On Friday, a judge put a temporary halt to a Seattle city ordinance, hastily passed in the wake of the protests touched off by the death of George Floyd in late May, which would have banned virtually all safe crowd control measures for police officers.
The Department of Justice argued the new rules would have caused “irreparable harm resulting from officer confusion and the inability to modulate force or de-escalate situations in which force may be needed.”
U.S. District Judge James Robart agreed, issuing a 14-day temporary restraining order just days before the ordinance was set to take effect.
“The issuance of this immediate change, without time for additional direction or training, is likely to result in officer confusion,” he wrote.
If you’re a resident or business owner in Seattle, at least for the next week and a half, this is a very good thing.
On Friday, just two days before the ordinance would have taken effect, Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best wrote a letter to residents and business owners informing them that amid protests that have frequently turned violent, she doesn’t intend to put her officers in harm’s way without the crowd control weapons that are normally at her department’s disposal.
“Please know that the Seattle Police Department is committed to addressing life safety incidents and calls for service, and responding to ongoing demonstrations and unrest in the city,” Best wrote.
“Please also know that the City Council Ordinance 119805 Crowd Control Tool goes into effect this weekend on Sunday, July 26, 2020. This ordinance bans Seattle Police officers the use of less lethal tools, including pepper spray that is commonly used to disperse crowds that have turned violent. Simply put, the legislation gives officers NO ability to safely intercede to preserve property in the midst of a large, violent crowd.
Seattle police send message to businesses, residents. There are riots. City council banned use of pepper spray, other crowd control agents. So now, we have ‘NO ability to safely intercede to preserve property in the midst of a large, violent crowd.’ Shorter: You’re on your own. pic.twitter.com/ZLzg1VToeV
— Byron York (@ByronYork) July 27, 2020
“It is important to bring to your attention that yesterday, I sent the City Council a letter ensuring them that as the Chief of Police, I have done my due diligence of informing them numerous times of the foreseeable impact of this ordinance on upcoming events. The letter is attached for your reference,” she continued.
“For these reasons, Seattle Police will have an adjusted deployment in response to any demonstrations this weekend — as I will never ask our officers to risk their personal safety to protect property without the tools to do so in a safe way,” Best said in conclusion.
“It is a fact that there are groups and individuals who are intent on destruction in our City. Yes, we also have seen weeks of peaceful demonstrations, but two recent events (Sunday, July 19th and Wednesday, July 22nd) have included wide-scale property destruction and attacks on officers, injuring more than a dozen, some significantly,” Best wrote.
“This weekend we know that several events are planned across the city that will foreseeably involve many of the same violent actors from recent days. There is no reason not to assume we will continue to experience property destruction, arson, looting, and attempts to injure additional officers throughout the weekend and beyond.
“With this Council ordinance, we hear loudly and clearly that the use of these less-lethal tools by SPD officers to disperse crowds that have turned violent have been completely banned by City Council.”
This left two different paths for police officers to deal with rioters.
The first, being advocated by Chief Best, was to pull back. The other possibility open to officers to control crowds, however, went against the spirit of the ordinance — but could be the sole avenue remaining for officers dealing with situations where the only choices left open to them are bad ones.
“We have clear, court-mandated procedures for arresting individuals, grounded in the principles of deescalation. SPD’s de-escalation principles are premised on the expectation, consistent with policy and best practices, that officers have the full array of approved tools. In large crowds, there is no safe way for officers to effect arrests when their colleagues do not have the tools necessary to protect them,” Best wrote.
“As City Council’s legislation goes into effect, it will create even more dangerous circumstances for our officers to intervene using what they have left — riot shields and riot batons.”
Best, by the way, doesn’t come across like a sanguinary Bull Connor type. Here’s an excerpt from another letter that the police chief sent to the city council two days earlier:
“Altogether, I am concerned by the clear disconnect many of these recommendations have from reality. If we are to do the hard work ahead of us, we cannot argue about facts. If we are going to successfully meet the needs of our entire community, we must, together, create a plan, grounded in theory, guided by evidence, and governed by equity,” she wrote.
“With a plan in place, we can then, as a City, determine how to best fund and implement that plan. This will not happen overnight. We will have to ‘bridge the gap’ between the realities of today and the vision of tomorrow.”
That plea fell upon deaf ears. Like so many other cities in the wake of George Floyd’s death, Seattle was Lady Macbeth, trying desperately to wash nonexistent blood off of their hands. They gazed upon the tools of traditional police work and said, “Out, damned spot!” — without realizing those tools weren’t actually causing their city pain, but saving them from it.
Unlike the guilt-ridden queen of Scotland, however, Seattle’s leftist politicians are going to have to hang around to see what happens when things go bad — assuming, of course, they get their wish and the DOJ’s attempt to block the pepper spray ban fails.
Best is neither being dramatic nor taking her ball and going home because the city council won’t delay or reconsider the ban.
There’s a significant and dedicated contingent of protesters in Seattle who are out to wreck whatever they can and attack anyone who gets in their way.
This isn’t just putting property at risk; these are the rioters who set a fire in a Starbucks which was below residential units on Saturday, after all.
Best can’t risk her officers unless things get particularly bad — and at that point, her department doesn’t have less-lethal crowd control measures at their disposal.
Is this what Seattle officialdom thinks will end well?
At least for now, Best has additional options at her disposal.
“The Seattle Police Department hears the community’s message and stands ready to partner in moving forward,” Best said in the wake of the judge’s ruling, according to KING-TV. “I implore all of you to remain peaceful and to encourage the peace of others.”
That isn’t likely to happen. It is, however, more likely that the unrest doesn’t end with a lawless power vacuum or violent police intervention.
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