Seattle Chief of Police Kathleen O’Toole has announced that she will be stepping down from her post on December 31, 2017. Starting on January 1, Deputy Chief Carmen Best will assume this role on an interim basis while the newly elected Mayor Jenny Durkan searches for a replacement.
The first thing many will notice about Best is that she is African-American. Some would see this as a sign that the Seattle police are successfully combating racism in their ranks. Let us not rejoice too soon. Although the Seattle Police Department will be headed for a time by a Black woman, the racism and brutality which have come to characterize the SPD will undoubtedly continue as before.
Looking at her history as provided by SPD, it does show that she is well groomed for this position. Best has a military background and has been with the force for 25 years in various capacities such as:
- Patrol – Directly interacting with the people in the community to uphold capitalist rule
- Patrol Supervisor – Ensuring other patrol cops are effectively upholding capitalist rule
- School Safety – Extension of police repression to school campuses
- Media relations – Attempting to manage negative public opinion of the SPD
- Narcotics command – A foot soldier in the criminal “War on Drugs”
All in all, she has spent a quarter century working for a department which has been under federal oversight due to unconstitutional and biased use of force. When the federal government of the United States says that you have a race problem, then you really have a race problem. Despite claims that SPD is now in compliance with the consent decree, there has been no indication of any real effort to change that goes deeper than window dressing.
In light of the recent police killing of Charleena Lyles and the earlier killing of Che Taylor, lip service on the part of Seattle police will not be nearly enough to correct the vicious systemic racism that lead to their deaths. In both of these cases the SPD investigated themselves throughly and cleared themselves of any wrongdoing. The public is meant to accept this without comment. This department has done so little to address its rampant racism that to celebrate what diversity there is in its leadership at this point is laughable, and typical of the superficial nature of liberal discourse.
As Marxists we recognize the role of the police in upholding the rule of the capitalist class. Whether the police officers themselves are Black or white, they play the same institutional role in society to repress workers, especially the most oppressed. Placing Carmen Best at the head of the SPD does not erase the department’s racist character.