OPINION: The Importance of Nuance in Confronting Racism

We asked two community members to weigh in on Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best announcing her retirement from SPD. Their two viewpoints follow.

by George Griffin III

Carmen Best is a friend. Good people. Classy, strong. She deserved better. 

After everyone gets through scapegoating the Seattle City Council and Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests for her resignation, maybe we should take a good hard look at Seattle’s years of inactivity when People of Color and other people said the department needed some serious reform and restructuring. This lack of attention to the concerns of People of Color and allies contributed to the Seattle Police Department ultimately being placed under the current consent decree after an investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 2012. Do we need to be reminded how, when Best was interim chief in 2018, she was disrespected and passed over by the current mayor in the initial interview process and how she only got the job after communities of color and allies spoke up? Many prominent people were quiet at that time because they didn’t want to criticize their friend, the new mayor.

Then there was the collective bargaining contract that many supported but really left Chief Best without much power to discipline police officers. Even the judge overseeing the consent decree disagreed with this aspect of the contract. And how many recently signed the recent Stop Defunding petition that was coordinated by the Seattle Police Guild, an organization which has never been a friend to communities of color and was recently thrown out of the King County Labor Council

Where was the consistent vote of confidence from the mayor through this difficult time? Who did order the police department to vacate the East precinct and hurt officer morale? It wasn’t Chief Best. It’s so much easier to blame Best and not look at the historical inaction or lack of leadership from the mayor. 

So we end up with a town that is 65% white where many scapegoat a nine-person Seattle City Council made up of six women, five of whom are women of color, and a movement/organization that is trying to make real change in the racial dynamics of policing. Again Seattle pits People of Color against each other, marginalizes more People of Color and blames them for doing something to another person of color. 

Chief Best, like a lot of other great police officers in Seattle who are African American, has not been treated fairly over the years. Let’s not kid ourselves, in this town the well-heeled will complain about this and that, but when push comes to shove they will privately donate to foundations and use other ways to make up the difference in whatever they support that the City Council cuts. But there is now a genuine opportunity to listen and work for real reform in the Seattle Police Department so that a really good future chief is not squeezed between her staff, her boss, the community she comes from, and the community she serves. And maybe it’s time to quit focusing on the word “defund” and actually start understanding what reallocation of monies and restructuring a department actually means. 

Carmen Best’s retirement is a failure of all of ours in one way or another. It’s an outcome of our inability to work together better to create a well-functioning police department that serves ALL of the citizens in Seattle in the correct way. 

By the way, can Black folks ever get the top job where the organization or team or whatever isn’t going through some type of major rebuilding process? Seattle continues to talk a progressive game and yet walk quite a different one. But if you’re really upset with Best’s retirement, why not encourage her to run for Mayor in 2021?

George Griffin III is a community member.

She Could Have Been an Agent for Change — Instead Chief Best Dodged Accountability

by Lola E. Peters

When Seattle police decided to abandon the third precinct, someone must have ordered all of the trucks they used to load up all the information they wanted to secure. Since Chief Carmen Best says she didn’t make the decision to abandon the precinct, who ordered those trucks? Who authorized the expenditure? Staff in that precinct said they received a text telling them to abandon it. Who sent that text? Why did the entire staff of the precinct follow the orders of that text if it wasn’t from their Chief? Who was in charge? 

Chief Best said there were “credible threats” the precinct was targeted to be torched. Although the FBI, after the fact, claimed there were threats, there is no evidence those threats came from protesters as opposed to Proud Boys or other right-wing, nationalist, white supremacist groups. What actually happened when the precinct was abandoned? Protesters protected it. When SPD reoccupied the building, they entered like some really bad Hollywood B movie, in full riot gear, screaming for people to get out. No one was in the building. No one had entered the building. Nothing had been touched, let alone damaged, inside the building.

Chief Best told local media there were complaints from local businesses about extortion and armed ID checks from CHOP participants. That lie was then carried on national and international news. Who told Chief Best it was true? 

Chief Best gave her word she and her officers would adhere to the court-sanctioned demand from the City Council that protesters not be gassed. If she gave those orders, as promised, they were ignored the very next day. Who gave the order to ignore them?

Most recently, the Chief said officers attacked protesters in July in order to protect the 3rd precinct. View the actual video shot by Converge Media, and you see that all of the protesters had walked past the precinct when they were attacked from the rear, ambushed. Her statement was a lie.

Someone appears to have been undermining the Chief. Either that or she did make the call to abandon the precinct, did give the order to gas protesters, did fabricate the story about CHOP and the recent police riot herself and was dishonest with the public. 

Somehow, instead of looking inward to understand why her staff is not following her lead and unearth who is giving her false information, she’s blaming the City Council for “disrespecting” her. That’s absurd. Her own staff has shown her the ultimate disrespect by bypassing her in command and allowing her to make untrue public statements, yet she continues to bow to their demands and purport the idea that they, and she by extension, are somehow the victims. Again, absurd. 

Chief Best had a once-in-a-generation opportunity to implement real change. With her knowledge of the internal workings of the Seattle Police Department she could have made a real impact on our region, maybe even our country, by listening to and putting the needs of community first. After the murder of George Floyd, hundreds of thousands of people would have stood with her to implement those changes, whatever the cost or the steps required. Instead, she has done her utmost to protect and empower the officers whose history of abuse engendered the protests. They have rewarded her by undermining her and feeding her lies.

There is a difference between accountability and disrespect. The City Council has the right, in fact the obligation, to create and enforce structures of accountability. I’m proud of them for having done so and urge them not to waffle in their duties and responsibilities. If anyone has shown Carmen Best disrespect, it’s whoever is undercutting her within her own department and/or Mayor Durkan’s staff. That’s where the public’s outrage should be focused. 

Any Black woman who has ever been in a leadership position knows to expect sabotage by some of her colleagues and understands she will be held to a different standard by whatever bureaucracy she serves. Some manage to keep themselves rooted well enough to survive the onslaught — others don’t. 

I’m saddened Carmen Best has been swallowed up by the self-fulfilling “us versus them” prophecies inherent in the cult of policing. I’m sorry she’s not willing to submit to accountability. I hope she, like Norm Stamper before her, will come to see how deeply that cult has damaged her humanity and that of her fellow officers. Watching their most recent attacks on protesters in Cal Anderson Park reveals how deeply their moral, psychological, and humane liberation is deeply tied to Black Lives Matter.

Lola E. Peters is a contributing columnist for Crosscut and an editor-at-large for the South Seattle Emerald.

Featured image: Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best with Black clergy at Goodwill Baptist Church on June 14, 2020. (Photo: Susan Fried)