Federal District Judge to Seattle Police Union: ‘Black Lives Matter!’

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

A federal judge left courtroom spectators speechless Monday after passionately declaring “Black Lives Matter” from the bench.

U.S. District Judge James Robart held a hearing on Seattle police reforms Monday, as he gave the agency a quick tongue-lashing over its refusal to make meaningful changes to the department. The police union was accused of excessive force and biased policing by the Department of Justice back in 2012.

Robart concluded his castigation with the declaration that Black lives do indeed matter. According to Slate, his comment marks the first time a sitting federal judge has explicitly mentioned the social justice movement.

Robart is currently presiding over a 2012 court-enforceable agreement between the DOJ and Seattle police, which required the agency to make sweeping changes. The Seattle Police Department faced scrutiny over its use of force, but the agreement now requires that officers be specifically trained to use each weapon they carry and report any force that results in an injury or a complaint, the Seattle Times reports. Officers are also mandated to file a use-of-force report whenever they point a gun at someone and find effective ways to de-escalate tense confrontations.

The DOJ and Baltimore police reached a similar agreement last week after the agency issued a scathing report denouncing the department’s discriminatory policing tactics.

According to the publication, Robart’s fiery declaration was likely a reaction to the Seattle police union’s rejection of a tentative contract to remedy the unconstitutional practices carried out by officers. The agreement sought to modernize appeals of officer discipline and have civilians carry out internal investigations rather than sworn officers.

However, union members — comprised of officers and sergeants — rejected the contract on grounds that it took too much away without giving much in return. Instead, members agreed to adopt the reforms only if they came with wage hikes and increased benefits.

“To hide behind a collective-bargaining agreement is not going to work,” Robart said during the hearing. “The court and the citizens of Seattle will not be held hostage for increased payments and benefits. “I’m sure the entire city of Seattle would march behind me.”

Despite his harsh reprimand, the federal judge went on to praise the city as a whole for its reform efforts in the areas of crisis intervention and use-of-force review, the Seattle Times reports. Robart also provided an outline of other changes he would like to see in the legislation. These reforms include the strengthening of the position for civilian director of the Office of Professional Accountability and the creation of an inspector general position, which will also be held by an appointed civilian.

“The judge has given us our marching orders,” said Kevin Stuckey, who recently became president of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild.

Per the local paper, Robart issued an order last week allowing the city to draft new police accountability legislation. The only stipulation was that the judge review the proposed legislation before its submission to City Council, ensuring that it doesn’t violate the consent decree.

Robart pushed the importance of such reforms by citing the police shootings of Black men in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Minnesota, as well as the subsequent attacks on officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge.

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