“We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the Scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution. The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights…Those who do nothing are inviting shame as well as violence. Those who act boldly are recognizing right as well as reality.”
— John F. Kennedy, June 11, 1963
The slogan on my sign from the George Floyd unity rally on Sunday evening at New Rochelle City Hall — White Complacency Equals White Complicity — is the same that was on my 26-year-old son’s sign in Seattle the day before. He was tear-gassed and “flash-banged.” The rest of this email is turned over to the complaints my son Harry Bruce Maher has now submitted to the Seattle Mayor and Office of Police Accountability today. He notes that this official complaint follows a formal letter he sent to the Seattle Mayor and City Council entitled “Fund Social Service Not Police Militarization”. He also notes that he neglected to include in his complaint that all officers put tape over their badge numbers and that he could not see the police officers responsible for using ear gas on a mass of mostly peaceful protesters.
|From: Harry Maher|
Date: Sun, May 31, 2020 at 1:48 AM
Subject: Complaint: Tear Gas Assault of Peaceful Protesters
As a white man I went downtown in support of black lives Saturday afternoon and was disgusted by the police response. I wore a mask, stayed physically distant from others, and held a sign that read “White Complacency = White Complicity.”Everyone who was around me at 6th and Pine was peaceful. At one point we heard many loud explosions from flash-bang bombs thrown by police officers and saw a thick cloud of tear gas. Everyone in front of me started sprinting towards me, fearing for their lives. Once it seemed things were okay, we readvanced. Nobody wanted to flee such an important cause. But there were many more subsequent retreats due to the excessive explosions and harmful gas.
At one point, after maybe the 4th or 5th such retreat and regrouping, it got so bad that all of the people around me were involuntarily coughing due to so much tear gas in the air. During a pandemic. We couldn’t breathe. At a march honoring the life George Floyd who was killed by police because he couldn’t breathe. The barrage of explosions and coughing people made me so terrified that I left the area.
Soon after, my egress was blocked by the police who were in the midst of setting up some arbitrary line on 3rd and Stewart. They threatened me with large sticks and told me I couldn’t pass. I ignored them proceeded to walk through their nascent line explaining, “I’m going home, thank you, fuck off, thank you.” I realize that if I were black they might have beaten or arrested me for not complying with their arbitrary orders that I return downtown where I didn’t feel safe.
That all said: Does it make sense to assault a group of peaceful people in such an awful way that spurs so much coughing during a pandemic? Why were police even there? Their militarized presence at a march against police brutality was insulting and likely incited a reaction against their vehicles that I was not a part of but that I cannot criticize. And, in spite of being under so much scrutiny, they attacked us with the widespread use of a potentially deadly gas during a pandemic. Nobody was harming anyone or anything until they incited these behaviors. Then, when I tried to leave, they tried to block me and threatened me with literal sticks. Why?
I’m seething. As a white man, I know that I’m safe from police violence once I put my protest sign in my backpack and bike back to Phinney Ridge. But my black friends and neighbors can’t just put signs away and be so sure of their safety. The statistics, videos, and my experience today all paint a nauseating status quo.
Every police officer who was posted at Westlake that was responsible for using tear gas needs to be fired immediately as well as investigated for assaulting peaceful protestors. Their thoughtless actions may have facilitated the spread of a deadly virus. They even pepper-sprayed a 9-year-old girl.
Next, any remaining officers must go through de-escalation training. Had they joined our protests, like officers in Flint, rather than spraying us with a horrible gas, they would have been well-received. Had they not come dressed in military garb and brought large sticks to hit us, that would have been great too. It was a pretty low bar, and they did a horrible job.
Finally, this may not be under your purview, but, we need to disband the police union that protects bad and dangerous cops like the one who killed George Floyd.
Thank you for taking my complaint seriously,
Please note the letter, to mayor/city council et al., that had the subject line “Fund Social Services Not Police Militarization” ended with:
|But it’s not even about what happened today. It’s not about the assault that my fellow peaceful protesters faced by the cops. It’s not even just about the police needing to learn to deescalate situations like these. It’s about criminal justice reform and the need to end racist policies.|
It’s about abolishing youth jails, private jails, prisons, ending over-policing and a school-to-prison pipeline. It’s about getting rid of a police union that protects bad officers. It’s about ensuring rigorous police oversight and rooting out a racist police culture.
It’s about working on a local level to provide housing, health care, mental health care, good jobs, and fixing a system that’s so broken for so many people.
I’m asking you to redirect a large amount of the police budget to go towards essential social services. My tax dollars must not go towards riot gear, assault weapons, tear gas, jails, and the militarization of local police. These resources need to go towards essential services such as preschool which, unlike over-policing, has been shown to significantly reduce crime later in life.
According to housing advocate Robert Getch:
“We spend $431.7MM a year on the Seattle Police Department.
We spend $198MM on all of ‘Human Services’ as a city.
We spend $6MM on the Office of Civil Rights as a city.
We spend $5MM on Immigrant and Refugee affairs as a city.
“Does this reflect our priorities?
I hope not.