A Cop Car Cowboy Tale
In the last post I left off with the promise that a more definitive analysis of the early tenure of new Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole would follow here, as a continuation of a more general examination of the decline of the Seattle Police Department and the safety and dignity of the City as well.
However, in that last post I also took a very direct look at some companion factors of decline in and around City Hall and SPD: Race (not to be confused here with RACISM), gender, affirmative action, none of which come without a price. That “price” is the “uncomfortable little topic” the media and civic leadership are loathe to discuss realistically.
As long as “the conversation” remains confounded by this pointless barrier it is going to continue in futility. I intend to change that. In a future post I will isolate the toxic issue of RACISM itself for more definitive consideration.
At this point, because I am determined to forge blunt conversations, I am offering something of a portrait of my experiences that illustrate why I claim standing to drag these “sensitive matters” out in the open. Me, the old white cop.
I am from that class of people who pay most of “the price” of social change. My point is not to undo that social change but to explain to the beneficiaries that it would have been and even tougher climb were it not for our goodwill and patience. Especially with “affirmative action.”
I have never had a person who benefited from the gains of the last half-century come up and thank me for my forbearance. Never even heard anyone acknowledge that we accepted personal sacrifice for the most part with dignity and fair good humor. In that vacuum is a subtle inference. Some clearly just thought we “had it coming” because it was “white guys” that had heaped all the grief on minorities to begin with.
In that thoughtlessness they were trampling us with a stereotype even as they fought to escape the stereotypes that had been used by some in white society to hold them in bondage to that sort of quiet tyranny. Sort of the same way battered people may become batterers themselves in time.
Ironic that it is necessary, in a discussion about critical social/political issues, for a “minority” to have to prequalify himself to join the forum. But minority I am: an aging white male with a “privileged blue collar” background. And, worse, your basic battle-toughened "Ghetto Cop”! Hell, in many minds that makes me the “problem” and hardly a likely contributor to the solution.
But my other credentials will surprise some of the critics. If they have the integrity to pay attention they may understand better what I say, and understand that I am saying it from a unique perspective. If some still object to my “forced entry” here that ought to disqualify them, not me. I will get to those other “credentials” in time if it becomes necessary.
The conversation I mention above has been the near-exclusive estate of the other more-apparent minorities - people of color or other more chosen status and the “inevitable aristocracy” - the political class who rely on the hysteria these issues generate to maintain the divide between us. In that divide they find their fortune. Little place for white commoners at the table.
I want to get right to the title theme here because it will lift this lament back into positive territory. But take note of what I have said here. The longer we who have been scapegoated and ignored the poorer the conversation!
SHOOTOUTS IN THE GHETTO! I was in many “shootouts” in the inner-city precincts of Seattle over my many years there. Yes, shootouts.
Conjures up a lot of grim imagery, doesn’t it? Quick-triggered cop(s) gunning down anyone who in the least aggravates them. Oblivious and immune to the consequences to the given community they prey upon, especially young Black men? That is the stereotype, promoted and used by the self-serving few who stir this “fog” around us. But the truth is otherwise. The “fog” arises from the mistakes, or malice, of a very few of us. That point needs regular repetition.
Now, back to the “shootouts.” I did spend years in the company of youngsters we were supposed to have “preyed on,” kids who were mired in the pathos of those neighborhoods. Kids caught up in crime of serious sort. Kids who sometimes committed vicious street-robberies, random assaults, burglaries, sundry other crimes of opportunity, and some of a very determined nature.
And I never once had blood on my hands. Shot at, spit on, cussed and kicked, and never any blood on my hands, which was a journey shared with almost all of my partners.
But with my troops I chased those kids down night after day. Chased them down whenever necessary, put them behind bars, and haunted them when they were back on the loose after brief -always brief - periods of incarceration. I took away their loot, their guns, their cars, even their shoes on occasion. It shouldn't surprise the cynics that I and my troops were in a lot of shootouts with those kids then…right?
Hate to disappoint the cynics who can scarcely imagine the absence of bloodletting in this cauldron. But, you see friends, it wasn't bullets flying, IT WAS BASKETBALLS! Basketballs flying in any court we could find. How’s that for a spin? We took our case to the basketball “court” instead of the Juvenile Court whenever we could.
We diverted these kids, took them, virtually “shanghaied” them in some cases, under our wing and showed them a world they could hardly believe. Those young kids and our young cops met head-to-head- in situations where the kids could not express themselves as bullies, thieves or other destructive types.
What they could do, however, was imagine themselves as equals in a way they had hardly ever experienced. Maybe even better than equals. If they played hard and smart, they could even WIN, “kick the cops’ butts” for a change!”
This “crowd of gunslingers” (the cops) we put together to take the game to these kids was a true “Rainbow Coalition” too. About a dozen cops from the East Precinct at the time, all inspired by the near immediate success we had in turning these kids around. White…Black…Asian…the whole “Rainbow”. And it wasn't lost on these kids the fraternity we shared.
There was Billy (captain) Edwards, Don (coach) Huston, Bobby (world’s fastest Puerto Rican hub cap thief) Garcia, Kirby (whoosh) Leufroy, there was Gary, Charlie, John (the politician) Manning, Jerry (Kung Pau) Fernandez…The list can go on, but I crippled here by my aging memory. You brothers I have failed to mention will forgive me I trust.
Then there was the beginning of a softball challenge at the old Judkins Rejected Playfield up off of 23rd and Jackson, put together by Don (the Lt.) Marquardt and Capt Dean (the machine) Olson. Friends, we were on the way to a magical tour of this City that would engender understanding and connection with communities the whole city over, not just the “Ghettos”.
John Manning and the late great Mark Sabourin put together an exhibition challenge match with a team put together by Slick Watts and Sonny (killer of six) Sixkiller. We played at Eckstein Jr. High in the north end. Have to say it- cops won 77-76 before an astonished crowd . No truth to the rumor that we put the handcuffs on Slick at halftime either.
What we envisioned was a sort of athletic outreach all around town based on the early unqualified success and goodwill. There were a hell of a lot of very good athletes in the police ranks and our games were in earnest. Some of the kids were just amazed and all the more motivated - we never had to “let them win.”
Dean Olson was also arranging for our women officers to engage the “Girls from Garfield” that same year. Imagine the effect on the young girls who were, in growing numbers, dropping out for the street life, suddenly in the friendly (but competitive) company of young women they might hope to emulate in time.
Many older folks in the “ghetto” were profuse in their appreciation and encouragement. The kids were so engaged that for a while you couldn't slow a cop car down in parts of the “ghetto” because the kids were crawling in the windows, turning on the lights and siren, and demanding a ride past “Tyrone’s (pick a name) house” so they could light him up!
But the “game” was not to continue, the opportunity squandered by a few “police administrators” who had a different agenda, who simply looked away with an indifference I have yet to understand.
My great sadness remains. We were on this roll just as the first California gangbangers hit Seattle, bringing on a game of their own. They were to prevail, and our games passed into little noted history, with few ever to ponder what what might have been.
One truly memorable footnote: Our partner Charlie Allers took three of the most troubled kids on a camping trip over in the Olympics. He was an inspiration for other cops here. Those kids were transformed, at least for a while.
You can’t understand the magic here unless I confide that Charlie…well I don’t want to say he was a “REDNECK”…but the rumor was that some folks in his clan were so far right that they thought John Wayne was Gay! Go figure.
And I can't forget “Manny and the Amigos,” a group of young Latino guys who we “gunned it up” with many Saturday mornings at the old Public Safety Building gym. Manny’s wife Lydia worked at “the Greeks” at 9th and Madison, poured a lot of coffee and good humor for us cops in her day.
As I said, all the grief we endured - losing partners to violence, witnessing every sort of savagery including homicides and horrific other assaults, the inhumanity - took a heavy toll on all our souls. But seeing that magic, those SHOOTOUTS be let slip away because of a failed command staff is probably the worst sadness of all.
There are other great memories to relate in time, others that had an equally blessed effect on my soul. One day I will tell of the “night-life” I drew my young cops into, when “Big Momma” had “the coffee” (shop,that is) down on Yesler and Old Sarge” had “the barbeque” up on 20th..
I will relate in time as well the make-up of my family as well. Suffice it to say, we are white, black, Asian, Native American, and none of the above (me) I guess. Most of my kin have yet to really figure me out…me included.
If anyone still wants to question my “standing” to speak to these challenging issues, look me up. That needs to be a personal conversation.
I hope I have accomplished some of what I set out to here. I don’t want to be the “intruder” but I damn well intend that the viewpoint of my colleagues and I be heard. Without us the “conversation” is crippled!