SEATTLE – In a move that has heads spinning (police officers and dispatchers), Seattle’s chief of police said in a Monday night video that she wants residents to call 911 if called racist names during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Washington state is no place for hate. In a show of solidarity between police and community, I’m joined today by Lori Matsukawa,” Chief of Police Carmen Best said, referring to the retired KING 5 news anchor who joined her in the video, Fox News reported.
“Hate crimes have no place in our community,” Matsukawa continued. “We’re better than that, Washington. We’re all trying to deal with the COVID-19 public health crisis together. If you are a victim of a hate crime or hate-based harassment, please call 911.”
Washington State is no place for hate. In a show of solidarity, @LoriMatsukawa joined me to remind everyone that hate has no place in our community. Report hate, including racist name calling, to 911. We are here to help, and will respond to investigate. #WeGotThisSeattle pic.twitter.com/cFGkYopbVW
— Chief Carmen Best (@carmenbest) March 31, 2020
“Exactly Lori,” Best said as the video cut back to her. “We will document and investigate every reported hate crime. Even racist name-calling should be reported to police. We take this information very seriously. If you aren’t sure if a hate crime occurred, call 911. We are here to help and will respond to investigate.”
“When we work together,” Matsukawa said. “We’re safer together,” Best said, finishing her sentence.
Hopefully, the chief understands that people can make ugly, racist comments without committing a crime. Now, she has encouraged citizens to use the 911 system when mean-spirited people are potentially doing nothing more than exercising their First Amendment rights, albeit ugly and socially inappropriate. Moreover, if people follow through on her suggestion, it will put more officers in contact with citizens unnecessarily.
Furthermore, citizens might think a crime was committed, when in fact it had not. This will put line officers in a position of educating angry people who will likely quote the chief when calling 911.
Apparently the chief’s message was meant to appease Asian-Americans due to the outbreak of coronavirus, which originated in China. Regardless, there is a distinction between hate crimes and a person using bad manners.
In essence, hate speech is broadly protected by the First Amendment, meaning there is likely little the Seattle Police Department will be able to do if an incident of racist name-calling is reported.
Nevertheless, the department would be able to investigate hate crimes, which under Washington state law include “physical injury” to a person, “physical damage” to a person’s property or threats that would put a reasonable person “in reasonable fear of harm to person or property.”
Finally, the Washington state law on hate crimes clarifies that “[w]ords alone do not constitute a hate crime offense unless the context or circumstances surrounding the words indicate the words are a threat. Threatening words do not constitute a hate crime offense if it is apparent to the victim that the person does not have the ability to carry out the threat.”
Perhaps Chief Best needs to re-examine the law as well as the U.S. Constitution.