The race card

Hey, when will that dialogue about race get going?

Even though we've been reading about the big chat for months, it seems mayoral candidate Greg Nickels got in trouble for starting early.

Hubert Locke, a supporter of mayoral hopeful Mark Sidran, likened Nickels to U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms for daring to suggest that Sidran's record as city attorney is racially divisive. Seattle Times columnist Mindy Cameron says that, by "playing the race card," Nickels rules himself out as a mayor who can mend relations between the police and the community.

Now you can't blame Cameron, a retired Times editorialist who has graciously consented to keep writing about Seattle politics despite having moved to Idaho, for missing the point, but many of the recent police/community disputes have involved race. Here are a few:

* The Sidran-proposed civility law to exclude troublemakers from parks. During its first year, of the 2,700 people cited under the law, 40 percent were ethnic minorities (about a quarter of Seattle residents are minorities).

* Another law championed by Sidran, to seize the cars of motorists driving with suspended driver's licenses, netted some 5,000 autos its first year—40 percent of those were owned by African Americans (in a city which blacks comprise about 9 percent of licensed drivers).

* Last year's computer-aided study of city traffic stops by Times reporter Andrew Garber that showed that blacks have gotten about 18 percent of the tickets issued since 1995, about twice their representation in the driving population.

* And let's also include Sidran's ongoing efforts to close troublesome music clubs—which have focused almost exclusively on nightspots either owned by African Americans or heavily patronized by black clubgoers. The city attorney's club-closing career not only caused a local black leader to file a federal discrimination complaint, but twice cost the city in court—a $106,000 payout to the owners of the former Neko's, a downtown hip-hop club, and $86,000 in attorney fees to Oscar and Barbara McCoy, whose Central Area restaurant was targeted for abatement for several years.

Any legitimate dialogue about race in Seattle would address these issues. We're still having one, aren't we?

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