While the current drama unfolding between the mayor, the city council, the Seattle Police Department, and the Department of Justice is interesting, I'm also curious about the national picture.
About a year ago, Salon.com noted that the Obama administration was (very publicly) pushing the DOJ to crack down on police departments with bad reputations:
In a marked shift from the Bush administration, President Obama’s Justice Department is aggressively investigating several big urban police departments for systematic civil rights abuses such as harassment of racial minorities, false arrests, and excessive use of force.
In interviews, activists and attorneys on the ground in several cities where the DOJ has dispatched civil rights investigators welcomed the shift. To progressives disappointed by Eric Holder’s Justice Department on key issues like the failure to investigate Bush-era torture and the prosecution of whistle-blowers, recent actions by the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division are a bright spot.
There is no doubt that the SPD has deserved local and national criticism over the past few years for its habits of needlessly hitting, kicking, pepper-spraying, undercover-investigating, and beating "the Mexican piss" out of the citizens of our fair city. (And that blowhard Rich O'Neill, who runs the SPD union, only makes things worse—seriously, guys. Fire him. No matter what you think about the DOJ investigation or proper use of force, he's not doing your asses any favors.)
But it's worth remembering that Seattle's turmoil over the DOJ and its local police force is one scene in a national (and highly politicized) drama: Newark, New Orleans, and Denver are other places to watch while this thing happens.
Especially New Orleans:
The negotiations with the U.S. Department of Justice that will result in a long-awaited order governing the operations of the New Orleans Police Department are now at a standstill, after the resignation of a federal prosecutor involved in the process over his copious online commenting about his work, a state lawmaker told a group of Uptown constituents Thursday night.
To venture a hypothesis: some of this is honestly and plainly about the DOJ smacking down high-handed, counterproductive city police departments. And some of it's about politics—and what kind of message the Obama administration wants to send to voters in 2012.