First, if you haven't read the article about the very enlightening views of some Seattle cops found in the officers union print-only newspaper (jokes about shooting at "Urban League lackeys," the "socialist" city, why cops should call people "n***a," and identifying "the enemy"), go read it right now.
Okay, now that you're back—seriously, you should check it out—I've heard back from people with comments. Don Smith, editor of the Seattle Police Officers Guild's paper (called the Guardian), explains, "Like your publication, opinions are printed which represent the world view of the author, which are protected by free speech and freedom of the press, and do not necessarily reflect the view of SPOG as an organization."
"As editor for over 10-years, I view The Guardian as the voice of the rank and file, and welcome differing opinions," he says.
Seattle City Council member Tim Burgess performs a more subtle dance: "These articles reflect the individual views of the authors. They are not my views. They are not consistent with official City policy," Burgess says. "They are not consistent with the values of the police department or the rules of behavior the department sets for our officers. Finally, the Guild newspaper is just that, a union publication that the City has absolutely no control over, nor should we."
I respect Burgess's delicate political footwork here. He can't condemn the Seattle police officers (he used to be one), and he can't defend some of the hateful rhetoric in the Guardian. But in the end, what he and Smith are saying (echoing SPD spokesman Sean Whitcomb, the union president Rich O'Neill, and director of the SPD's Office of Professional Accountability Kathryn Olson) is that the city cannot, nor should it, attempt to dictate the bounds of free speech.
But that's a straw man.
Nobody I've heard from argues that the police union's paper should be muzzled from printing its divisive rhetoric or its manifestos for overturning the city's "socialist" agenda for race and social justice. There's no attempt to block free speech.
The question is about what's appropriate to publish. Every newspaper—and by context the entity that prints the paper—has standards. Some person may want to submit an op-ed to the Seattle Times that says gays should be relegated to separate rail cars or the county should nix its sexual minorities commission on the grounds that it gives gays special rights, but the Seattle Times or any other credible Seattle publication probably wouldn't print it. The arguments would be baseless, founded in plain prejudice. Similarly in the police paper, what's telling isn't that these ideas exist (of course they exist). What's telling is that the union would ratify and amplify the message on bullhorn of its newspaper, which again, the editor calls the "voice of the rank and file." SPOG's standards say this is an acceptable message to be espoused by some of the rank and file. But this sort of liberal-bashing, pejorative-deploying, racially incendiary rhetoric isn't helping anyone—not cops, not relationships with racial minorities, not the command staff, not city hall. It's making a bad problem worse.
An unsurprised city council member Nick Licata, while avoiding the meat of the issue, seems to get at this point in his own subtle way. "The Guardian is written by and for police officers, not the general public, so it has no need to embrace any public relations spin," he says. "More people should read it for an unvarnished presentation of police opinions about their job and the city they serve. It's an eye opener."