Why the Police Excesses in Ferguson Don’t Make SPD Look Good by Comparison

As the events unfolded in Ferguson, Missouri this week, one thought you can be sure that was repeated again and again in the minds of Seattle Police Department officers was: “And we’re under a consent decree?” Doesn’t seem fair, right? At least by comparison.

But unfortunately for the Seattle Police Guild and its recalcitrant members, this isn’t a competition to see which department is least worst. Seattle is a bigger city than Ferguson—and a better city. And we require a better police force.

The fact that Seattle police responded to Occupy Wall Street and the May Day marches with much more restraint and professionalism than the storm troopers in Ferguson, doesn’t excuse those incidents where Seattle police showed a lack of professionalism and restraint. And the fact that unarmed young black men apparently have less to fear from police in Seattle than they would from police in St. Louis County, doesn’t make up for the fact that unarmed young black men have more to fear from Seattle police than they should.

One of the things that always troubled me in covering the SPD’s various excesses is that compared to the Rizzo-era Philadelphia police of my youth, the SPD are Mormon missionaries. I never saw the Philadelphia police resort to tear gas, pepper spray, or rubber bullets. No, they’d just trample the crowd with their horses, or unleash the dogs, or firebomb an entire city block. God knows how many Philadelphia police shootings and beatings were criminal acts of excessive force, because honestly, who could keep track?

But what I came to understand in covering SPD is that the Philadelphia comparison was meaningless. This isn’t Philadelphia or Ferguson, and this sure isn’t the 1970s. The documented abuses of the SPD offend our sensibilities not because they are collectively worse than those of other police forces, but because here in Seattle we expect and demand so much better. In a truly civil society, armed officers of the peace must always strive to treat the entire public with dignity and respect, and to use force—lethal or otherwise—only as a last resort. The SPD has not lived up to this standard. The consent decree was necessary to help correct a long simmering cultural crisis within the department that was getting in the way of giving the people of Seattle the SPD we deserve.

So any Seattle police officer bemoaning the injustice that our department is under a consent decree, while Ferguson’s is not, is missing the point. It is only an injustice to the people of Ferguson.



  1. 1

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely. Police answerable to no one are among the most frightening things I can imagine. That’s what the Seattle Police Guild seems intent on creating. You know who I mean, the union thugs who argue cops can do no wrong and citizens have no rights.

  2. 2

    Mud Baby spews:

    Thank you Goldy, you are right on target. John T Williams was our Michael Brown.

    As for you Roger Rabbit I was with you almost all the way until you just had to toss in the “union thugs” slur. Unions are the folks who brought us weekends, but to you one can only suppose all union members are thugs and nice stuff like weekends, worker safety laws and minimum wages, paltry as they are these day lots, don’t matter.

  3. 5

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @2 If you want to drill down into this, though, there’s a good reason why rightwing thugs like Scott Walker habitually exempt police unions from their anti-union thuggery and that’s because most cops are rightwingers like themselves and not a few are thugs. When you say “police union,” you’re not discussing “unions” in the normal sense, you’re talking about a unique type of organization dedicated to the proposition that cops have a divinely-granted right to be thugs which supersedes all the constitutional rights of citizens. If you won’t want me to call these organizations “unions,” then I’ll call them Guilds if that will make you happy. This terminology is apt because they’re straight out of the Middle Ages.

  4. 6

    Theophrastus spews:

    There is ‘crowd-funding’ going on for the defense of that cop who shot unarmed teenager Michael Brown. one can reasonably assume that there’s a civil war flag somewhere in the house of each donor -sigh-
    motherjones nbcnews

  5. 7

    Mud Baby spews:

    Call them whatever you want, Roger, but if you want to distinguish yourself from right wingers like Scott Walker, stop using the term “union thugs” when referring to a specific union, namely the Seattle Police Guild.

  6. 8

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    Some Cops Are So Creepy They Even Creep Out The Cops

    The St. Louis PD has relieved a 35-year department veteran who pushed a CNN reporter on live TV after reviewing the tape of a speech the officer made at an Oathkeepers meeting in April. You can see the video of the pushing incident here:


    Oathkeepers is a rightwing group that advocates soldiers and police officers disobey orders they feel violates their interpretation of the Constitution. Basically, it advocates that those entrusted with using deadly force on behalf of our government take the law into their own hands and act on their personal beliefs. Obviously, such a belief system can affect their judgment.

    The officer, Dan Page, wasn’t relieved for his association with Oathkeepers, though. He was relieved because his superiors concluded from statements in Page’s speech that he does have impaired judgment. Page, among other things, said:

    1) President Obama is an undocumented alien born in Kenya.

    2) He referred to “four sodomites on the Supreme Court,” presumably in reference to the Court’s non-conservative members.

    3) He rants against affirmative action, hate crime laws, women, and gays.

    4) He makes several references to killing, including doing “his fair share of killing,” “people involved in domestic violence should just shoot each other and get it over with [because] somebody like me is going to kill you,” and “I’m into diversity, I kill everybody.”

    No, we liberals aren’t irrational paranoids; there really are creepy cops on our streets. It sounds like this guy is one of them, and his own superiors considered him dangerous enough to pull him off the streets. He has a magnum-sized chip on his shoulder the size of a beam, and his contempt for citizens and their rights is displayed in the CNN tape.


    Dan Page was one of the St. Louis cops assigned to crowd control in the early aftermath of the Brown shooting, when things fell apart in the streets, in part because poorly disciplined police escalated the situation. That’s when police were pointing machineguns at peaceful demonstrators, arrested journalists, and dropping “F” bombs. A borderline riot situation is no place for a cop with Page’s attitude and chip toward people he’s supposed to serve and protect.

    So, no, liberals aren’t anti-police, or looking for excuses to pick on cops, or engaging in paranoid fantasies. We don’t want racist hotheads with an inclination to take the law into their own hands turned loose on citizens in tense situations, or any situations. Based on what we see in these videos, that’s a legitimate worry.

  7. 9

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @7 I don’t like the Seattle Police Guild, or the bad cops they defend, or their self-serving insistence that bad cops are entitled to have badges and guns no matter what they do. Yes, they’re thugs, and yes, they’re a union. I’m generally pro-union, but that doesn’t mean an unqualified of all unions, and I’m not in love with this particular union. I previously took issue in this blog with Mayor Murray appointing a former Guild official as interim chief, who promptly used that position to reverse half a dozen disciplinary actions against cops who had been disciplined for abusive actions against citizens, and I continue to take issue with that. I wish the Guild had a reasonable attitude toward our rights as citizens, but they don’t, and if they won’t, then I wish they would go away. You seem to have an agenda, my friend. Are you a Guild official or member?