From the White House to Charlottesville, it seems to be open season for bullies and people bent on shutting down critics through intimidation. And that’s how I view the lawsuit by two Seattle police officers, Scott Miller and Michael Spaulding, against socialist Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant.
In a parenthetical comment in its Aug. 25 editorial equating Sawant with Donald Trump, the Seattle Times acknowledges the “societal problem” of “excessive police use of force against communities of color.” That’s certainly a restrained way to describe a torrent of police violence that includes multiple killings of unarmed children and teenagers of color, like 15-year-old Jordan Edwards in Texas this May. The deadly 2016 shooting of Che Taylor by Miller and Spaulding is part of this scourge.
Yes, the Seattle police-review board and an inquest jury — which does not determine guilt or innocence — gave the two officers a pass. But that means little or nothing. The New York Times investigated 15 high-profile recent cases in which Blacks died in custody or were killed by police. Only two so far have resulted in convictions. The cops who took the lives of Terence Crutcher, Philando Castile, and Freddie Gray are walking free. But we have all seen videos of unpunished police killings like these, and we know the truth.
Kshama Sawant has the right to her opinion in the case of Che Taylor, and she is hardly the only one who called it murder. She is in company with the NAACP, family members of Taylor, and many, many community members. And Sawant wasn’t elected by Seattleites to tread lightly. She was elected to shake up the status quo, and that includes calling out the police violence and racism in Seattle that brought the Justice Department onto the scene. Her stand after Taylor’s death was the opposite of irresponsible: it was a welcome responsiveness on the part of an elected official to that “societal problem” the Seattle Times characterized so delicately.
The Seattle Times comparison of Sawant to Trump is absurd, but for one thing. Trump, too, was elected because he says what he thinks, even if that changes from day to day. Otherwise, this juxtaposition of the two is another example of false equivalency, like Trump’s castigating of both the fascist and anti-fascist demonstrators in Charlottesville.
If we want to judge them, let’s look at what people stand for, shall we? The far-rightists and open Nazis stand for white supremacy and various forms of bigotry. Those opposing them stand for human and civil rights and against racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, and xenophobia. Trump stands for walls, tax breaks for billionaires, and the right of profit-makers to flourish while millions go without healthcare. Socialists like Sawant — and like me, a member of the Freedom Socialist Party — believe in defending the most vulnerable groups in society and creating a world designed to meet human needs and develop the potential of all.
When it comes to right now, I believe Seattle needs an elected civilian review board over the police with real independence from city officialdom and real authority, including the right to investigate cases and impose discipline or firing on police found to have abused their power. I don’t believe the lawsuit by Miller and Spaulding is irrational or merely vindictive. I think it is meant to send a warning to critics of cop violence: don’t oppose us, or we will do our best to make your life hell.
But the thing about bullies is, you have to stand up to them, or things only get worse. The good news is, around the country and in Seattle, people are.
Andrea Bauer is an editor for the Freedom Socialist newspaper.