being harassed because a cop thought it was “suspicious” that I was walking into a storage unit and instead of driving into it, and in another case because the cop “thought” that the wet weather gear I wear to work was a stolen fire fighter’s outfit.

It’s odd, but while I’ve been treated like a criminal by Kent police, in fact I have been the victim of a crime in Kent three times. Police often “hang-out” at the Kent public library to watch “suspicious” people like me; but on one occasion where there wasn’t a police officer around, a man tried to rob me of my laptop computer. I was upset that he had interrupted a download I was engaged in, and I chased him outside where he slipped on an icy patch in the parking lot and landed on his asshole, and thus I successfully recovered my own property. When the police finally showed up, they asked the librarian if I was the “troublemaker.” On another occasion, I was mugged by some gangbanger wannabe on my way to the bus stop at 3 AM to catch a ride to the airport. He socked me and yanked the cord off my neck, and ran into a waiting car. The airport ID access office refused to believe my story; they wanted me to admit that I had “lost” my ID, which meant that I would have to pay a $250 fee for a new badge. I lost two weeks of pay while I stood firm in refusing to be called a liar. The third episode was when my wallet was stolen in the coffee shop; apparently it slipped out of my pocket onto a chair before I went into the restroom. I can’t blame police indifference for that—but I can for an incident that occurred not long afterward: a television and the proprietor’s laptop was stolen from the shop after hours, and the police insisted that they could do nothing to help the proprietor recover his property. The shop is situated on what in Kent passes for a main thoroughfare, and has large plate glass windows covering two sides of the building; they never saw anything?

Alright, so now I’m at the Laundromat conducting the usual business I do there, when the manager turned on the television to keep customers occupied while she vacated the premises. I have to admit that “The Price is Right” with all those goofy people jumping up down like pinballs on speed does nothing for me intellectually; while a contestant was mulling over whether to take the money or what was inside the tiny box, the station cut to a live broadcast of yet another memorial for the four Lakewood police officers who were shot last year while they were plotting strategy for the day in a coffee shop. The intention, it appears, is to conduct this memorial every year so that people will never, ever forget about it. An old woman was taking turns gazing at the television set and me with clear hatred on her mind: the police, naturally, are the barrier between her and those frightening “colored” people.

Now, I really don’t have anything against police if they just leave me alone. I’m not trying to draw attention to myself or cause trouble. I just mind my own business, and I expect other people—especially the police—to do the same. It they are not going to help me, then don’t hurt me; I have no gun. I was as shocked and appalled as anyone by that brazen, startling piece of bloody business; it’s bad enough that police are as paranoid as they are, especially when they carry heavy duty machinery that they only need the tiniest of excuses to use. But to use this as an excuse to make them even more immune from public scrutiny because of all the “bad guys” does not serve the public interest. There is a website that claims to have the “word on the street” that the four officers who were killed were part of a “special unit” engaged in shaking down the local black community, but such talk only can only be construed as sheer lunacy in this environment, because nobody has the stomach to hear it. But all media commentary ignores the fact that Lakewood police and the minority community have not had the best of relationships. Lakewood is one of those once predominantly white communities that has not taken well to changing demographics, and its police force in particular. Back in 2005, the coordinator for the “weed and seed” program—which was ostensibly designed to try to improve police and minority community relations—admitted that many minorities still complained that Lakewood police were “fueling enmity and mistrust” by their activities, including shootings that were found “justified.” There is no reason to believe, particularly after the event a year ago, that relations have improved.

During the ceremony, there was a lot of talk about cowards and the “who’s there for us” bunker mentality. Well, the police do have their unions which insure that cops (almost) never have to answer for what would pass for criminal behavior if civilians were the perpetrators. The Seattle Times has hardly been an “enemy” to the police, as it has been busy plotting the graph about how Lakewood shooter Maurice Clemmons managed to evade permanent incarceration; questions as to why there would be any particular reason why Lakewood would be the scene of the murders goes unremarked. People tend to forget that in almost every case, it is the police who are the ones who carry around the heavy armory, not people like Native American woodcarver John T. Williams. He was minding his own business, engaged in his craft, and posed no threat to anyone. The only person who posed a threat to civility and safety was SPD officer Ian Birk. As they say, bullies are cowards, especially when they are paranoid. But such cases are always left on the backburner; police representatives are adept at blackmailing local officials and the public—support us even when we make “mistakes,” or else we won’t protect you from the “elements,” which is generally a covert message aimed at whites. The police know that creating an “us” against “them” has a double meaning: “Us” is the police and their white constituency. We don’t need to ask who “them” is.

Whenever a police officer is killed, the local media treats it as if if the president of the United States was assassinated; the Lakewood police will have their annual memorial, and maybe the governor will be obliged to attend every one. Last week, I noted that someone had set-up a very modest memorial for the victims of police abuse of lethal force, which someone apparently deemed too inflammatory and offensive to tolerate.

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