No Cop Is Above The Law
REFLECTIONS ON POLICE ACCOUNTABILITY IN SEATTLE
In January of this year, six Seattle police officers were involved in a deadly coup on the nation’s capital, making Seattle home to the largest known contingent of police officers in attendance. The names of those officers have still not been released, nor have they been charged with violating any legal protocol.
The siege, or otherwise so-called “Stop The Steal” rally on January 6 staged in protest of the 2020 presidential election results led to the deaths of five people, including a federal police officer, and prompted lawmakers to flee for their safety while the Capitol was ransacked. Scores of extremist white supremacist nationalists including the Seattle Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and Patriot Prayer were arrested and charged. As the wait continues for results from the OPA led investigation into the conduct of the six SPD officers involved in the Stop The Steal rally, questions of police accountability and the systemic unequal treatment of BIPOC (Black Indigenous and people of color) percolate.
Seattle Office of Police Accountability (OPA) director Andrew Wyerman, asserted that the police officers that attended were protected under the First Amendment’s practice of free speech, but had they been directly linked to the insurrection, they would have been fired. But would they have been? King County Superior Court Commissioner Bradford Moore halted the city’s planned release of investigation and personnel information in response to legal pleadings sought by the officers with a temporary restraining order lasting until March 10. Had the officers not obtained the order by 5pm on Thursday, Assistant City Attorney Carloyn Boies said the city was prepared to release the names on Friday in response to requests for records under the state’s Public Records Acts.
When reflecting back to last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, there is no shortage of media coverage actively dismissing the nation’s collective trauma over the countless killings of black people in America. Many conversations came up in public discourse focusing on the destructive looting of businesses and writing off the entire Black Lives Matter movement based on the actions of a few individuals who decided to engage in vandalizing private property. The double standard rears its ugly head when considering the “not all cops” rationalization, typically held by conservative folks. The theory of not all cops is founded on the belief that a few bad apples in the police force do not make all cops complicit in racist behaviors. However, if that were true, then police officers would report misconduct of their colleagues within their ranks. The sad history is that officers that have reported other officers have often been stripped of any chance at upward mobility and even have outright been terminated from the police force.
Matters become more complicated when considering that police forces are publicly funded through taxes. According to a Seattle Times analysis, SPD’s median gross pay last year was about $153,000, with at least 374 of those employees grossing at least $200,000. With salaries in those ranges, one could only hope that significant training and preparation are at the core of training those that hold the title of maintaining public order and safety. On the contrary, the duration of training in the US Police Academy is averaged around 15 weeks, and could last up to 6 months, while the highest required level of education is a high school diploma. This equation posits a moral and ethical dilemma when comparing the power and money earned by those with such minimal preparation, and has led to many cities across the country to reevaluate how resources are allocated to better serve their communities.
During this era of shifting public opinion on whether the police force should be defunded, abolished, or retrained, one thing that is made certainly clear; there are two justice systems in America. One which incarcerates African Americans at five times the rate of white people. Throws flash grenades, tear gas, and rubber bullets at those peacefully protesting. Shows up to demonstrations with the National Guard and hundreds of officers, military tanks, outfitted in full protective riot gear while using excessive force. One that won’t release the names of officers confirmed attending the insurrection on the nation’s capitol.
And then there’s the other justice system that asks for police accountability, demands the release of officer names who self-reported their presence at the pro-trump rally in January. The same one that is still waiting for justice for the killings of unarmed black victims including George Floyd, Brionna Taylor, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Alton Sterling; the list is overwhelmingly long… The difference of treatment of those affiliated with supporting former president Trump’s white nationalist agenda versus the treatment of those affiliated with supporting Black Lives Matter is clearly far from being equal and until it is, the fight for justice continues. If the names of those six SPD officers involved in storming Washington DC are to forever be kept secret, how will we ever make progress towards police accountability?
Seattle’s biggest labor council, Martin Luther King Jr County Labor Council (MLKCLC) made it clear that the time had come to address racism not only in our city, but within the police force itself. In June of 2020 MLKCLC warned the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) that they would be expelled from the union if they didn’t implement certain changes to amend contracts that enforce racial hierarchies and justify economic inequality. Many other unions within the MLK Labor Council voiced their concerns about SPOG’s history of resisting accountability measures. The majority vote to go forward and expel SPOG from MLKCLC is certainly one step in the right direction away from supporting any more tragedies of police brutality.
To continue along the path towards a justice system that works for ALL, and holds officers accountable, citizens must be steadfast and forthright in increasing pressure on our elected officials to pass legislation and form new contracts which change the current landscape of “qualified immunity” first set into place in the 1970s by the U.S. Supreme Court. The doctrine holds that the police and other government employees are immune from civil rights lawsuits if the illegality of their actions was not “clearly established” at the time of the incident.
Over the years, this doctrine has been read by the courts to virtually exempt police from liability for civil rights abuses. Even when officers commit what seems to be an obvious constitutional violation, it is hard to hold them accountable through a civil rights lawsuit. When a civil rights lawsuit fails, it is much less likely that the officer will face disciplinary action. All too often, no arrests are made and no charges are brought. This could lead a reasonable officer to assume that their actions were lawful when they were not — or at least that they can act with impunity. This means that incidents like the 6 police officers in attendance at the Jan 6. “Stop the Steal” rally in DC needs to be taken very seriously. While they did attend a public gathering on their off-duty hours, does this perhaps open up a vulnerability in the system that neglects to take the appropriate action in investigating potential misconduct. After all, NO COP is above the law!
WHAT DECRIMINALIZING SEX WORK CAN TEACH US ABOUT THE HUMAN CONDITION
When we hear about decriminalizing sex work, we often hear about it in terms of legal protections for sex workers, increasing safer working conditions, and improving access to health services. Less often however, do we hear about the necessity for sex services from the perspective of the client or receiver of services. The following is a real story adapted from a TED Talk lecture:
Michael hadn’t been laid in a very long time. He stopped taking care of himself after his wife died two years ago and left him widowed. He tried to go out and meet women “the normal way,” at bars and clubs, shops and streets, gyms, work, and yes, online. He wanted something real and raw; to feel seen after going through so much grief and finding the courage to start again. Unfortunately his connections never got beyond the first stages of getting to know one another for several reasons, but, most often it was because the trauma was too much for anyone else to navigate.
Blame, guilt, grief-stricken Michael didn’t see any hope in his romantic life after so many failed efforts. He thought about suicide regularly and almost attempted it one time after a really bad string of events. He found comfort in driving and went for a joy ride to distract himself from his pain and loneliness when he noticed a woman with brown hair, a leopard-print skin-tight dress, and sharp red heels waving at him. Surely, he thought to himself, the wave couldn’t have been meant for him. As he approached the traffic sign and slowed to the red light, his eyes were glued on the woman, which was when she waved again and motioned for him to roll his window down. At this point, Michael knew she was a sex worker, but he didn’t care anyway, so he pulled over off the street into the hardware parking lot and waited for her to walk over.
Now, Michael certainly could have entertained other options that didn’t involve hooking up with the sex worker. He could’ve made an appointment with a licensed mental health care practitioner to talk about new ways of approaching intimacy. He could’ve watched porn, prayed, or jerked off. But he also could’ve committed suicide with all that pain he was carrying around, or even acted out violently towards someone else. The reason he didn’t hurt himself or anyone else that night was because the sex worker gave him immediate relief and it wasn’t even primarily the sex, because that only lasted 5 ½ minutes. Michael paid for the hour and that’s what he got. A full hour, but only 5 ½ minutes were sex. So what did the other 54 ½ minutes go to? Sharing space and time through talking, relating, connecting, and sharing difficult stories to a neutral person who wasn’t documenting it in his health history, adding on to his preconditions. It was a clean, easy, no fuss exchange between two CONSENTING ADULTS.
The situation is pretty simple. Imagine it this way; you have a bleeding, gushing wound and you need to get medical help immediately. Imagine if the only thing you could do is to call for an appointment and be seen in no sooner than 2 weeks, and there are no emergency rooms available. How many people would die in a situation like this, over something that could’ve been treated right away? The emergency room is a life saving resource but rarely do people get excited about a trip to the ER. It’s about time we start treating our emotional and mental health in a similar way! Sex is a basic human need and not everyone has the luxury of receiving it in a traditional way. At the cornerstone of contemporary human rights, all people are born free and equal to decide for themselves with dignity. That absolutely includes sex. No amount of therapy or prayer can satisfy this need. Sex isn’t sin. It’s crucial to our well being and vitality. Research has shown that people who are regularly sexually active, tend to live longer and healthier lives.
There are countless other examples of people who have a very real need for sex workers to exist, and not only that, but to exist within SAFETY. For example, a quadriplegic or other disabled person; a person with a mental disability or a life threatening illness; someone that doesn’t have time for a full on relationship; or someone that wants to experience a sexual encounter that most women would not be open minded to. The list extends for miles and miles and of course translates to all gender identities and sexual orientations.
Sex workers are not meant to replace real human connection and love. That is not the case being made here. The sex industry is riddled with problems that include misogyny, rape, violence, and human trafficking. The only way to introduce solutions to those such problems is to decriminalize sex work so that sex workers can report unsafe situations to the police. In many countries such as the U.S., sex work is illegal and workers can be fined and put behind bars simply for carrying around condoms. With legal protections, workers are more likely to practice safer sex and prevent the spread of STD’s.
We know from the extensive amount of literature available that the decriminalization of sex work challenges state control over bodies and sexuality; allows for effective responses to trafficking; promotes safe working conditions; reduces risk of HIV and sexually transmitted infections; improves access to health services; challenges the consequences of having a criminal record; improves access to justice; challenges police abuse and violence; and lastly, that decriminalization respects human rights and dignity. What we really ought to take into consideration, however, is that sex workers provide a form of healing to so many people without other options and who face serious barriers to receiving help in any other way. The bottom line is sex work is work which deserves to be recognized and treated the same way as any other profession and we must start with decriminalization!
THERE IS NO PLAN(ET) B
According to a new study published in Historical Biology, An International Journal of Paleobiology, mass extinctions of life on Earth appear to follow regular cycles which coincide with major asteroid impacts and devastating volcanic outpourings of lava1. The cycles follow a pattern of about every 27.5 million years for widespread die-offs of land-dwelling animals.
Similarly, paleontologists previously discovered that marine life mass extinction events, where up to 90% of species disappeared, were not random events, but happened in approximately a 26-million-year-cycle. One hypothesis to explain the overlapping of these astronomical and geological events is that Earth passes through the crowded part of our Milky Way galaxy every 30 million years, and during those times, comet showers are more likely to occur, leading to large impacts on earth.
The most infamous asteroid strike we know of is the Cretaceous-Paleogen, which took place 66 million years ago, and wiped out 70% of the species on Earth including the dinosaurs. In the last 500 million years, life has had to recover from five catastrophic blows and an overwhelming amount of scientific research suggests that the sixth one is already underway.
For reference, here is a brief timeline chronicling all 6 extinction events:
- 440 million years ago – Ordovician-Silurian Extinction
- 365 million years ago – Late Devonian Extinction
- 252 million years ago – Permian-Triassic Extinction
- 201.3 million years ago – Triassic-Jurassic Extinction
- 66 million years ago – Cretaceous-Paleogene Extinction
- 11,700 YEARS AGO TO PRESENT – Holocene Extinction
While we wait another 20 million years or so for the next predicted mass extinction that’s caused by a comet strike or volcanic activity, studies show that the current extinction rate is already one thousand times higher than the standard rate, which poses the question whether or not life on Earth will even make it that far2. Furthermore, why is the rate so much higher than ever before? One reason is crystal clear and it’s a result of many factors coming together to create a rapid loss of biodiversity. The first major pressure threatening the survival of our planet’s species is from habitat loss due to human development. Only 20% of the wild remains before we started taking over the Earth. Each year, 130 thousand square kilometers of rainforests are cleared every minute, approximately the size of 50 football fields. Rainforests are estimated to be completely cleared in the next 100 years.
The second factor contributing to the current rapid loss of biodiversity are invasive species. We go exploring and bring things back with us, transporting them into places they’ve never been before. Sometimes, we have done so intentionally and other times, completely unintentionally. For example, the Cuban Tree Frog is very invasive in Florida and in havoc with the native species. They were accidentally brought to Florida in the 1920’s and can now be found in natural and urban areas alike. They have learned to thrive in human-modified environments and populations can be dense enough to be a nuisance not only to humans, but to lizards and native tree frogs as well, both of which they eat.
The third major threat to our planet is a result of exploitation or otherwise called globalization. Goods such as palm oil are especially a double edged sword in countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia because sales help farmers make a sustainable income, provide economic benefits, and contribute to the global value chain. However, palm oil is banned in some places such as the European Union because it causes extensive deforestation, significantly endangering Orangutans.
The fourth major contributing factor indicative of our current mass extinction status is none other than climate change. Examples span far and wide, one being the migration pattern of sharks. They’re migrating to areas they’ve never been before because the earth is getting warmer and they are forced into feeding in areas where there are still fish. A huge misconception that permeates about the fishing industry, especially in Japan, is the myth that sharks and dolphins are eating all the fish and causing the depletion of our fisheries. In fact, the biggest threat to the world’s fish is a direct result of overfishing, and it is predicted that they will be completely extinct by 2050. A new documentary on Netflix called Seaspiracy goes much further in depth about overfishing as the biggest current threat to marine biodiversity.
We can go around the planet and find so many species that are struggling for survival. This article is not meant to be exhaustive as there are other major causes of extinction fueling the problem such as pollution, population growth, and overconsumption. The first Earth Day in 1970 was first founded by these types of concerns, but now the most threatening trend, bar none, is global warming. Although many people assume that the impacts of global warming will unfold gradually, as the earth’s temperature slowly rises, the buildup of greenhouse gases may in fact lead to abrupt and sudden, not gradual, changes. Whether or not climate change/global warming itself will take out inhabitants of our earth, or a giant rock from outer space colliding with us and causing ripples of effects leading to mass extinction, it remains unknown. What is known is that there is a synergy in nature in which all living things depend on each other, and we are seeing cataclysmic shifts pointing in the direction of a dark abyss should we not take appropriate action, and quite frankly, that was long overdue. And while we may see the human race colonize other planets such as Mars before the future is history, right now there is no Plan(et) B.
- A 27.5-My underlying periodicity detected in extinction episodes of non-marine tetrapods
- Has the Earth’s sixth mass extinction already arrived?
- The Bridge at the Edge of the World; Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability. A book by James Gustave Speth
NUCLEAR ENERGY; MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU!
Happy May Fourth and may the force be with you! Reflecting on universal forces certainly brings spaceships, robots, aliens, and lasers to mind. Much of the technology that’s totally commonplace today was once a pipe dream to a science fiction writer. The first mobile phone was invented by Martin Cooper, taking inspiration from Star Trek: the Original Series where Captain Kirk used his communicator to call for help. Holograms have now been widely used to create performances by musicians long gone such as Tupac, Michael Jackson, and Whitney Houston. That inspiration came from Star Wars in the iconic scene where Princess Leia’s image was projected out of R2D2. One of the first appearances of the smart watch was in the Dick Tracy comic strips of the 1940’s.
While so many technologies were once only imaginary, now life simply wouldn’t be the same without them. For instance, a great deal of what we know about deep space has been made possible by radioisotope power systems (RPSs) which are used to power spaceships including missions to study Jupiter, Saturn, Pluto, and Mars. They are also used in nuclear energy which generates power through fission and produces electricity without such harmful byproducts emitted by fossil fuels. Nuclear energy also powers our lives through medical interventions such as cancer treatment and medical imaging. The forensic and criminal fields, too, deploy RPSs and technology to aid in law enforcement investigations.
On the other hand, nuclear power has had to bear a baneful reputation garnered by association with the atomic bomb and radioactive disasters such as Chernobyl and Fukushima. It is quite possibly one of the most dire threats to the extinction of humankind that could cause the deaths of millions of people and render the Earth largely uninhabitable. But what if we could use this force for good and protect everything on our planet against forces of evil?
We know with certainty that the future poses many threats to the security and survival of our species along with all other species. The origins of these threats, however, are not only limited to international wars and climate change catastrophes, but also include intergalactic existential threats such as asteroids and Nearth-Earth Objects (NEOs). According to the European Space Agency, there are currently roughly 20,000 NEOs orbiting the Earth. Any one of these could mean the end of humanity which is why we need to devise a plan in case something like the Cretaceous-Paleogene mass extinction event (the one where all the dinosaurs died) caused by the impact of a massive asteroid were to ever happen again.
In forming a plan of action, which could both simultaneously unite the nuclear capacities of all nations together to protect against an intergalactic emergency, and prevent us from wiping ourselves out in an all out nuclear world war, we must begin to develop a strong offense and defense to avert such crises. We know we have the capacity to defend the planet against incoming unknowns and have alliances such as the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, the World Nuclear Association, and the International Atomic Energy Agency. By working collectively across all countries, we can certainly implement strong international policy to combat forces from both this galaxy and galaxies far, far away…