By Steve Pomper
Before we get into the anti-constitutional details of the current criminal justice environment in Seattle (although, they are certainly not the only city doing this), allow me to paint some background for this city’s dysfunctional view of crime and law enforcement.
During the coronavirus pandemic, cities like Seattle and counties like King have already established and are now enhancing anti-criminal justice protocols where the city and county won’t prosecute certain people for certain crimes, and the city and county discourage cops from arresting criminals, all while they’re letting criminals out of jail. The case of Francisco Calderon, a 70+ times convicted criminal, is bewildering and highlights the depravity within the Seattle/King County criminal justice system.
In 2019, the useless, anti-cop city attorney, Pete Holmes, argued for the release of Calderon after police arrested him for the sucker-punch assault of an innocent man just listening to music on his headphones on a sidewalk on Capitol Hill, in my old beat. KOMO News reported, at that time, Calderon’s “criminal history is lengthy. According to the judge in the case, he’s had 72 convictions, including 14 assaults.”
KOMO also reported, “[T]he State Patrol listed 44 convictions in Washington, including 14 felonies, but most of his convictions are misdemeanors. He told probation officers he was a methamphetamine and cocaine user, stole to buy drugs, and he hasn’t had a steady job since the 1990s.” This motivation for criminal behavior is a familiar story to cops.
Holmes plead the case down to “mental health evaluation, substance abuse treatment, and… 2 years probation.” When asked by Judge Ed McKenna (whom I know and highly respect) about such a lenient sentence for a chronic offender, “The city attorney stood by the deal.”
A few months later, in July, free thanks to Holmes and despite the intervention of Judge McKenna, police again arrested Calderon for assault, this time for throwing coffee on a baby. The baby’s father took Calderon down and held him for police. And how did Seattle’s top criminal prosecutor, Holmes, respond to Judge McKenna’s repeated, legitimate objections to such lenient charges and sentence recommendations? The poor excuse for a prosecutor officially called for the judge’s resignation.
Once again, the flaccid city attorney came to Calderon’s aid, along with his equally squishy ally in the King County Prosecutor’s Office, Dan Satterberg, and District Court Judge Anne Harper. King County declined to bring felony charges for assaulting a child and referred the case to Seattle Municipal Court for misdemeanor charges.
Now, within the ominous shadows of such lax law enforcement protocols, and amid a worldwide health crisis, there is this controversial video. Seattle’s Police Chief Carmen Best along with a popular former KING 5 News anchor, Lori Matsukawa, are urging Seattleites to call 911 to report “hate speech.”
A quick disclaimer: Unlike the previously mentioned public officials, I’m certain these women mean well. I know Chief Best and have largely been an admirer of her tenure as chief. It is not easy being police chief in a city where the mayor, city attorney, and many city council members are openly antagonistic toward her cops. Also, I served directly under her when she was my squad’s sergeant.
Having said that, my disagreement is about policy and not in the least personal. I have no doubt Chief Best’s heart is in the right place. She opposes racism. I get that; I do too. Part of the reason I became a cop is because I hate bullies, and racists are, among other things, bullies. But don’t we have to draw a line at violating both the spirit and the letter of the U.S. Constitution—in this case, the First Amendment’s free speech rights and an American’s right to equal justice?
Chief Best said, “We will document and investigate every reported hate crime. Even racist name-calling should be reported to police. We take this information very seriously. If you aren’t sure if a hate crime occurred, call 911. We are here to help and will respond to investigate.”
So, call 911 to investigate name-calling, but don’t you dare call for other actual crimes, which we will not investigate such as, property damage, trespassing, theft, “minor” assaults, drug use, etc. Is this making sense to anyone?
I don’t know why it’s so hard to remember that our founders didn’t enshrine free speech within the first item of the Bill of Rights to protect speech that offends no one. Good ol’ Ben Franklin said, “If all printers were determined not to print anything till they were sure it would offend nobody, there would be very little printed.”
Even the ACLU (not a big fan, these days), defended Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church free speech rights. While protesting U.S. soldier’s funerals, sick church members held signs proclaiming, “God Hates Fags” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.” This filth, as disgusting as it is, is free speech and is what gives us the right to say what we think, even if, or especially if, people are offended.
By the way, for which of those two signs would the chief recommend people call 911, so Seattle cops can “investigate?” I suspect the answer would illuminate the problem with an individual, instead of the Constitution, deciding what is free speech and what is “hate speech.”
Setting aside the “shouting fire in a crowded theater” type exceptions, free speech protects speech that may be offensive to many or most people. And, yes, it protects even speech that hurts our feelings. A critical problem with issuing ostensibly well-meaning edicts like Chief Best has is who decides what is “hate” speech? Well, in this case, I guess she does. There is no slipperier slope.
The problem with so-called hate crimes is they do not punish actions; they punish thoughts. Think about it. If I slap you in the face for no reason, I’ve committed what the law considers a relatively minor misdemeanor assault. But if I slap another person in the face while calling him or her a fill in the blank with a government-authorized victim category, then I’ve committed a “hate crime” and am liable for a greater penalty even though my actions were identical.
That “hate crime” victim, endowed by government with special rights, is worth more than you are as a non-“hate crime” victim because of why he or she assaulted you—what was in his or her mind at the time.
If you want to deal with this using equal justice under the law, then increase the penalties for the unprovoked slapping of anyone. In this case, the law is elevating one victim as more important than another victim who suffered identical violence. That is wrong.
It should frighten Americans when decent, intelligent, well-meaning people shovel their good intentions into an anti-free speech hopper and start paving a road to an unconstitutional hell. But the fact those good people are willing to put what they deem “good intentions” above Americans’ constitutional free speech rights should terrify everyone.
And who do these officials expect to enforce and investigate “racist name-calling” and to ignore free speech rights and equal justice? Police officers who have sworn to uphold the Constitution—including free speech.