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Musings on digital media, urbanization and politics from Seattle, Wash.

What would you think if it was your small business being destroyed?


Photo by Mike Scaturo.

This is a question I’m seeing a lot. It’s one people gravitate towards. I don’t like property destruction being the focus—or even a large part—of the conversation around this, but it is. It comes up a lot, even in my family’s own group text thread, a source of much political discord.

How would you feel? What would you do?

What would you think if it was your business getting trashed in the middle of an economy-crushing pandemic?

Well, I’d have a lot of questions.

First of all, how did we get here?

The subject of police brutality and accountability is not new. We know reform is needed. I put on CNN last night as I worked on the usual late-night bowl of cereal, expecting to drop in on random protest footage, and was instead greeted by a years-long montage of police officers killing unarmed Black people.

The police executed 1,022 people last year. No charges, no trial, no due process. Killed. Officers are frequently put in harm’s way, as no one can deny, but why is the group we pay to be among the bravest so quick to escalate to violent and lethal methods?

We know this issue needs serious attention. Whether you work minimum wage in a jewelry store or own a chain of them, it’s undeniable.

The FBI warned us in 2006 that white supremacists were infiltrating the law enforcement ranks. What did we do about it? Do we know if it’s gotten better or worse?

The government is a service by and for the people. When we have serious problems, we address them. That is the purpose of the system. That’s what my tax dollars are for.

So why haven’t we?

I’d wonder about the incident that started this, the murder of George Floyd, with the spark to the kindling landing in a grocery store in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. A teenage employee called the police after believing Floyd paid for cigarettes using a counterfeit $20 bill.

They came, and they killed him.

As a business owner, do I have to worry that any time I call the police, I’m putting someone’s life at risk? Will I be burdened with guilt for the rest of my life because I called authorities about a young Black kid walking out of the store with a bag of chips?

The owner of Cup Foods, the store in question, has the same thought, and no longer is willing to trust the police to provide the service he and all taxpayers are paying them to provide.

Police are supposed to protect and serve their communities; instead, what we’ve seen over and over again is the police abusing their power and violating the people’s trust. We realize now that escalating situations to the police almost always does more harm than good, even for something as harmless as a fake bill. This is not an isolated incident: they have shown time and time again that they do not know how to peacefully handle conflicts in our community. By simply following procedure we are putting our communities in danger. Until the police stop killing innocent people, we will handle incidents like this one using non-violent tactics that do not involve police. We must stand together to fight against institutional racism.

The statement at the beginning of this is the crux of the issue.

Police are employees of the people, and they have a clear task—protect, serve, keep the peace.

If I’m a business owner in Seattle or Manhattan or Long Beach or downtown Minneapolis, I have a hard time saying the police have come anywhere near being successful at their primary task of keeping the peace, in both the micro and the macro.

Look at these protests. Is this style of policing the best way to engage these? Or is it making tensions even worse, leading to more demonstrations and more potential for violence and destruction?

When protesters in Seattle are chanting peacefully, looking only to be heard, why is it the police are viewing this as a battle—and the people they serve as adversaries?

This isn’t Drew Brees readying his squad to take on the Falcons. That crowd is a collection of people, like business owners, who pay their salaries, buy their riot gear and are asking to be heard.

Is firing tear gas, rubber bullets, flash bangs and smoke, then chasing members of a large crowd in every direction the right way to prevent damage to my hypothetical storefront and so many others? Why not let them march?

And if you want them to stop, why not meet their demands? Why did it take days for Seattle’s mayor to even begin to attempt to hear from demonstrators? And, for that matter, why is she lying to the face of the representative of the Seattle Community Police Commission—which is looking out for citizens on such matters—when discussing the Consent Decree the city has been under for nine years.

That comes from the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division for “a pattern or practice of constitutional violations regarding the use of force that result from structural problems, as well as serious concerns about biased policing.”

Mayor Durkan called Seattle “a different place” less than a month ago in regards to the police department’s use of force. As a business owner, am I supposed to nod along when the SPD overwhelming, in their union election, chose a man who strongly agrees with the tactics we see on a nightly basis on Capitol Hill?

For that matter, why do we need another long drawn-out process to figure this out? I’m still waiting on the coalition of businesses tasked with coming up with a solution on homelessness to bring something to the table—in lieu of the head tax that was supported overwhelmingly by a council we the people elected.

On that subject, why do I as a business owner have people sleeping on my doorstep when the Seattle Police Department owns one single tank, let alone enough military-grade gear to stage a coup on a small country? Is this how my money, how our money, is best spent?

Why am I on the brink in the first place? Why is my business holding on for dear life while the vast majority of funds around pandemic relief have gone to large corporations? Why are Seattle businesses like mine still stuck in Phase One when, as I look around the globe, other countries that jumped on this quickly are much closer to a return to normalcy? Don’t we think giving everyday citizens a $1,200 check and nothing more has something to do with the rage and looting?

Closer to home, why are we firing tear gas at large crowds of protestors when it could cause the virus to come roaring back?

Isn’t the potential damage of a second wave, and lengthier closures, significantly more costly to my livelihood than banged up windows? Speaking of closures, why were businesses asked to close for curfew in parts of cities that aren’t even impacted? Is this going to be the norm going forward? Because it’s taking money out of people’s pockets.

There are many more questions that could be asked. So many.

Why is a single second being devoted to corralling peaceful protestors while people are looting? Why do I have to sweat out whether my insurance company is going to reimburse me or try their damnedest to not provide the fallback I pay for? Why am I paying rent right now? What are police doing tonight that is different from last night? Why can’t change happen that quickly? Where are the Democratic lawmakers I voted for? Why can’t they raise hell like the other side, fighting tooth-and-nail for less noble things?

But after all these questions, there’s one simple statement—this is not working.

This whole approach, this whole setup, in the short- and longterm, it isn’t working.

And anyone who’s managed or employed people in any business can realize that when something isn’t working, change is needed. If I have an employee who isn’t getting their core task accomplished, I’m not giving them more resources and more responsibly. I’m changing course, and I’m probably finding someone else.

It’s time to try something different.

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