Does Seattle deserve better than Carmen Best?

13 August 2020

11:00 AM

13 August 2020

11:00 AM


So the revolution devours its children. On Tuesday, Seattle’s police chief Carmen Best announced her retirement just hours after the city council had voted to strip her department of roughly 130 of its 1,400 officers, with more such cuts promised in the future. Best, 54, was Seattle’s first black police chief. She had served in the department for 28 years. Announcing her departure, Best remarked: ‘It’s not about the money. And it’s not about the demonstrations in our city. Be real. I have a lot thicker skin than that.’

‘It’s really about the overreaching lack of respect for the men and women who work so hard, day in and day out,’ Best added.

The most obvious symptom of a dictatorial government is the combination of delusions of grandeur with an excessive contempt for, and distrust of, the common citizen. Equally characteristic is the systematic need to humiliate the regime’s enemies. Before literally decimating her department, the Seattle council had publicly voted to reduce Chief Best’s own salary from $289,000 to $172,000. Just by way of comparison, Deborah Smith, the head of Seattle City Light, a jungle of a governmental system, as incalculable as any oriental sultanate, currently takes home some $345,000 each year, while her colleague Mami Hara makes do with a mere $300,000. Neither of these public servants is apparently able to keep Seattle’s electricity running without regular and protracted blackouts, but otherwise richly deserve their money.

Of course in today’s culture it’s not enough merely to demean your opponents. They must be physically menaced. In recent weeks, what the New York Times describes as groups of demonstrators seeking ‘thoughtful discussions with public officials’ have targeted Best’s family home in Snohomish, 35 miles north of Seattle, which she shares with her husband and two daughters. One such protest ended poorly in the early hours of last Sunday morning, when representatives of something called ‘Every Day March’ were confronted by a number of Best’s predominantly black and Hispanic neighbors who apparently didn’t care for their presence there.

‘All we were doing was walking, and they stopped us in the street,’ an Every Day March organizer named Nicole Gitaka complained. ‘Our main objective, the only thing we wanted to do, was march down to Chief Best’s house, make some noise, ask some questions, and go,’ Gitaka elaborated. I was there, and it’s the ‘make some noise’ part that’s perhaps most indicative of the general mood. One young activist, who was white, aimed a bullhorn at the Bests’ home and started a chant. ‘Blood on your hands!’ the crowd dutifully shouted, among other unappreciative remarks. This is a residential American neighborhood on a Saturday night, remember. Readers may also note the irony of Ms Gitaka protesting about someone blocking a road anywhere near Seattle, the same city that recently played host to an officially-tolerated seven-block downtown no-go zone, known variously as CHAZ or CHOP, established after the summer’s race riots.

To summarize, then: in August 2018, Carmen Best was appointed to head the department she had served throughout her adult life, and was praised by the city council at the time for having ‘a passion for the job, for the officers, and for our city’, and, what’s more, as a black woman who embodied a ‘culture of continuing progress’ in the community. In August 2020, the same Chief Best was effectively hounded out of office by gangs of predominantly white protesters banging drums, shining flashlights and chanting obscenities outside her family residence late on a Saturday night. One of the young activists present told me: ‘We’re here so this pig won’t ever feel safe in her home again.’

Hmm. A crack in the wall of Black Lives Matter solidarity? Or just a touch of localized idiocy, surely countered by the Seattle city council’s continued support for the pioneering female African American officer they so loudly endorsed just two years ago?

Not really. Last Monday night the council voted by a 7-1 margin to initiate their first series of cuts to the police budget, putting in motion the events that led directly to Chief Best’s departure 24 hours later. The lone holdout was 46-year-old, Indian-born city councilwoman Kshama Sawant, a socialist who believes that her adopted city is a ‘playground for the rich’ — rich who need to be punitively taxed. Among other public effusions, Sawant has called for the Seattle-based Amazon to be taken into public ownership, and once denounced tributes to the late Barbara Bush as ‘giving cover to the ruling class, and ultimately undermining struggles against oppression’.

Just to be clear: Councilwoman Sawant wasn’t voting against the first round of Seattle’s police cuts because she was concerned they might adversely affect morale, jeopardize public safety, and make it impossible for Chief Best to remain in her job. Just the opposite. She voted against them not because they were too radical, but because they weren’t radical enough.

‘The Democrats on Seattle city council have refused to defund the police. They voted No on the People’s [sic] budget demand to defund by 50 percent, and further cut bloated police salaries,’ Sawant remarked. That’s not all. Last month, Sawant posted a video on Twitter that seemed to take her dissatisfaction with Seattle society a step further. ‘We are coming for you and your rotten system,’ Sawant promised in the clip. ‘We are coming to dismantle this deeply oppressive, racist, sexist, violent, utterly bankrupt system of capitalism.’

‘We cannot and will not stop,’ she continued. ‘We will overthrow the system and replace it with a world based instead on solidarity, genuine democracy and equality — a socialist world.’

In the meantime, the Sawant faction on the Seattle politburo has effectively disposed of its Kirov figure in the form of the blameless Carmen Best. She stands as the first victim of the new terror to have descended on America’s once so-called Most Livable City. I’m afraid she will not be the last.

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