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Originally published May 18, 2010 at 10:03 PM | Page modified May 19, 2010 at 2:10 PM

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Danny Westneat

Who are we to judge Arizona?

Not long after Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn announced on his Facebook page that he would approve a city boycott of Arizona because of its new immigration law, someone from the Grand Canyon State posted a pesky little question.

Seattle Times staff columnist

Not long after Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn announced on his Facebook page that he would approve a city boycott of Arizona because of its new immigration law, someone from the Grand Canyon State posted a pesky little question.

"Didn't Seattle just beat the 'mexican' out of a 'homie' who was just walking home ... ?" the man wrote. "And you think we are bad in AZ ... go wash your hands Seattle."

Man's got a point, don't you think?

Isn't it more than a little awkward for us, via our City Council and mayor, to pick this moment to lecture other places on racial profiling and police behaving badly?

The top Seattle-related video so far this year on YouTube shows our finest kicking an innocent man in the head and threatening to "beat the [expletive] Mexican piss" out of him.

So yes, it is awkward. At least it seemed so Tuesday at City Hall.

"Look, I didn't push the boycott," McGinn said when I asked him about it. "That came from the council."

Not all council members were exactly bursting with pride, either. I ran into new Councilman Mike O'Brien, who voted for the boycott but said he did so grudgingly as it has no teeth and is almost entirely symbolic.

I asked McGinn whether it's wise to wag a finger at Arizona right now. The Arizonans have only threatened to go all police state on Mexicans. Our police are already there.

"I'm not trying to claim the moral high ground here," McGinn said. "We know in Seattle we're not perfect. We don't always live up to our ideals.

"But I do think it's OK to make a statement of our values, of what we want our values to be. That's what the boycott does."

Except the boycott leaves out the only meaningful contract the city has with an Arizona company — the 30 red-light cameras that spit out tickets and rake in millions for the city.


McGinn answered bluntly when asked why the red-light cameras contract was not part of the boycott.

"You may have noticed we have a budget deficit here," he said.

Now that's a statement of our values!

Seriously, though: Our grand principle is that we believe in equal treatment as long as it doesn't cost us any money?

With respect to the Mexican piss incident, is it that we're sorry, so sorry, as long as it doesn't cost anybody their jobs?

The video is nowhere near the worst police misbehavior ever captured on tape. On a scale of 1 to 10, if the Rodney King beating is a 10, this one is maybe a 3.

What makes it matter, though, is the casualness of it all. The cameraman reacts in surprise when an officer kicks the prone guy's head. But he's the only one who does. The assembled cops stand around like they're playing croquet.

That's the problem. You can just tell they've done this before.

James Kelly, head of the Urban League, was at City Hall Tuesday to call for the officers to be fired. He agreed we're in a poor position to judge Arizona at the moment.

"We need to look at ourselves in the mirror. We're engaging in policing that's just as bad, or worse, than what Arizona is doing."

We can't boycott ourselves, though.

One Latino after another said Tuesday at City Hall how the incident will linger in memories for years. How it's not an isolated case in Seattle. And how there's no easy answer — that patching up race relations with Seattle police will be a long, difficult slog.

You can see why the city found it so alluring to tell someone else, far away, to fix their problems instead.

Danny Westneat's column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or

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About Danny Westneat

Danny Westneat takes an opinionated look at the Puget Sound region's news, people and politics. Send tips or comments to His column runs Wednesday and Sunday. | 206-464-2086



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