by Alycia Ramirez
Since the death of George Floyd under the knee of a police officer, there have been continuous protests resulting in the nation finally realizing the racial inequities baked into our justice system — especially in law enforcement. Even here in our own Emerald City, white Seattleites are now beginning to see what Black and Brown communities have been pointing out for decades: police brutalize people of color with impunity, and often without consequence, and we throw hundreds of millions of dollars at “arresting away” crime instead of investing those funds back into communities.
Since Black Lives Matter protests kicked off in Seattle at the end of May, police have decided that the way to respond to protests against police brutality is with police brutality. This tactically only strengthens protesters’ demands for defunding and accountability, something the Seattle Police Department (SPD) is aware of. Weeks of footage showing officers beating up protesters and targeting medics and media has resulted in SPD losing the narrative. To regain it they are choosing the “Trump tactic,” which is to deflect blame and demonize their detractors. For example, SPD claimed that prayer candles being thrown were explosives and falsely claimed armed protesters were extorting businesses on Capitol Hill during CHAZ/CHOP. Their goal is to convince the public that protesters are so violent that police have no other choice but to use extreme force.
Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) President Mike Solan has taken these propaganda efforts even further by using dog whistles and shock politics to bolster support among SPOG law-and-order supporters and fearful, white suburbanites who see the protests as violent anarchy. Solan recently posted such a message on Twitter, claiming that “Antifa” was trying to murder officers, and he implied in an interview with conservative talk show host Dori Monson that he would shoot protesters who breached his property “if he felt threatened.” He made this comment after a Black-led youth group protested outside of his home. He has also repeatedly referred to protesters as “Marxists” and “terrorists” and framed the situation as an ideological fight between good and evil.
In a July 30 appearance on local conservative radio, Solan discussed the group of Black-led protesters who had been going nightly to Seattle Council members’ and elected officials’ homes. He also spoke on the efforts to defund SPD, stating, “When you bend to the mob, we lose as a society, we lose as a nation. Seattle and Portland are the epicenter of far-left progressive socialism and neo-Marxist ideology. This is all about November’s election and police are caught in the middle.”
The message that progressivism and social justice are “evil” and “communist” is the centerpiece of Solan’s narrative and is one the Seattle Police Department has historically played a part in. During the “Red Scare,” which lasted from the 1920s to the 1960s, Seattle police helped target and prosecute those who were suspected or accused of being “communists.” During that era, people accused and dragged into court included those who embraced progressive ideals and advocated for social and racial justice (similar to what as we still see today).
Solan’s rhetoric against progressivism and activism, though extreme, is not surprising or unexpected. When he campaigned for guild president last year, he ran on the theme of “taking back Seattle from the anti-police, activist narrative.” His campaign video featured clips of police tear gassing, beating, and firing rubber bullets at protesters as he talked about SPD “driving their own narrative.” Solan has also been featured on Fox News segments (including Tucker Carlson and Fox & Friends) dozens of times, extolling the dangers of “unreasonable activism.” He vehemently opposed Initiative 940 (the police accountability initiative) in 2018. His desire to squelch leftist activism and thwart accountability is not an anomaly within the police department: over 70% of SPOG membership voted for him as guild president.
This comes at a time when SPD is facing deep criticism not just in the way they are choosing to respond to protestors but in how the millions allocated to SPD’s budget are spent. A handful of their senior ranking officers made almost as much as both the mayor and former police chief Carmen Best combined, thanks in part to lax rules about overtime pay. Overtime pay is SPD’s third-largest expense and accounts for about $30 million of their 2020 budget. Highlighting this issue, is the incident earlier in August involving Sergeant Michael Tietjen, who is now on paid leave for trying to run over protesters on Capitol Hill. Tietjen was captured on video expressing his disgust for Seattle, saying he only stayed because, he said, “They pay me like $200K a year to babysit you guys.” Tiejtan also has a spotty ethics history that includes beating three men in custody into unconsciousness, planting drugs, and lying on arrest reports. It seems much easier for SPD to demonize protesters and activists than commit to reform and change the department for the better.
Alycia Ramirez is a community organizer active in the Seattle area, with her primary focus being immigrant rights, anti-racism, and demilitarization of law enforcement agencies at the state and local level.
Featured image by Alex Garland.