August was no exception with newsworthy events. As much as I prefer not to write about the pandemic, it seems necessary for providing the social context of local events through a larger prism. In this case, the sudden retirement of former Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best, to take effect Sept. 2.
Reading columns in The Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer left me feeling that I was being gaslighted. Were they talking about the same person whose department had sued news agencies for raw video footage, who had officers under her command use chemical agents against Seattleites, while reports also surfaced of clearly identified journalists and legal observers attacked by riot police?
The eulogizing of Best’s career left me feeling that white journalists were tokenizing a person in conditional power. Mainstream support of global-majority — non-white — people is contingent on them upholding systemic power. Deviation from this line standard means unceremonious departure.
To understand how we arrived at this point, we have to look at Best’s departure through the pandemic lens. Yep, I was bound to go here. Sorry. Per data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pulled Aug. 14, the COVID-19 infection rates for African Americans and Latinos in all age groups were at 51 percent, while death rates for both groups were at 39.2 percent. Adjusted for working-age populations (18-64), the statistics tell a dramatically different story, as infection rates for these two groups increases to 54.1 percent and death rates swell to 66.96 percent — for a joint demographic that is 31.9 percent of the U.S. population.
Clearly, the pandemic is disproportionately impacting the largest minority populations, as they also comprise a bigger portion of the “essential” workforce and are at higher risk of infection. Historically, systemic racism in tandem with classism have made for a poor public health infrastructure in marginalized communities. This pandemic has exposed the cumulative effects of systemic violence, societal exclusion and outright negligence.
The killing of George Floyd added an additional layer of trauma incurred from the pandemic. Police violence was placed under the microscope as one component of widespread racist violence. In this context, dissatisfaction was present with the apparatus that was killing essential workers at a higher rate and victimizing poor folks by way of disproportionately punitive enforcement of laws. All patience for change via representative proxies and gatekeepers flew out the window.
Truth told, SPD brass are earning six figure salaries, Best and Interim Chief Adrian Diaz included, while people of color are impacted disproportionately by COVID-19. I personally do not see myself represented by them. Many folks are skeptical, and for good reason. As Nikkita Oliver wrote in Crosscut, it is not personal. Our communities are in a state of emergency: People’s basic needs, like safety, are not being met.
Read more in the Aug. 26 - Sept. 1, 2020 issue.