Open Letter to Mayor McGinn and the Seattle City Council: Bring the Seattle Police under community control

It's an undeclared war: A war against Blacks, other people of color, immigrants, youth, the homeless, the poor, and demonstrators criticizing the system. Police have killed, kicked, punched, harassed, Tasered and tear-gassed far too many people. It's a racist system out of control.

April 17, 2010 Detective Shandy Cobane and Officer Mary Woollum kicked an innocent Latino man in the head and legs while he lay facedown on the concrete. Cobane was caught yelling, "I'll beat the f**king Mexican piss out of you homey!"

June 14, 2010 Officer Ian Walsh punched a 17-year-old African American girl directly in the face while investigating a jaywalking incident near Franklin High School.

August 30, 2010 Officer Ian Birk shot and killed John T. Williams, a Native American carver.

November 15, 2011 During an Occupy Seattle march near Westlake Center, police used pepper spray to douse 84-year-old Dorli Rainey and a pregnant woman.

December 12, 2011 Cops absurdly overreacted when they chose to use flash-bang grenades and pepper spray on activists trying to shut down the Port of Seattle.

We also remember the members and supporters of Radical Women and the Freedom Socialist Party who were systematically and precisely pepper-sprayed in the face as they protested bigotry towards immigrants on August 18, 2007.

Things are so bad that the U.S. Department of Justice was pressured to launch a full-scale inquiry of the Seattle Police Department's use of force and biased policing against people of color. The probe included looking for "systemic violations of the Constitution or federal law." On December 15, 2011 this investigation found routine and widespread use of excessive force by the Seattle Police Department.

What's happening in Seattle reflects a national trend. From September 17 to December 12, 2011 there have been 5,425 arrests at Occupy Wall Street protests in 94 cities according to St. Pete's for Peace, an Occupy-affiliated group from St. Petersburg, Florida. And this includes those arrested in Seattle and at the state Capitol. It's now a crime to be poor or to criticize the system.

Those who run our profit-driven society employ the police as a domestic army to protect the capitalist state. Wherever there are police, there will be police brutality, because the cops' main job is to shield big business and private property, to safeguard the "haves" from the "have-nots."

Advice is not the same as accountability

Handpicked by the mayor and city council, the Seattle Office of Professional Accountability (OPA) and the civilian auditor are supposed to monitor the cops. However, they have no authority to mandate change. Instead they make recommendations to Seattle's chief of police who decides what, if any, disciplinary action is warranted. The chief can and often does ignore the board completely.

The problem of racial abuse towards people of color, the poor and activists is embedded within the current police culture, and advisory review committees and defensive elected officials will never turn this around. Furthermore, it's a scandal that the mayor and the council have not stepped in to control the cops and demand the police department clean up its act.

Enough! We need an elected civilian review board that has final authority to investigate, rule on, and discipline cops who kill or are accused of excessive brutality, unnecessary force, sexual harassment, racist abuse or unequal treatment based on the sex, sexuality, immigration status, mental health, or income level of the people they stop.

We are not under the illusion that this type of review board will eliminate cop depredations: these will be a fact of life as long as we have an economic system fueled by profits and a social system that exploits the majority for the benefit of the few. But an elected civilian review board could reduce police abuses. And it could provide some recourse against cops who now murder and brutalize with little control.


  • Establish an elected and truly independent civilian review board with authority to fire and discipline police officers found guilty of any abusive behavior
  • End all racist violence and racial profiling by police
  • Protect the First Amendment right to protest – stop all use of pepper spray and trivial arrests that take demonstrators out of the action and deny them their free speech
  • Fire Seattle Police Chief John Diaz, NOW!
  • Pay restitution to the families of those killed, injured or frivolously charged by the Seattle Police Department

Issued jointly by:
Radical Women

Freedom Socialist Party

Both groups have offices at New Freeway Hall, 5018 Rainier Ave. S., Seattle, WA 98118