The New Cops On Lawn Chairs

For years, I’ve highlighted failings within the legal system. Police are one of the major sources of problems. Prosecutors, judges and defense lawyers too, but police play a far different role in society. Most of the time, cops didn’t like what I had to say about them much. I was always criticizing, and it hurt their feelings not to be recognized for the good they do. Even when I wrote something nice about cops, it wasn’t enough for them. They were heroes in their own mind, and while they all acknowledged that there were bad cops, they weren’t the bad ones. The bad ones were always some other cop, not them.

But I wrote out of concern, not so much for the individual cops themselves, for their existence. Bad as they can be, and they can be horrifically bad, they are still a necessary part of a functioning society.

Yes, I said it. We need police. Good cops. Honest cops. Well-behaved cops who demonstrate maturity and responsibility in the execution of their duty, show respect to people, their rights, their humanity. Cops who don’t harm people because they can get away with it. Cops who don’t treat black people, Hispanic people, poor people, like trash. Cops who realize that we all want to make it home for dinner.

But we need them. We need police, just better police.

Somehow, journalism slipped into the New York Times in the form of Nellie Bowles, who pulled a Jimmy Breslin by telling the story of Faizel Khan.

Faizel Khan was being told by the news media and his own mayor that the protests in his hometown were peaceful, with “a block party atmosphere.”

But that was not what he saw through the windows of his Seattle coffee shop. He saw encampments overtaking the sidewalks. He saw roving bands of masked protesters smashing windows and looting.

Young white men wielding guns would harangue customers as well as Mr. Khan, a gay man of Middle Eastern descent who moved here from Texas so he could more comfortably be out. To get into his coffee shop, he sometimes had to seek the permission of self-appointed armed guards to cross a border they had erected.

“They barricaded us all in here,” Mr. Khan said. “And they were sitting in lawn chairs with guns.”

Why were reporters publishing false stories about CHAZ? They told us why. They told us they were going to do so. They were telling us the story with “moral clarity,” the story that would tell us what they believed we ought to know, that served their version of the greater good. In their eyes, cops are bad, protesters are good and this world they invented without police and White Supremacy was the future they wanted us to embrace. So they told the story that would make us see it their way.

But it’s not a story of a world without cops. It’s a story of people seizing the authority that we otherwise gave to cops and became the cops. They had guns. They asked the questions. They decided what you could do and, if their answer was “no,” they decided what happened to you.

As it turned out, they did a remarkably bad job of playing cops. And the cops did a remarkably good job of letting them by staying away.

Now a group of local businesses owners — including a locksmith, the owner of a tattoo parlor, a mechanic, the owners of a Mexican restaurant and Mr. Khan — is suing the city. The lawsuit claims that “Seattle’s unprecedented decision to abandon and close off an entire city neighborhood, leaving it unchecked by the police, unserved by fire and emergency health services, and inaccessible to the public” resulted in enormous property damage and lost revenue.

As lawyers know only too well, “protest and serve” is just a marketing slogan. The police owe no legal duty to show up, to take action, to “protect and serve,” in the absence of some “special relationship” beyond that of cop and citizen. Where were they when business owners in the Capitol Hill district called?

Calfo Eakes LLP, the law firm representing the group, said in a statement the lawsuit is “not a step (their) clients have taken lightly,” adding that they stand with the Black Lives Matter movement and support demonstrators’ right to free speech and assembly. The plaintiffs include owners of apartment buildings in the area and local businesses such as Car Tender, Northwest Liquor and Wine, Sage Physical Therapy and Tattoos and Fortune. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

Whether this is Gertruding or the Stockholm Syndrome isn’t clear. It would likely be untenable in Seattle to own a business and not gush one’s support for the cause, as you would be reviled and, even if you could open for business, would be swiftly put out of business for being on the wrong side of social justice.

“This lawsuit does not seek to undermine CHOP participants’ message or present a counter-message,” the lawsuit says. “Rather, this lawsuit is about the constitutional and other legal rights of Plaintiffs … which have been overrun by the City of Seattle’s unprecedented decision to abandon and close off an entire city neighborhood, leaving it unchecked by the police, unserved by fire and emergency health services, and inaccessible to the public at large.”

But the suit here isn’t just about cops failing to answer the call of residents who needed them. It’s about a city that abandoned them.

The lawsuit blames the city for aiding CHOP occupants by providing them with stronger barriers, public restroom facilities and medical supplies. It also mentions that residents and business owners now have difficulty accessing their buildings, receiving deliveries and providing services to customers, with elderly and disabled community members facing magnified obstacles.

Tugging on the same marginalized heartstrings, the same claims of oppression and challenge, the suit against Seattle is for enabling CHOP to exist, which went beyond merely not shutting it down.

For most of the time SJ has been around, the good folks loved cops, see them as their guys, neither knowing nor understanding how the cops treated the people who lived “uptown.” Too often, they treated them poorly, violently, as if a lesser breed of animal unworthy of ordinary human courtesy. This had to be fixed and we’re now at a point where enough people seem to care enough that a paradigm shift is possible.

Instead, we get CHOP. We get “abolish police.” We get fools living out fantasies, both about the wonders and goodness of humanity and the horrors of cops, every one of whom murders black people daily. There’s no easy answer, and I’m inclined to believe, after all these years, that there is no “solution” at all, even though there are certainly changes that would greatly improve certain problems. It’s going to be a daily struggle to watch the watchers.

But what isn’t the answer is the radical extremes grounded in fantasies about a world without police. Without them, we’ll have random guys in lawn chairs with guns telling us what they’ll allow us to do. As I keep repeating, the alternative to bad isn’t necessarily good, It can always get worse. Police are bad. A nation without them is worse. It’s a shame we can’t take this opportunity to make the fixes that would help people, but that would require people to know and accept the reality of our existence and deal with it.

26 thoughts on “The New Cops On Lawn Chairs

  1. Eat

    Seems short sighted to not consider a post-police world. Maybe yo are too siloed into justice and law. Social technology and even better batteries are new tools to solve injustice. And for some reason people don’t translate the benefits of compound interest from the financial world onto every aspect of life. Solutions multiply with each other to increase justice exponentially. Dream jobs do exist.

    1. SHG Post author

      There could be unicorns prancing on rainbows and I just don’t know about them. Do you, or are you willing to leap off the edge of a cliff because maybe you can fly or won’t die when you hit the ground?

    2. Richard Kopf

      Eat,

      I suggest that you read Thomas Hobbes. He was a guy who lived more than four hundred year ago. Hobbes was an English philosopher, scientist, and historian. He was smart, pragmatic and deeply skeptical of mankind’s’ ability to restrain itself if nature was allowed to take its course. He reasoned that without governmental power to tame our lesser angels we would descend into a state where only the strong (think CHOP thugs with guns) would survive.

      In other words, left in a “state of nature” Hobbes postulated that our lives would be “nasty, brutish and short”. (Leviathan, i. xiii. 9). We would fight continually over power and resources. He reasoned that deference to authority is therefore an act of self-preservation. We put our faith in such things as law to save us from ourselves. Same, same cops.

      In short, your response to Scott’s post–“Seems short sighted to not consider a post-police world. Maybe yo are too siloed into . . . law”–defies human nature. Naivete is deadly and I mean that literally. In fact, you scare the shit out of me, particularly because I fear you represent a large number of similarly minded naifs.

      You don’t have to totally buy into the latent authoritarianism of Hobbes to appreciate his clear-eyed perspective about my nature and yours.

      All the best.

      RGK

      1. cthulhu

        Hear, hear!

        I also recommend [Ed. Note: Deleted.] on this topic, especially the chapter entitled “Violence”.

        1. SHG Post author

          Is this was your blawg, you could recommend any damn book you like. But it’s not your blawg, so don’t.

          1. cthulhu

            Apologies, I didn’t realize book recommendations were on the no-no list. Will file away for future reference.
            (But, how come Judge Kopf could recommend Hobbes? What fine point am I missing? Genuinely curious, not trying to pull a Barleycorn…)

            1. SHG Post author

              Judge Kopf discussed Hobbes (whose work I referenced in the post as well), a foundational philosopher who died more than 400 years ago. He didn’t recommended people buy a random living author’s book. This isn’t a free marketing opportunity for stuff people like. You could have discussed what the author had to say, but you can’t promote random stuff for sale here.

      2. L. Phillips

        “Eat” is apparently blissfully unaware that a small percentage of the population – both military and law enforcement – has lawfully served in human predator control, including eradication, and retains the skills to do so again in extremis. Then there is the group for whom homicide is a portion of their already unlawful but loosely organized vocation. Neither of these is going to take well to the kind of societal disintegration that Hobbes contemplates and Eat apparently dismisses.

        Regardless of which group they encounter first the chumps in lawn chairs during CHOP will be nothing more than short term talking targets.

        1. SHG Post author

          Eat sees the possibilities of an aspirational world that defies all of human experience, and my dismissal of that world as a lack of vision of what could be rather than has been. Whether it would be lovely or not, the fault of the fantasy is that his only basis for his vision is wishful thinking. It’s not a good basis to leap to one’s doom.

    3. JMK

      I may be misunderstanding your “point” but it looks like you’re seriously suggesting that Twitter and Tesla are going to somehow solve “injustice.” Is my reading comprehension that poor today, or are you hopelessly divorced from reality?

      1. SHG Post author

        Empathy, understanding, education and the elimination of poverty and discrimination will eradicate the need for cops, courts and prisons.

        1. LocoYokel

          You really think so? I have serious doubts that anything will eliminate all crime. Even if you eliminate all material need there will still be those who want that little bit more. And that doesn’t even touch crimes committed in the heights of emotional states.

          1. SHG Post author

            No, I don’t think so. It will eliminate some, but people will continue to be people, and people commit crime and harm other people.

  2. John Barleycorn

    You really need to go to the opera more often to put all this melancholic pessimism of yours into into perspective.

    Relax… rage is even more exhausting than pessimism, and with any luck the kido-s might figure out a way to merge and coordinate their umbrella brigades and marching lawn chair drill teams into something cohesive, while tossing candy to the local coppers, Staties, National Guard, and Homeland Security.

    Could be quite a show, especially if they do it naked…

    What do they have to lose anyway?

  3. B. McLeod

    Somewhat incongruous to see people who ostensibly want to abolish the police and all forms of violence marching in the streets with weapons of their own. Even in cities that have caved with “defunding” plans, the violence goes on, and the bat shit crazy demands just get crazier.

    1. SHG Post author

      It’s not unlike arguing for more black and female judges, as if a sentence to life plus cancer by a black judge is more acceptable.

      1. John Barleycorn

        If Judge Pinky Carr gave you a coffee mug or some other treasure from her nick-nack bench collection, the mandatory paddy whack wouldn’t be so bad…

        Better than some old white guy clearing his throat while stroking his his gavel during sentencing.

        Just because Mattel came out with the Judge Barbie Doll collection , a few years back, doesn’t mean they are going to abandon the CDL collection forever…

        Granted you will probably have to wait until the BLM collection is released but being patient comes natural to CDL’s right???

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