A Tale of Two (Selah) Marines

     A “Back the Blue” rally is planned for Selah later this month. If Selah residents truly want to support Selah’s Police Department, they should start by demanding that city leaders stop putting police officers at the tip of the spear in Selah’s assault on civil rights. 


As the Herald-Republic notes this weekend, Selah police have been learning and changing their tactics. That is more than can be said for Selah city leaders:  


The union representing Selah’s police officers has asked the city to back down on its crackdown on chalk art. In a July 31 letter, Teamsters Local 760 Business Representative Dave Simmons said the city’s targeting pro-Black Lives Matter art after ignoring chalk art previously is straining the relationship between officers and the community they serve to the point where officers are considering leaving the department. And, Simmons said, it could expose officers to potential legal liability for enforcing an unconstitutional order. The U.S. District Court for Eastern Washington found in 2013 that the state’s malicious mischief statute did not extend to people writing with chalk on public walkways.


The issue is not legally complex. Selah PD and their union are correctly raising concerns about not violating the protesters’ civil rights. The PD is proving itself to be a learning organization, while the city leaders are not. Selah city leaders are still verbally attacking protesters and refusing to acknowledge these citizens are saying anything worth hearing. 


When a Zillah cop recently went on a rant outside his home in Selah, the Selah officers refused to indulge his demands to stop chalk artists.  When the Zillah cop slammed a patrol car door into a Selah officer’s arm, Selah’s police did the right thing and treated the Zillah cop like any other citizen would have been treated. They took the possible assault case to the Yakima County prosecutor, who decided it would be difficult to prove the Zillah cop acted intentionally in slamming the door against the Selah officer’s arm.  


Let’s focus on two Marines involved in this incident to understand what Selah leaders need to learn. The language below may be offensive, but relaying it accurately is necessary to understanding the root of the problem.


One former Marine was the Zillah cop, Matt Steadman. With his sidearm strapped on his high-BMI waistline, the former Marine got in the face of protesters and called them “Fucking punk!” and muttered “Fuck off!” as he slammed the Selah police officer’s door.  The Herald-Republic explains what happened next:


Finally, as Steadman walks down the street toward his house, another protester, Jose Rocha, yells out a U.S. Marine Corps greeting to Steadman and asks if Steadman remembers his Marine Corps oath to defend the Constitution.

“I’m a Marine, just like you, brother,” Rocha said.

“You ain’t my brother, punk,” Steadman replies.

Anybody who understands the ethos of Semper Fi knows which Marine violated the essence of that hard-earned status. That would be the white, former Marine Matt Steadman. Both proudly defended their country, but only one acted like he understood the rights they defended.  That would be the Latino, former Marine Jose Rocha. 


But the way Selah city leaders addressed the incident is critical to understanding the problem. 


They said nothing about Steadman and attacked Rocha. Three days after Steadman’s rant, Selah’s mayor publicly called out former Marine Jose Rocha for some poor-judgment Facebook posts. 


She said nothing about Steadman’s public rant, his aggressive behavior, his obscenities, or the assault claim against a Selah officer that was being considered at that very moment.  Zillah took the possible assault seriously; Steadman was placed on administrative leave. Only Selah city leaders ignored The White Man Acting Badly.


Selah’s mayor also said nothing about Selah police officers’ concerns over being caught between an out-of-control fellow police officer and the U.S. Constitution.  


She said nothing about Rocha’s restrained behavior in the confrontation with Steadman. 


She just singled out the Latino former Marine’s Facebook posts and remained silent about the white former Marine’s confrontation with Selah police and citizens. Selah PD was at that moment discussing assault charges against Steadman. 


Selah leaders said nothing to condemn the white man’s behavior. They spoke out only against the Latino’s words.   


Selah, if you want to support Selah’s Police Department, start by getting your city leaders to stop putting your officers in a lose-lose situation. Don’t lose good officers by forcing them to choose between illegal orders and their own conscience.