Seattle: The Punch, the Past and the Connection
What might be a simple case of police self-defense becomes troubling when you consider the turbulent history of police-minority relations in one of America's most tolerant cities.
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn is currently evaluating two finalists for police chief: Ron Davis, the African-American chief of the East Palo Alto Police Department, and John Diaz, the Seattle department's interim chief, who is Hispanic and a 29-year veteran of the force. Diaz became interim chief when Kerlikowske went to Washington to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy for the Obama administration. A third candidate dropped out on June 9.
Both Davis and Diaz have been questioned extensively about their perception of racial profiling and other social and policy issues. The Seattle Police Officers Guild believes that Davis, who directs a 39-member department in California, lacks the experience for the position in Seattle, which has about 1,300 officers.
McGinn reportedly plans to make his choice sometime in June, a choice that must be confirmed by the city council. But late last week, in the wake of the jaywalking case, a majority of council members called on McGinn to reopen the search process. One top city official, City Attorney Peter Holmes, publicly urged McGinn to ''rectify the leadership void'' by going outside the department, the Seattle Times reported.
Bible also opposes Diaz' permanent appointment as chief. ''People are denying the plight of poor people, the plight of people of color, the plight of anybody that's different that comes in contact with law enforcement,'' Bible said last week. ''A change needs to happen.''
But the mayor's choice could be a matter of negotiating relations between the city's black and Hispanic constituencies. Ortega of El Centro supports Diaz. ''He is very serious about his work. You hear about how he manages, very detail-oriented. I think he will continue in the same style,'' she told KIRO-TV in May.
In a statement late last week, Diaz sought to calm the waters, taking his cues from the cordial Friday meeting between Rosenthal and Walsh--the principals in the jaywalking incident. ''We hope that this meeting will take the focus off the video clip and place it where it belongs, the need for the renewed commitment to a conversation about race and social justice in this city,'' Diaz said.
One can only hope Diaz's call for that ''conversation'' is in earnest, as Seattle officials and law enforcement seek a new chief for a police department with a long and tragically tarnished history on matters of race.
Michael E. Ross is a regular contributor to The Root. He blogs on politics and current affairs at Short Sharp Shock. His book on the Obama campaign and presidency, American Bandwidth, was published in October.