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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Some Confessions

First, a story came out from The Stranger that caught my eye about how city councilman and ex-cop Tim Burgess and his Public Safety committee is planning to revise the city’s obstruction laws to put them more in line with the more ambiguous state laws that give officers more leeway to make arrests for obstruction. That story was here and before I go on about it I want you to take a moment and read it for yourself…

Go on… no peeking, read it first then come back…

Ok... When I first read that I thought the worst, I thought they were trying to make it easier for the police to make obstruction arrests. Questionable obstruction arrests and charges of racial bias in those arrests is an issue that the city has gotten called to the carpet on in the news lately and the way this seemed worded at first made it appear as though the city was trying to address this issue by changing the law to make it easier to prosecute people arrested on questionable stand-alone obstruction charges. In other words, it looked like the city was trying to solve the problem of false charges of obstruction by broadening the scope of obstruction so that those charges couldn’t be called questionable anymore.

Well, I admit that was wrong. I was able to look into the issue a bit further and it seems as though my first thoughts weren't the case. From what I can tell, when the news stories alleging bias in obstruction arrests broke, council member Nick Licata sought information from the mayor’s office and city’s attorney about how they handle obstruction arrests. In the course of this it was discovered that the city prosecuted obstruction charges about 33% of the time under state laws because of some legal ambiguities due to the city's laws being very narrowly defined and state laws being broader in scope. But, since the state law doesn’t allow for a defense on the basis of an officer’s orders being unlawful, there were allegations that the use of the state law instead of the municipal code was to avoid the defensible action based on lawfulness of police commands.

So, Nick Licata, Tim Burgess, and Tom Carr started working on legislation to change the law in order to make it so the city was more inclined to prosecute under city law which would still allot for the defense based on unlawful commands from officers and, according to defense attorneys working with the city on this amendment, it should result in a significant improvement in the way this law works and the way the city charges and prosecutes obstruction arrests and the city wouldn’t prosecute under the looser state laws anymore as a result. The amendment, supposedly, will also include language which explicitly states that obstruction charges cannot be used against people just watching, taking pictures, or just talking/asking questions.

So, apparently, my first opinion of this effort was completely off base and I’m glad I was wrong. See, we don’t just want to expose cases of misconduct or efforts to cover it up, we also want to make sure that efforts to improve police conduct and make the justice system in Seattle more equitable and just are also made public. I am personally very happy to see such a good faith effort by all parts of the city government to improve the problems with obstruction arrests in Seattle.

Thanks for proving me wrong guys, I really do appreciate it and I hope you do it more often!!! After all, ultimately, I would like nothing more than to have nothing more to write about on this blog. So thanks for working towards giving me one less negative thing to write about.

Next, on the national front, the FBI has announced today that a series of raids in 16 cities across the US has freed 21 juvenile victims of forced prostitution (read slavery there) and arrested several hundred people on charges of sexually exploiting minors for commercial gain. The FBI claims that it’s freed over 400 children in the last five years as a concerted effort to target child exploitation and enslavement.

While cities, Seattle included, tend to prosecute the juvenile victims as prostitutes while failing to go after their clients and exploiters, the FBI states that it’s been focusing on this as a national effort to prevent exploiters from simply moving out of jurisdictions when municipalities start cracking down on the child sex slave trade.

Time for another confession... even though it will only be used against me the truth is the truth and I like to be honest. Let’s just say, sparing the nasty details, that I had gone through something similar when I was a homeless 14 year old with nowhere else to turn. It wasn’t a time in my life that I like to think back on, but I was lucky enough to get out of it all on my own eventually. I worked my way through the rest of high school by working landscaping and other grunt work jobs, and then was fortunate enough to go on to college at the age of 17. I was lucky to have been able to do that as most kids in that situation can’t get out of it like I did. So, it’s yet another story I identify with personally so I’m happy to see the exploitative adults punished instead of the vulnerable kids for a change.

So I have personal reasons for being glad to see that, for once, authorities are going after the adult exploiters instead of the juvenile victims of such crimes. Thanks guys, for doing that right… but I am curious to find out what happened to the kids and how they were helped (if at all) after they were freed.

That’s enough for the confessionals today.

Update: There might be some hope in Seattle though. A report due Friday indicates that Seattle might finally start treating the 300-500 exploited children that roam it's streets each night, some as young as 11 years old, as victims instead of criminals. We can only hope they do, but so far the mayor's office has been reluctant to comment on the recommendations made by they report that these victims be given support to escape their exploiters instead of being thrown in jail with them.


Sherril said...

Wow! Your blog has really come a long way. Ain't it wonderful.

I hope they won't come after me from Seattle, here in backwoods southern Georgia. We have our own kind of injustice...

Packratt said...

Thanks for the support, Sherril!

While I doubt they would, I've been threatened from as far away as Chicago... I have no idea why, but it happens.

Unfortunately, the same problems exist everywhere to varying degrees, as I'm sure misconduct goes on where you live too. I just stick to focusing on Seattle issues mostly because there are just so many stories of problems like this from all over.

Take care Sherril, and I appreciate your stopping by!

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