Cutting to the quick on Seattle's police issues

With one courageous vote, and a jolt to the pay envelope, Seattle's City Council could bring all the parties to the table.

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Stacks of money can be yours, without having to risk your own.

With one courageous vote, and a jolt to the pay envelope, Seattle's City Council could bring all the parties to the table.

Read the online comments: Seattleites everywhere are lauding Wisconsin Senate Democrats “Flight of the Cheeseheads” to prevent a legislative vote over public unions' collective bargaining rights. Stand up for what’s right, we cry!

And deep down in our conflict–averse hearts we are secretly wishing for a little more theater and backbone from our own local elected officials to bring responsible parties to the negotiating table on a myriad of issues — especially over the recent shooting of native woodcarver John T. Williams by now former Officer Ian Birk.

Community meetings produce public pontification but little progress. Politicians' speeches, blog postings, and press conferences fade quickly, like the hot air fueling them. Cop newspaper rants over assaults on “American values” further deepen a divide between cops on the street and citizens in the neighborhood. Activists crying “all cops are killers” just push officers further into the hunker-down bunker of silence and resentment.

The actions of one man — Ian Birk — are holding a smart and caring city hostage over our inability to act wisely and swiftly to fix what is obviously broken. Entrenched in various positions, no one (the cops, the elected officials, the activists) is winning here. Least of all the citizens of our city, wondering why sniping in the press and demonstrations are taking precedent over collective action to find some lasting and just solutions.

But there is something the City Council can do. And, since nothing else is working, why not give it a try?

It’s standing item number six on the weekly Monday afternoon Full Council Agenda. After approving the proposed agenda, approving the minutes of the previous meeting, commencing any presentations, listening carefully to public comments, and approving the referrals calendar, the council could choose to wield their ultimate (actually only) big stick: “make all the parties come to the table and act like responsible adults."

They would do this by passage of the payroll bill.

Stop the checks from flowing for everyone (yourselves included) and shut ’er down, guys and gals of the council. Nobody gets paid until speeches, knee jerk reactions, and protests are set aside and we fix this.

Ridiculous? Of course. Unnecessarily punishments? You bet! Necessary to get parties to the table to at least start to make progress? Maybe so. Uh, is anything else working right now? It sure doesn’t look like it. It’s a silly action to awaken folks to just how irresponsible they’ve been to let the situation get to this currently sad state of affairs.

Seriously, like so many in our city, I’m rather desperately looking for some visible leadership to begin what will no doubt be a difficult community journey. I know it will be hard — the Office of Professional Accountability (OPA) was created under my watch as chair of the Council Public Safety Committee in 1999, and we’ve been trying to strike the right balance of OPA effort, elected official oversight, and citizen action ever since.

Someone has to start next chapter, beyond a war of words, finger pointing, lateraling the whole matter to the Department of Justice, and made-for-cable-news recriminations. We owe that to the memory of John T. Williams. We owe that to every officer on the street, in an incredibly difficult and complex profession. We owe that to every citizen activist, fighting for safe neighborhoods and recognition of Seattle’s diverse population.

It’s time to pay up, reframe, and get folks to the table. Maybe by stopping the payroll checks someone might finally notice that.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Tina Podlodowski

Tina Podlodowski

Tina Podlodowski is the Chair of the Washington State Democratic Party and Vice-Chair of the DNC Western States Caucus.