For all of the high-minded talk of federally mandated reforms at the Seattle Police Department, one thing has remained constant: the stream of ignorant, bellicose, right-wing rhetoric coming from The Guardian, the Seattle Police Officers Guild's newspaper.
It's true that in February, SPOG President Ron Smith told The Stranger some very nice and firm-sounding things about how police officers in Seattle should adapt to the political climate of the city or go somewhere else. But a review of the union newspaper's monthly editions over the past six months shows that as far back as March, Smith backpedaled internally on his remarks. His allies within the union's leadership claimed he'd been misquoted. (Although no one from SPOG has raised any objections to the article with me or my editors.)
It appears Smith attempted to reap the positive publicity from the interview (in April, he was the subject of this complimentary profile in the Seattle Times), while behind the scenes, he disavowed his own words. Meanwhile, The Guardian consistently criticized Department of Justice reforms and the city's civilian oversight bodies, and in its August issue, published racist nonsense written by an officer. Among the lowlights:
- In the August 2015 edition, longtime officer Virgil McDonald authored a column about politics and history called "The Culture Wars." In it, McDonald says, "Personally I think that genetically the black humans are genetically superior as they have survived unbelievable circumstances not only in this country but every country on this planet." He goes on to praise Judge Clarence Thomas, then compares Obama to Heinrich Himmler, a Nazi.
Superhumanizing black people is racist. "There's a long history of the super-humanization of blacks going all the way back to slavery," researcher Kelly Hoffman told NPR last year, after former Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson compared Michael Brown to Hulk Hogan in grand jury testimony. Hoffman's studies show that whites who superhumanize African Americans tend to believe that black people are less affected by pain.
In his column, McDonald also raises the alarm about Stalinism: "The culture in this country is slowly changing and it reminds me of the transition of Tsarist Russia to the Soviet Union (Stalinism as a way of Life)... Certain people want to get rid of the flag of Dixie Land. You can already be sued for practicing a religion if it's based on Christianity."
He concludes, "I would write, Live long and Prosper but that would be from Mr. Spock and I could get into trouble with the socialist elites."
- In another column, officer Tom McLaughlin, the editor of The Guardian, wrote dismissively of Department of Justice reforms: "I am just glad we have been 're-educated' and are now doing things correctly."
- Another column, authored by an Illinois police officer but republished in The Guardian, says that over the past year, the cops who "got in trouble" were "the proactive cops, The Journeymen... What most don't understand is that the stop-and-frisk cops are the best police officers on the street."
- In the same issue, SPOG President Ron Smith writes in his column, "The SPD is on the cutting edge of police 'reform'... Keep up the good work and this assessment phase of the Consent Decree will be over before you know it."
- In the September issue, Virgil McDonald writes in a front-page article, "I hear the 'Black Lives Matter' propaganda every day on the news. If African Americans don't matter to African Americans there wouldn't be drive by shootings of African American children by African American criminals."
- Ron Smith pledges to lobby Mayor Ed Murray to get rid of OPA director Pierce Murphy, reiterating his deadline-based objections to Murphy's recommendation that the department fire Officer Cynthia Whitlatch. In his backpage column, McLaughlin adds, "OPA Director Out of Control!... WE NEED TO SPY ON EACH OTHER. There have been several OPA complaints against officers for not reporting on other officers. I am not talking about criminal or major misconduct, but literally holding officers to a ridiculous standard."
- In the March issue, one month after the pathbreaking Stranger interview, former SPOG president Rich O'Neill took to the front page of The Guardian to defend Smith. "Some have questioned an interview he gave in one of the local tabloids (I won't dignify the rag by calling it by name). Did anyone ask Ron if they quoted him accurately? Soon after it was out he assured the board it was completely taken out of context." The article is headlined, "This Is The Time For Unity!"
- McLaughlin, the Guardian editor, referred to the interview and wrote in his column that "the proverbial fan has been hit... I can honestly say nobody should be surprised that things were taken out of context and misrepresented."
- In the June issue, Virgil McDonald again received front-page treatment, under the headline "'The Culture Change' Needed/Demanded.'" He wrote, "Wow, according to the media and DOJ that sounds like our culture that we must change. The only part of our culture is the 'dangerous' part as we must obey the rules of the game while the suspects we encounter make up their own." He concludes: "You cannot do my job until you have walked in my moccasins... But we, must change our culture as they are the omnipotent know it alls."
- Responding to concerns about how police handled May Day protests, Smith complained that Council Member Bruce Harrell and the Community Police Commission have a naive, "utopian view" of demonstration management. Then he wrote about the "War on Police" and, using military jargon, likened SPD to a band of troops under assault: "Keep your heads on a swivel and make sure to back each other up... The world is changing around us and we cannot be caught off guard. Your profession is law enforcement; and your job is to go home to your families at the end of your shift!"
There are also these cartoons:
All of this is par for the course. As Dominic Holden reported in 2014, SPOG has used its newspaper in recent years to label the city's Race and Social Justice Initiative "an assault on traditional and constitutional American values," liken efforts to combat racial profiling to "socialist policies," and argue that cops should be allowed to call citizens "bitch" and "n***a."
This spring, King County Sheriff John Urquhart said the "whip" needs to be "cracked" at SPD in order to get rid of the department's "good ol’ boys network." (When it comes to gender parity, I counted one article written by a female police officer in The Guardian’s last six months of issues. Out of 11 directors on SPOG’s board, only one is a woman.)
But for some reason that no one has been able to explain to me, officials overseeing reforms at SPD are afraid to openly criticize the union for fulminating against reforms and publishing racist commentary. The union is currently renegotiating its 80-page contract with the city behind closed doors.
Mayor Ed Murray, who was endorsed by SPOG, Ron Smith, and the local division of the Department of Justice, did not respond to a request for comment. Nor did Council President Tim Burgess.
SPD confirmed that McDonald is an active member of the force (although he was recently diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig's Disease) and sent me this statement after I e-mailed police chief Kathleen O'Toole about the newspapers: "The Seattle Police Department is moving full speed ahead in implementation of the Consent Decree, as evidenced by recent data. The vast majority of SPD officers are entirely committed to modernization and reform. Individual commentary should not be seen as a barometer for the progress we have made, which has been substantial."
Supposing—supposing—this is true, this also remains true: The department is effectively throwing up its hands and doing nothing about a vocal minority of police officers who are not committed to reform and who find a voice in the union's elected leadership and its newspaper.