Officer Investigated for Not Violating the First Amendment

By Steve Pomper 

Is there anything a police officer can do these days that doesn’t draw the ire of the public, politicians, or their administrations? It seems the answer to that question is, “no.” Not in today’s caustic toward cops environment.

Seattle resident Kert Lin reported a recent alleged “road rage” incident with a smear of racism added. But unlike what most people would do, Lin turned a disgusting act of individual racist speech into a complaint against a police officer just doing his job.

The Seattle Times reported, while entering The Home Depot parking lot in the city’s SoDo area, Lin contends another driver cut him off. According to Lin, the other party was driving a work pickup truck.

Lin alleges the driver, as The Seattle Times put it, “who had cut him off said a racial slur against people of Asian descent.” The driver allegedly said, “Chink open your eyes go back to China.” Lin then described three men getting out of the vehicle and going into the store. He said, “security did not address them.” If you’re wondering for what, so am I.

There are many reasons security may not have addressed them. Even if they heard the slur, admonishing customers for their language is not security’s duty. Hell, many store security officers can no longer use force to detain actual criminals (shoplifters). Or they didn’t hear the alleged slur. Maybe the driver never said it. Lin said security told him don’t “bother calling police.” If that’s true, they probably didn’t want to waste the officer’s time on something that wasn’t a crime.

Lin then complained to other store officials. He wanted them to “fix” an unfixable situation. Lin refused to understand that, if this happened, while utterly offensive, it was not a crime. Nothing anyone could do—as long as America is still a free country. It’s not as if the guy went on to harass or confront Lin. He allegedly uttered the ugly word, and that was the end of it—at least, for him.

A police officer arrived and listened to Lin’s version. The officer told Lin that an offensive comment without a physical threat or action is not a crime. Lin said the officer told him, “no crime was committed, that man was exercising his first amendment rights. No law broken; no report taken.” It’s not a crime to be a racist jerk.

Lin told The Seattle Times Police Chief Carmen Best, whom I know, like, and respect, called him and apologized. Apologized? Again, for what? I hope it wasn’t for the officer’s response, which appears to have been correct.

Lin called 911, a police officer showed up, investigated his complaint, and, based on the information Lin provided, found no crime had occurred. That should have been the end, but not these days when the police officer is always wrong.

So, now, we’re supposed to question the cop explaining the law to a complainant? Here, the First Amendment’s unalienable free speech rights. It seems Lin doesn’t like two things: that the officer respected him enough, as an adult, to tell him the truth, and Lin doesn’t seem to understand or respect that Americans enjoy the freedom of speech. The same freedom he is using to raise this futile ruckus in the media.

It’s easy to prove that Lin is wrong, and the officer is right. Let’s say Lin got his wish, and the officer took enforcement action. What would that have looked like? Again, while disgusting, even if the man called Lin a racist name, what would Lin have the officer do? Should the officer have found the driver and arrested him, absent a crime, just to make Lin feel better?

Then, I suppose the department would have to investigate the officer who could be disciplined, fired, or even prosecuted—for an actual crime—making a false arrest and violating the man’s civil rights. Would that make Lin happy? Maybe. Because he now seems more upset with the officer than with the guy who he says slurred him.

Look, Lin was angry just like anyone would be if what he says is true. Here, it’s his word against the other driver’s. In an article on Mynorthwest.com, radio host Jason Rantz of KTTH 770 noted “some significant contradictions” in Lin’s version of events.

First, contrary to what Lin said, the officer did take a report. According to Rantz, “Indeed, SPD notes the ‘bias incident in question was documented in a General Offense report and forwarded to the Bias Crimes Coordinator for further investigation” (Investigate what? I have no idea).

Rantz also reports that a trusted source told him that police report shows “Lin did not reference the specific racial slur, bizarrely leaving it out of his complaint.” The source said Lin mentioned the racial slur during a subsequent follow-up interview.

This may seem strange, but it happened to me several times. A person would make an initial complaint and then later embellish the accusation with late, sudden “recollections.” Instead of bolstering the complaint, it diminishes it.

Lin cited, as a motivating factor, Chief Best’s, “well-intentioned, but widely-mocked PSA against purported anti-Asian hate crimes—that aren’t actual crimes.” I also wrote about the late March Chief’s Brief to which Rantz refers.

Briefly, the chief and popular former news anchor Lori Matsukawa produced a video encouraging people to not only report bias crimes, which is appropriate, but also bias incidents, such as racist name-calling, which is not appropriate.

While I agree the PSA was well-intentioned, it obviously puts police officers in difficult positions? When a police chief tells people to call 911 to report non-crimes, won’t the callers expect officers to take enforcement actions like Lin did? But, as Lin found out, there is no enforcement to take. This policy is an exercise in feel-good futility. And it sets up cops to bear the brunt of a complainant’s disappointment.

I’d suggest Mr. Lin develop a thicker skin. This type of emotional overreaction only breeds racial divisiveness in a community. This alleged comment came from one reprehensible individual. We will never rid society of folks like that. And, remember, this suggestion is coming from someone who worked a career as a law enforcement officer. Take it from me, no one in society is called more nasty names by more people than cops.

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