Federal judge rules that Seattle has to stay ugly

A graffiti depicts an image of the eyes of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012. Chavez is recovering in Cuba from a surgery, his fourth operation related to his pelvic cancer since June 2011. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos) Ariana Cubillos

Federal judge rules that Seattle has to stay ugly

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Federal District Judge Marsha Pechman issued a ruling last week that will make Seattle, Washington, even more lawless than it already is.

The Clinton appointee has temporarily barred the city from enforcing a ban on graffiti to protect both public and private property. The decision is a victory for plaintiffs who allege that police violated their constitutional rights by arresting them for writing “BLM” and profanities directed at the police department. The city ordinance in question is “impermissibly vague and substantially overbroad,” Pechman wrote, because it might also target “innocuous drawings,” creating “a real and substantial threat of censorship.”


In the George Floyd era of anti-police sentiment, her ruling is only the latest way in which leaders have fought to weaken and undermine the Seattle Police Department. At every stage, leaders have treated law enforcement as something from which the city must be set free.

When Black Lives Matter rioters overran the city in 2020, police officers couldn’t use tear gas to disperse the crowds after a judge sided with activists. In a spectacle that made national headlines, the mob eventually overtook an entire segment of the city and declared it a cop-free “autonomous zone.” Officials withdrew law enforcement and allowed arson and looting that resulted in widespread property damage, for which the city has had to pay millions of dollars in legal settlements with business owners. There were at least six shootings in the anarchy, two of them fatal.

The overall homicide rate in Seattle increased by 74% in 2020. Rather than promising a newfound commitment to stopping crime, the city council has cut the police department’s annual budget three times while increasing funds for alternative “public safety solutions.”

Seattle has created an environment where police endure bad press and accusations of discrimination for just about everything, including stopping black drivers more often than white drivers and other actions presumed to be racist. Investigative journalist T.A. Frank found that this hostility made officers afraid to do various essential tasks. “Patrol officers no longer drove or walked about looking for suspicious behaviour like someone climbing a fence but stayed put and responded after the fact,” he observed last year.

On the occasion that police arrest violent criminals, a network of activists might swoop in to pay for their swift release from our supposedly oppressive prison system, allowing them to brutalize other innocent people. Persistent staffing shortages have even forced the police to ignore reports of sexual assault.

In its attempt to liberate itself from any sense of order, Seattle has made itself an ugly place in every sense. Now, as violent crime is at a 15-year high and residents have already learned to live with drug needles lying around, a judge has added to the insanity by inventing a constitutional right to vandalism. You can’t expect your government to perform a function as basic as stopping people from drawing or spray-painting gibberish on your buildings, she says. It’s their “free expression,” supposedly.


Building a prosperous and safe society requires citizens to have a sense of obligation and respect for the community. Liberalism is an attempt to set everyone free from constraint in pursuit of unhampered individualism. The Emerald City is a model of what happens when the latter becomes the dominant culture. By this misbegotten standard, any measure that would make the place more livable violates someone’s “right” to something.

Hudson Crozier is a summer 2023 Washington Examiner fellow.

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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