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Quiet evenings in downtown Olympia

Copwatch is a peaceful kind of occupation. Tom and I sit at a table someplace where the street people can find us, and wait for them to come to us with their stories. We hope eventually we’ll have a database of cop stories that we can use to lobby for a citizens review board, so the cops will be accountable to citizens, as they should be. We do this every Thursday from 4 to 5.

It’s usually very quiet

Perhaps someone will come with a story of disrespect: they were hovering near their partner as he got busted for fighting, and a cop shoved them rudely out of the way. Or maybe there will be a more wrenching story, one that sticks with us for days. One of those was the customer with the pink hair and the tutu, who told of going to the local pharmacy to exchange some defective film. The store manager came to supervise this ordinary little exchange, and she demanded ID—obviously not a legal requirement but our customer complied.

The manager looked her over and said the ID was for a woman whereas the person before her was a MAN and she was calling the cops! Then she changed her mind and said Oh get out – just get out – GET OUT! As our customer sat by the roadside, dealing with her hurt and humiliation, the cops did come by, and they wanted her identification too. They decided there was no basis for an arrest and left her there. No chance they would ever reprimand the store manager.

Or someone from a sister organization will come by to catch up. Lisa was with Copwatch in Oakland, California, where they (Lisa) intervened effectively in police action, and they would have liked a chat, but they are hampered by an ankle band for a few more weeks. We talk to Crystal, the mother of Bryson and Andre, and others who ran afoul of the police in the past.

A busy community and its monitor

We had been setting up shop in the Artesian Commons, at least for the warmer 6 months of the year. It used to belong to the street people, the ones whose trust we want to gain. It was a busy place, with skateboards zipping by, music blaring, everyone strutting their stuff, and a person lounging on a sleeping bag shouting his opinions to nobody in particular. There is always a Park Representative (that’s a cop to you) who comes up smiling but really wants to know what you are doing in their park. Tom is our diplomat, he seems really happy to explain and to make common cause with this official. Next week he’ll greet him by name. But once Tom left his cardboard filing box by accident and it disappeared. Tom looked for it for weeks, until that same official walked up and explained he had thrown it out. He knew it was Tom’s and threw it out. “The cops are not your friend.”

Men and women come up from time to time just to find out what we’re doing. Tom explains and gives them a card. It helps when he brings date bars.

No more Artesian Commons

The Commons are less useful now due to a recent development: smoking no longer allowed. The area is magically empty now—deserted. One lone woman patrols with a clipboard. She is a park employee who is supposed to lead games and she has a long list of them: chess, ring toss, Name That Tune . . . but no one plays.

Now we set up shop next to 5th Ave (next to the loo!) where people can at least see us from the street. Recently the Green Queen came over. She’s not homeless, but she also does not work for pay, due to a disability. She spends her time helping her homeless friends. Anyone can find out from her where to go to get clean, where to go to complain about their landlord, or whatever. It’s fun talking to this small person with the mobile face that reflects every passing thought.

A head’s up about titles

The Green Queen clued us in to a fact we really needed to know: Copwatch, the name, does not mean to the average street person what it means to us (we are watching the cops). It means we are WITH THE COPS and we are watching YOU. Oops! We needed a better sign, one with a subtext, and the Green Queen had one for us the next time we saw her.

Little by little we are gaining trust. We don’t have the definitive proof that Olympia needs a citizen review board, not yet, but we are going to stick with it. We are old fogies in relation to the community we want to help, so it takes time to connect. But they are getting to know us and they will know where to go when they have something to tell. We’ll be writing it down.

Janet has lived actively in Olympia for 16 years.


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