Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Seattle Police, Ron Sims & Me

About a week ago local Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat wrote, that in a conversation with former King County Executive and Federal Assistant Secretary of Commence (in the Obama Administration) Ron Sims, Sims revealed he had been stopped 8 times by Seattle Police officers in what he termed as racially motivated incidents.  Each time he was not ticketed.  Once he was asked where he was going. Another time he was laughed at.  Let it be clear that Sims looks exactly like what and who he is: an upper-middle class government professional.  The only problem is is that he is black.  That alone separates him from the current Seattle Mayor and the current King County Executive.

In a later Seattle Times edition, Sims wrote his own opinion piece; and just this afternoon on local NPR radio KUOW, there was discussion about what had happened to him..  Amazingly, since Westneat first wrote about the Siims traffic stops, he has received a flurry of response from white readers saying this all must be some kind of mistake, that there must have of been some kind of "just cause" etc, many readers clearly not wanting to understand  the every day reality the average black man faces in today's  21st Century America.

As I have said, denial is a very popular cultural response but if you are the one being profiled, it is no joke. In 2013, the NY Times reported that in the year 2012 the NYPD made over 400,000 "stop and frisk" stops of innocent  young black and Latino men.  Why were they stopped and searched?  Because of the color of their skin, nothing else.

Another important factor is that the person initiating this policy was none other than that great Republican Liberal, the now former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  I should also note that Seattle,over the past 30 years, have had mayors that can be described as both "liberal" and "progressive."  Ideology then not altering what appears to be true in New York City, Seattle and elsewhere: racial profiling being an everyday and ongoing practice.

If you remember the incident concerning the arrest and subsequent death in April 2015 in Baltimore of Freddie Gray, you will recall there was no basis for his arrest, Gray only becoming nervous when looked at by police officers, which was the sole justification for him to be handcuffed and tossed in a police van. Clearly Mr. Gray had reason to be nervous because he died while being transported.  To this moment, none of the officers involved have been found guilty, acquitted on all charges.  Does this mean that Gray himself is solely responsible for his own death?  So far, that is what the Baltimore courts are saying. One might glibly comment that being poor in itself is suicidal in today's America, poverty Gray's only crime.

As someone who works in an industry dominated by people of color; and also as someone who continues to be profiled due to not getting a haircut, I can attest to the bad treatment Sims and others have received.  This past week, that very conservative black politician from South Carolina, Senator Tim Scott, told about his 7 racially motivated traffic stops by the police.  If people like Scott and Sims are subjected to police harassment, what do you think happens to alienated black and Latino teenagers?  And what about taxi drivers?  What happens to us?

My personal connection with Ron Sims stems from the lawsuit I led against King County over the award of fifty so-called "green" county licenses. I won't elaborate upon that fiasco but it was clear then, and remains true, that all King County was interested in was maintaining their governmental authority.  The sad part of these eight Rom Sims traffic stops is that, if the worse had happened, Seattle could and would have maintained that their officers were operating within their own governmental mandated authority, again taking a familiar position that was used against us.  In other words, when you have the authority, and the bureaucratic dollars to back you, you can essentially do anything you want, even if that means killing someone in a traffic stop. While Sims rightfully felt insulted, at least  he wasn't shot. He should be thankful. Other obviously have not been so lucky.

Since my first days driving taxi in autumn 1987 I have been reminded at least 40 times, if not more, that local police regard me as some kind of criminal simply by operating a cab.  It is not dissimilar to being black or brown because, to them my color is yellow, something inciting suspicion.  Over the years in the blog I have listed many of the traffic stops I have experienced, including telling about the two letters of apology I have received from the King County Sheriff and Seattle Police departments, along with one from an out-going Seattle Chief-of-Police I haven't opened, remaining furious that an officer perjured himself in writing, saying I had confessed to my "transgression" on the spot.

Though obviously Caucasian I have been put through the taxi-wringer, and like Sims and Senator Scott, I remain unhappy. Like them I don't like being targeted or profiled.  I find it unfair and unjust.  And ultimately, what can I personally do about it?.  Very little is the true answer.

Certainly I can complain, and sometimes the system works but still, that doesn't mean there won't be a next time.  Last night, after yesterday's baseball game,  I was shouted at by a female cop to "Move on!" when two passengers were just opening the door.  But a kind of instant justice was granted when, turning the corner onto north-bound 1st Avenue South, two guys jumped in going to a Southcenter Hotel, getting $50.00 including ten for the tip. Thank you, Ms. Officer, ( I think?!) I needed that fifty!

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