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Opinion: Seattle experiment shows cops are needed

Jay Ambrose

Let’s get rid of cops, defund them, at least make them less active, deplete their ranks and agree they suffer from systemic racism bred into their modes of behavior, always acting as if to be Black is to be guilty. That’s what some protesters and politicians are now saying in the wake of a horrible televised Minneapolis death by a policeman because some seem to believe that being a cop, any cop, is what really makes you guilty.

To cure the supposed police evil, here’s a progressive experiment we saw: going along with protesters to keep police out of a six-block area of Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. The idea was for the protesters to pretty much run the place and enjoy a “summer of love,” a phrase that came from Seattle’s Mayor Jenny Durkan. She saw the protesters screaming in front of a police headquarters and seemed to believe that if the police went somewhere else, anarchy could transform their suffering into flourishing.

A sign reads "Welcome to CHOP," Sunday inside what has been named the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest zone in Seattle. Protesters calling for police reform and other demands have taken over several blocks near downtown Seattle after officers withdrew from a police station in the area following violent confrontations. The CHOP name is a change from CHAZ (Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone) that was used earlier in the week.

It was on June 8 that the protesters stormed the Bastille and soon, with no holds barred by police maintaining their distance, defaced the Bastille as the streets became trash bins. Just 12 days later shooting began, and then there was shooting on another day and another day and another day. Two teenagers were killed and five people injured, one critically. Cops were pretty well stymied in trying to intervene and rescue vehicles stayed safely away. During the mayhem, the mayor said, the time has come for protesters to leave. They didn’t, and so the mayor signed an order telling police to evict them and recover the police headquarters.

The protesters did not nod their heads, pack their bags and politely exit their adventure, but yelled and shoved and waved signs even though, this time, the police shoved back, resuming a duty that saves lives. It has been my hope that the Durkan experiment would help wake people up as so many other communities around the country have in effect put handcuffs on police while protesters have done enormous damage, and crime in some cities has risen dramatically as police disparagement leaves police less proactive.

Defund the police? Some cities are still considering budget reductions as you wonder about emotions of the moment intervening with rationality and cannot help noticing the leftist overreach of Mayor Bill De Blasio of New York. He is planning to reduce the budget of what likely is the country’s best big-city police force by $1 billion as he takes 600 plainclothes cops off the streets. Spending helped make the police force what it is, but first and foremost, New York police have used computer data to send police where the crime is.

They also got thousands of guns off the streets without letting any crime pass by as an oh-so-what incident that was ignored. Such tactics helped deter crime to the extent of reducing murders by 7,382 over an 11-year period with thousands fewer people being sent to prison.

It is true at the same time that police unions have wrapped some police with protections that thwart wise administration and, in some instances, leave bad cops on the payroll. George Floyd’s killer had a terrible record, for instance, but he hung around long enough to make Hitlerian history. Democrats in Congress are avoiding debate, but a national mayors group is studying what the best reforms might be, and, one assumes, it will recognize what a tough job they have and the good they do. The data of two exhaustive studies, for instance, indicate police shootings are mostly the consequence of real endangerment with no evidence of racism. Most police are not guilty.

Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service.