For years, I’ve highlighted failings within the legal system. Police are one of the major sources of problems. Prosecutors, judges and defense lawyers too, but police play a far different role in society. Most of the time, cops didn’t like what I had to say about them much. I was always criticizing, and it hurt their feelings not to be recognized for the good they do. Even when I wrote something nice about cops, it wasn’t enough for them. They were heroes in their own mind, and while they all acknowledged that there were bad cops, they weren’t the bad ones. The bad ones were always some other cop, not them.
But I wrote out of concern, not so much for the individual cops themselves, for their existence. Bad as they can be, and they can be horrifically bad, they are still a necessary part of a functioning society.
Yes, I said it. We need police. Good cops. Honest cops. Well-behaved cops who demonstrate maturity and responsibility in the execution of their duty, show respect to people, their rights, their humanity. Cops who don’t harm people because they can get away with it. Cops who don’t treat black people, Hispanic people, poor people, like trash. Cops who realize that we all want to make it home for dinner.
But we need them. We need police, just better police.
Somehow, journalism slipped into the New York Times in the form of Nellie Bowles, who pulled a Jimmy Breslin by telling the story of Faizel Khan.
Faizel Khan was being told by the news media and his own mayor that the protests in his hometown were peaceful, with “a block party atmosphere.”
But that was not what he saw through the windows of his Seattle coffee shop. He saw encampments overtaking the sidewalks. He saw roving bands of masked protesters smashing windows and looting.
Young white men wielding guns would harangue customers as well as Mr. Khan, a gay man of Middle Eastern descent who moved here from Texas so he could more comfortably be out. To get into his coffee shop, he sometimes had to seek the permission of self-appointed armed guards to cross a border they had erected.
“They barricaded us all in here,” Mr. Khan said. “And they were sitting in lawn chairs with guns.”
Why were reporters publishing false stories about CHAZ? They told us why. They told us they were going to do so. They were telling us the story with “moral clarity,” the story that would tell us what they believed we ought to know, that served their version of the greater good. In their eyes, cops are bad, protesters are good and this world they invented without police and White Supremacy was the future they wanted us to embrace. So they told the story that would make us see it their way.
But it’s not a story of a world without cops. It’s a story of people seizing the authority that we otherwise gave to cops and became the cops. They had guns. They asked the questions. They decided what you could do and, if their answer was “no,” they decided what happened to you.
As it turned out, they did a remarkably bad job of playing cops. And the cops did a remarkably good job of letting them by staying away.
Now a group of local businesses owners — including a locksmith, the owner of a tattoo parlor, a mechanic, the owners of a Mexican restaurant and Mr. Khan — is suing the city. The lawsuit claims that “Seattle’s unprecedented decision to abandon and close off an entire city neighborhood, leaving it unchecked by the police, unserved by fire and emergency health services, and inaccessible to the public” resulted in enormous property damage and lost revenue.
As lawyers know only too well, “protest and serve” is just a marketing slogan. The police owe no legal duty to show up, to take action, to “protect and serve,” in the absence of some “special relationship” beyond that of cop and citizen. Where were they when business owners in the Capitol Hill district called?
Calfo Eakes LLP, the law firm representing the group, said in a statement the lawsuit is “not a step (their) clients have taken lightly,” adding that they stand with the Black Lives Matter movement and support demonstrators’ right to free speech and assembly. The plaintiffs include owners of apartment buildings in the area and local businesses such as Car Tender, Northwest Liquor and Wine, Sage Physical Therapy and Tattoos and Fortune. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.
Whether this is Gertruding or the Stockholm Syndrome isn’t clear. It would likely be untenable in Seattle to own a business and not gush one’s support for the cause, as you would be reviled and, even if you could open for business, would be swiftly put out of business for being on the wrong side of social justice.
“This lawsuit does not seek to undermine CHOP participants’ message or present a counter-message,” the lawsuit says. “Rather, this lawsuit is about the constitutional and other legal rights of Plaintiffs … which have been overrun by the City of Seattle’s unprecedented decision to abandon and close off an entire city neighborhood, leaving it unchecked by the police, unserved by fire and emergency health services, and inaccessible to the public at large.”
But the suit here isn’t just about cops failing to answer the call of residents who needed them. It’s about a city that abandoned them.
The lawsuit blames the city for aiding CHOP occupants by providing them with stronger barriers, public restroom facilities and medical supplies. It also mentions that residents and business owners now have difficulty accessing their buildings, receiving deliveries and providing services to customers, with elderly and disabled community members facing magnified obstacles.
Tugging on the same marginalized heartstrings, the same claims of oppression and challenge, the suit against Seattle is for enabling CHOP to exist, which went beyond merely not shutting it down.
For most of the time SJ has been around, the good folks loved cops, see them as their guys, neither knowing nor understanding how the cops treated the people who lived “uptown.” Too often, they treated them poorly, violently, as if a lesser breed of animal unworthy of ordinary human courtesy. This had to be fixed and we’re now at a point where enough people seem to care enough that a paradigm shift is possible.
Instead, we get CHOP. We get “abolish police.” We get fools living out fantasies, both about the wonders and goodness of humanity and the horrors of cops, every one of whom murders black people daily. There’s no easy answer, and I’m inclined to believe, after all these years, that there is no “solution” at all, even though there are certainly changes that would greatly improve certain problems. It’s going to be a daily struggle to watch the watchers.
But what isn’t the answer is the radical extremes grounded in fantasies about a world without police. Without them, we’ll have random guys in lawn chairs with guns telling us what they’ll allow us to do. As I keep repeating, the alternative to bad isn’t necessarily good, It can always get worse. Police are bad. A nation without them is worse. It’s a shame we can’t take this opportunity to make the fixes that would help people, but that would require people to know and accept the reality of our existence and deal with it.