The Seattle Times recently reported on the Office of Police Accountability’s (OPA) finding that Seattle police officers used radio chatter and the image of Proud Boys marching around downtown — some carrying guns — and likely heading to the Capital Hill protest/autonomous zone as a “ruse” or “dishonest ploy.” Calling it a “ruse” or “dishonest ploy” minimizes the nefariousness of what they did.
The police weaponized the threat of a hate group in police chatter. The Proud Boys is a violent white supremacist group. They had a strong presence at the “Unite the Right” gathering in Charlottesville. The group has a reputation for descending into violence at various social justice marches and protests. Their membership has been charged with assaults and the Southern Poverty Law Center reports that the Proud Boys were planning to use violence against “leftist activities” in early to mid-2019. The Proud Boys would later participate in the efforts to overthrow our government.
In the current climate, people who protest systemic racism know we do it putting our lives on the line. We know what happened at the “Unite the Right” rally in 2017, where 35 were injured and Heather Heyer was killed. Then approximately a month after the police chatter incident, here in Seattle, a car plowed through the protests on Interstate 5, killing Summer Taylor and seriously injuring Diaz Love.
Seattle police weaponized the threat of a hate group to terrorize people protesting against racism, specifically anti-Black violence and particularly at the hands of police. Instead of engaging in dialogue or introspection, the police lied over their radios to get people worried about their safety. The police intentionally terrorized the people of our city.
Sadly, this was not an isolated incident of the police intentionally increasing tension during the summer of 2020. The article reminds us that several officers — including former Police Chief Carmen Best — lied, or as the Times article phrased it, claimed peaceful protestors were extorting businesses and then walked back their claims for lack of evidence.
The Seattle Police Department (SPD) has been under federal oversight for racialized violence for a decade. In July 2012, the Department of Justice investigation of SPD found, “a pattern or practice of constitutional violations regarding the use of force that result from structural problems, as well as serious concerns about biased policing.”
This latest action was not a ruse or a trick. It is a part of a pattern of biased policing. As I wrote in my June 2021 article, Washington state recently enacted many police reforms, and maybe change is on the horizon. It is just hard to believe change is possible when the Seattle police continues to terrorize residents even while under federal oversight for biased policing. They simply have not shown any effort at true transformation.
Jill Mullins is an intersectional feminist, attorney, activist and much more. She has written for NW Lawyer, King County Bar News and LGBTQ+ outlets.
Read more of the Jan. 19-25, 2022 issue.