Politics: U.S. Law and Judiciary: Seattle WTO



Like many Seattle area residents, I watched in horror as the news cameras showed unidentified LEO's attacking unarmed protesters, and then attacking local residents who had nothing to do with the protests. I listened in horror as newscasters (e.g., Dennis Bounds) explained to the audience that the Bill of Rights applies to citizens (apparently meaning local holiday shoppers) but not to those out of town protesters.

I began to search local newsgroups. As usual, mostly junk, but some clear reports. I searched for web sites which were collecting the stories, and found the ACLU site. I began recommending that eye witnesses send their reports there, and that they make safe copies of any video tapes. (Tapes have been known to disappear in investigations.)

On Saturday, I walked through the area, around the convention center, past dozens of LEO's in various forms of riot gear and field gear. There were perhaps 4 on a corner (thus 16 for an intersection). I was refused permission to walk past the convention center, while a nicely dressed woman was allowed to pass. Bluejeans and a backpack apparently were the tipoffs that I was a non-desirable. I then walked over to the Library and talked with the librarians. Several had been gassed (up close and personal, not fumes wafting from afar).

I spent an hour in the library looking for information on the Seattle Police department (SPD) chain of command. Nothing available. Then

went home and searched on-line. Again very little. I did send an email the SPD asking for background on the chain of command. I was trying to determine who the heck allowed the SPD to attack unarmed citizens, and who (if anyone) in the SPD tried to stop the attacks.

Next I searched on-line for info on the city's emergency declaration process. I found the relevant law. Shortly after I found it, the database was taken off-line.

Next I tracked enough of the LEO process to realize that King County's Sherif Reichert may have been responsible for much of the violence. He is an ex SWAT team leader, a real cop's cop. He has pushed to make King County Sheriff's Department the contracting agency for local (e.g., municipal) police SWAT efforts. His promise (on his web site) is to save money through professional training so that cities can avoid lawsuits from police violence.

In other words, those unidentified rioting LEO's may have been his under contract, even if they were nominally associated with other cities. Of course it is impossible to tell, because the "code of silence" was in full gear. No one turned in anyone. The official LEO stance was: It was all professionally done. Didn't we feel thankful the police hadn't actually shot someone? No admission of guilt.

Reichert was personally very hardline in the aftermath, only admitting the possibility of inappropriate behavior when LEO's were caught on camera beating the crap out of unarmed local residents or gassing reporters. He was outraged with Schell apologized to residents (not protesters) for being attacked. Notably, it served Reichert's political objectives for the SPD to be disgusted with its leadership and to be ripe for contracting out to a real man among men.

Next I went looking for relevant law texts at the UW bookstore.

The relevant laws for riot and assault are found in the "Peace Officer's Pocket Guide to the Revised Code of Washington", [rcw99], excerpted with comments here. I posted the excerpts. Interestingly, they immediately disappeared. Someone was very busy that night.

State law was more clearly available on-line. I sent a note to Gov. Gary Locke asking why he was using National Guard to back up the SPD, who were attacking Seattle residents. I sent a note to Representative Jay Inslee, who had (like Locke) sounded very Republican in his support for the police attacks. Sending notes is a pretty pitiful excuse for civic action, but you have to remember that Inslee's district includes Boeing and Microsoft, the sponsors of the Seattle WTO meeting. He didn't get elected by dissing them.

Next I turned to constitutional law. How could officials justify forbidding protest within a 40 block region? A Tacoma judge justified it by citing the decision to restrict protests in front of abortion clinics. Let's see. Anti-abortionists are in the habit of shooting people, and the restriction was for within 40 feet, not 40 blocks. Hmmm. My first introduction to justice American style. Whatever a judge wants to decide can be justified somehow.

Next I learned that as a private citizen I couldn't walk into a court and charge the Mayor and Judge with flouting the Constiution. A cute slight of hand called standing assures that the courts don't even have to listen to private citizens. You have to be a corporation or a major organization like the ACLU to get past this hurdle.

In other words, the Bill of Rights doesn't apply to you and me. Standing is a major reason "We, the People" are getting kicked around by big business.

I also learned it wouldn't matter even if I could get into the court, because the doctrine of judicial restraint means the court can refuse to take a case based on not wanting to change or even question the status quo. And there is nothing anyone (including Congress) can do about it. You have to replace the judges to get past that one.

If the courts happened to take the case, any police violence aspects would be handled prefunctorily. The courts systematically take the police officer's word on the stand that any violence was necessary as part of carrying out maintaining peace and restoring order. It is utter rubbish of course, but that is where we are today. Only when video tapes make the contention absurd does the plaintif have a chance. Even then the judicial response tends to be: Any rational person would have stayed home with the doors locked. You got what you deserved.

Why would the courts take that position, which is hopelessly out of keeping with the constitution? I found these reasons:

  1. Judges are groomed, selected, and paid to maintain the status quo. A police state with citizens cowering behind their doors is (temporarily) stable. While they might not admit it even to themselves, judges tend to see "street justice" as a necessary part of keeping the unruly mob at bay.

  2. Judges, prosecutors, LEO's, prison staff, parole officers -- everyone the judicial process -- are disgusted with the drug-based turnstyle system we've managed to evolve. A bit of "street justice" can short circuit that cycle.

  3. Judges realize that the facts are never clear cut, and that on average the LEO is a more trustworthy witness than the plaintif. So they build in a bias, to the effect that a cop has to screw up on camera before the judge will rule against him at all.

    In other words, the most powerful Bill of Rights tools today are not placards and gasmasks, but video cameras and web sites.

  4. The drug war has forced community police into paramilitary operations. Along with that goes a mental shift from "Hey neighbor, let's defuse the situation" to "Shoot to kill. Beat people over the head with those commie pinko nonlethal gadgets if you have to. Take and maintain the objective." LEO's learn in their guts they must immediately take control, and must use all available force to do so. This reflex is part of their "street degree", and comes within 1-3 years on the job.

    This is of course the wrong response to massed protesters, who are constitutionally protected as they take (temporary) control of the streets away from the LEO's. It is almost guaranteed to bring a viscious response from the LEO community. In fact, I believe this was intentionally setup by the "big boys" running the WTO meetings. That is why they (e.g., M. Sidran) deliberately did not provide for large scale peaceful arrests.

    Judges recognize that LEO's can't make that mental shift from war zone back to peaceful protestors, so they wink at bludgeoned protesters.

    Remember Kent State? After that police claimed they had the professionalism to hold fire while the National Guard amateurs could not be trusted. In the wake of drug-war inspired SWAT militarization, I'll take my chances with amateurs. Their reflexes do not include "triple tap -- 2 to the body and 1 to the head".

Creator: Harry George
Updated/Created: 2008-02-03