This week Fox News picked up on a pair of brewing controversies in Seattle around new policies to address racial inequities in hiring and policing practices, and turned them into outrageous segments of television.
The first involves a rant that Seattle police officer Steve Pomper wrote in his police union newsletter back in December. In it he decries the “socialist” policies that require police officers undergo anti-bias trainings. (It’s not like the trainings Pomper’s so distraught about are unwarranted. Seattle’s recent history has been marred by a string of cases involving police brutality of men of color.) It’s a truly mind-numbing read, but here are a few lines:
Social justice is a socialist scheme that judges people not as individuals, but by their race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status…These initial policies always seem benign. The city compels its employees to participate in RSJI classes, and they conduct ostensibly, innocuous surveys advancing an unquestionably leftist political agenda. They attempt to make us feel comfortable with socialist and progressive terminology through repetition and saturation.
Pomper’s referring to the Race and Social Justice Initiative which Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn introduced to eliminate racial disparities in public agency hiring and policing practices. McGinn explained the need for the RSJI last week.
But it’s Pomper’s rant that Fox News settled on in a segment from February 28. Fox News host Megyn Kelly dug into Pomper’s commentary and invited Angel Reyes, a Texas attorney, to weigh in.
“Shut up and be a good socialist,” Kelly opens, borrowing the headline from Pomper’s screed. “That’s the headline sparking an uproar in the Emerald City. One of Seattle’s finest wrote that editorial in his union newspaper claiming his department stopped enforcing laws that impact minorities more than the average Joe.”
And so begins the downward spiral into the abyss of nonsensical mumbo jumbo. Kelly, trying to goad her imperturbable guest Reyes into some kind of a frenzy, rants about a separate new Seattle policy that city prosecutors cut off prison sentences for people convicted of a gross misdemeanor at 364 days. Under federal law undocumented immigrants are subject to deportation if they’re convicted of crimes that result in a prison sentence of longer than one year. The city adopted the policy so that Seattle residents convicted of crimes would not also be made automatically deportable in the process.
They are treating illegals better than U.S. citizens. This is from Dan Springer’s reporting. He met and interviewed the city attorney. They admit to doing that. Then moreover, one of the things is they are not prosecuting certain small crimes, certain traffic offenses and alcohol offenses because they believe more minorities are being picked up. And he is saying just because you have more minorities who get picked up for traffic violations doesn’t mean it’s a racist law and doesn’t mean I as a police officer shouldn’t enforce that law.
A couple things about Kelly’s performance here: Objectivity in reporting is a nice ideal, but it’s also kind of a sham–on this I’m with the folks over at Fox News. But reporting facts is the fundamental non-negotiable duty reporters have. Francois Marie, a blogger over at Gather.com, fact checks Kelly’s assertions and finds it riddled with bald misstatements of fact, twisting both the city policies and Pomper’s own words. (Small crimes and traffic offenses are still being prosecuted, don’t worry.)
And watching Kelly speak, I realized she must have studied Jay Smooth’s classic video tutorial “How to Tell People They Sound Racist,” in which he warns about the “rhetorical Bermuda Triangle” of calling a person–in Kelly’s case an institution and a law–racist. Kelly deploys this tactic over and over again. Call a person a racist when what you should really be doing is calling out their actions or a law’s disparate impacts, and you can successfully destroy any hope of a productive conversation about race. No surprise then that Kelly throws out these bombs to deflect folks’ attention from the real issue at hand: the racial disparities that manifest from a criminal justice system predicated on inequality and discrimination.