Racial injustice in Seattle
Power-washing the sidewalks recalls bad times in Alabama
We can’t ever be too sensitive about racial insensitivity, and kudos today to Larry Gossett, a member of the city council of Seattle, which is one of the most sensitive cities anywhere. Mr. Gossett is not necessarily a fan of the stinky stuff you collect on the bottom of your shoe when you step in something a dog has left on the sidewalk, but he urges caution — and sensitivity — about how it’s cleaned up.
When two judges of the Kings County Superior Court in Seattle urged the city government to clean up “the unsanitary and potentially frightening” condition of the sidewalks around the courthouse, sidewalks “that reek of urine and excrement,” Mr. Gossett leaped to action.
Not to clean up the sidewalks, but to warn that power-washing the sidewalks would be “racially insensitive” because it might remind civil-rights activists of the water hoses used by Bull Connor and his cops in faraway Birmingham, Ala., a half-century ago to disperse civilrights demonstrators. Cleaning up the sidewalks “might be a form of microaggression.”
In most places, power-washing the sidewalks is regarded as a good thing, and the odor of filth and feces is regarded as a bad thing. What could be less controversial than cleanliness, which was once said to be next to godliness, but it is true that references to God are offensive to the godless, of whom there is an ungracious plenty. Could power-washing sidewalks be a violation of church and state as well?
The streets around the courthouse in Seattle are home to a homeless shelter and other social-service organizations, and power-washing the sidewalks could be poverty-insensitive, too. Assaults, harassment and drugs are plentiful on these streets, and power-washing could be construed as insensitive to drug dealers, harassers and others who earn their living by robbing and assaulting. Some prospective jurors, the judges say, have asked to be excused since two jurors were assaulted on nearby streets festooned with feces.
“When they come to this courthouse they’re afraid to come in,” says Kings County Sheriff John Urquhart. “They’re afraid to walk down Third Avenue because of what they see.” And slip and slide on, no doubt. The sheriff has asked the county council for an additional $8,000 to patrol the streets. “There’s public urination, defecation. That’s a crime.”
But no power-washing. Some people might get the wrong idea. Everyone should just watch his step.