AMAC Exclusive – By Andrew Abbott
Last month, Carmen Best, the first black woman to serve as Seattle’s police chief, joined Microsoft as the Global Security Risk Operations director after resigning from her post in August of 2020. The news is the latest in a wave of senior law enforcement officials permanently leaving public service for the private sector after the “Defund the Police” movement led to an all-out war on law enforcement by progressive activists and “woke” city governments nearly two years ago. While most cities have frantically tried to reverse course and “Refund the Police” amid a predictable surge in crime, the story of Carmen Best is a tragic illustration of how the loss of law enforcement experience and leadership as a result of Defund the Police is likely irreversible, and will be felt across America for decades to come.
Carmen Best began her career in law enforcement in 1992. After 26 years of working her way up from officer to captain, she became Seattle’s first black female Chief of Police in 2018. She immediately recognized that a lack of officers was hindering effective policing and putting citizens’ lives at risk. Within a year, she grew the department by 110 officers, 40% of whom were black. Recruiting such a diverse cohort of officers when progressives were already increasingly critical of policing was a significant accomplishment, and helped stem the wave of crime that had been gripping Seattle for years.
After the death of George Floyd in 2020, however, violent protests spread throughout Seattle. While Best worked to contain the protests, Seattle’s City Council actively encouraged them. Councilwoman Kshama Sawant, a member of the “Socialist Alternative,” had a history of encouraging protesters to engage in “civil disobedience” that often devolved into violence. She was hardly alone. After a subordinate of Best ordered the abandonment of Seattle’s East Precinct (without Best’s knowledge), protesters immediately moved into the area. They established the so-called “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone,” aka “CHAZ” – declaring the area an autonomous country separate from the United States.
The rioters refused to abandon the area unless the police department budget was cut by 50 percent and all protesters were given blanket amnesty for their actions. The media claimed the occupation was a result of overly aggressive policing, and Best would later accuse the media of intentionally ignoring the mob violence to promote the narrative that the protests were “mostly peaceful.”
While Best wanted to clear the area, on June 11, progressive Mayor Jenny Dirkan supported the occupation, stating on CNN, “We could have the summer of love.” Only after reports of extreme violence and several shootings within CHAZ was Best finally permitted to clear the area on July 1. City Councilmember Sawant ridiculously blamed the shootings on President Donald Trump and suggested the gunmen were “right-wing” activists who had infiltrated CHAZ. She later conceded that she “appears to be incorrect.”
Despite spiking crime rates, the city council decided to honor the mob’s demands and pushed to cut Seattle’s police budget by 50%. This was to be implemented in increments, starting with reducing the police force by 100 officers. Best, however, vehemently opposed this plan.
Among her many concerns, she noted that police, like all union-backed jobs, have a “last-in-first-out” policy, meaning that when layoffs occur, it is the most junior officers who get laid off first. This ensures that the government can’t lay off police near their 20-year retirement and protects more experienced officers. In Seattle’s case, this meant Best would have to fire all of the new recruits, of which 40 percent were minorities, and many were female.
Seattle City Council Member Lisa Herbold quickly decided she had a solution: fire only white police officers. On June 19, she demanded Best lay off police “out of order” to protect black police officers. Much of the council supported her proposal. Police Chief Best found this unconscionable, illegal, and refused to do so. “We cannot do layoffs based on race,” she said. “I would love for Councilmember Herbold to work with us and not against us, ensuring we have a viable number of officers.”
The Council continued to pressure her and even cut her salary. Finally, in August, Best announced her resignation from the police force, the latest victim of the radical left’s crusade for “racial equity.” She explicitly cited the City Council’s “budget cuts and lack of respect for SPD” as the motivating factors in her resignation. After the announcement, Sawant suggested it was “time for her to go,” accused her of enabling “racism,” and said Best had provided a “service” to “the capitalist class in pushing back against the Black Lives Matter movement at the height of its power.” As it turns out, the cuts were not necessary; by the end of 2020, over 200 police officers resigned alongside her.
Fast forward to last week, two years after Best’s ousting, when Seattle’s City Council approved $2.3 million in new equipment and training for police. Additionally, the Council’s 2022 police budget called for another 125 police officers and is offering generous hiring bonuses to stem the mass resignations plaguing the city. The department has only hired seven new officers this year while losing 34.
Mayor Jenny Dirkan did not run for reelection and has expressed “regret” over her “summer of love” comments. She was replaced by moderate Democrat Bruce Harrell who won his race by a landslide, campaigning on reversing the effects of the “Defund the Police” movement. One of his two primary opponents supported abolishing “the police department and jail,” while the other tweeted that her Christmas 2020 wish was to see Seattle police “catch COVID.”
In the mainstream media, a popular narrative has taken hold of the ongoing discussion over race and justice in America. To progressives, there are two groups: those who fight, sometimes imperfectly, for social justice, and those who do not. But no matter how imperfectly the former may fight, the left believes that they are inherently good because they are on the side of “justice” and “equity.” Conversely, those who oppose their measures are either racists or complicit in racism due to their ignorance.
But what happens when facts and reality become inconvenient truths for those who promote those narratives? Carmen Best is a good example. Instead of backing the black female police chief who devoted herself to diversifying her police force and making Seattle a better, safer place to live, the radical left backed the violent mob that destroyed everything in its path, all in the name of “racial justice.” In doing so, the progressive politicians and activists responsible for driving Best and so many other good police officers from the law enforcement profession revealed that at the core of their ideology is not a principled desire for “equality,” but rather a ruthless quest for power that has similarly characterized tyrants and bullies throughout history.
Andrew Abbott is the pen name of a writer and public affairs consultant with over a decade of experience in DC at the intersection of politics and culture.