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Olympians want their City to address police misconduct

[Note: Hundreds of people contacted their mayor to demand removal of Olympia police officers who thanked a group of armed men organized to “defend” a gun store and cited state laws against allowing gun-wielding individuals to intimidate citizens. Many messages described situations where police intervention made situations worse, listed desired reforms, and called for shifting funds from police to social services.]

Dear Mayor,

In light of the recent protests across the nation in the name of George Floyd and many others who died at the hand of police, I would like to request that the City of Olympia defund the Olympia Police Department.

I am also requesting that the Mayor’s office demilitarize the city’s police. In addition to reducing their access to military weaponry of all kinds, I would like the Mayor to ban the use of less than lethal weapons like flash

balls, rubber bullets, tear gas or choke holds of any kind by the city’s police department on citizens peacefully protesting or otherwise.

We are calling for the immediate firing of Officer Tiffany Coates. This is the appropriate and fair response to her posing for a photo with a known white supremacist militia while the citizens of Olympia, whom she has sworn to protect and serve, are living under threat from these same groups. At best she displayed a lack of sound judgement and at worst, she has unabashedly shown us what she truly believes in, which puts all Black, Brown, Indigenous, and POC residents of Olympia in immediate and imminent danger.

However, we know that this is not an isolated incident. Andre Thompson and Bryson Chaplin and their families are still waiting for justice. The family of Yvonne McDonald is still waiting for justice. We demand Officer Ryan Donald be fired. It is unconscionable that he is still on the streets. We demand that the information requests from the family of Yvonne McDonald be honored and filled and that her death be covered up no longer.

At 17, [my first boyfriend] broke into a nearby home for the sole purpose of stealing alcohol. The noise frightened the [homeowner] and his family, who called the police. My boyfriend was apprehended without a hair on his head harmed. It was the scandal of the summer for us nerdy teens, but he ended up only serving a few weekends in juvie and doing a fair amount of community service. No one wanted his grades or his bright future harmed, and the next year he headed off to a prestigious college, his record expunged. It was, overall, a reasonable response to a kid stealing alcohol.

It’s a story I hadn’t thought about in years, but it’s been on my mind lately. My ex is white. His experience of breaking and entering a house to steal alcohol was wildly different from the experiences of Chaplin and Thompson, whose crime was shoplifting alcohol.Chaplin and Thompson deserved for the justice system to treat them as gently as it did my friend. They did not deserve to be chased by police, shot (along with some nearby apartment buildings, as I understand the officer’s aim was terrible), dragged through a media circus, and then imprisoned for something that a white teenager was barely punished for. How the officers handled that incident is shameful, as is the fact that the involved officers were not fired.

I don’t know if [Officer Coates] and the other officer attending [the group of armed men] should be fired or not… However, it is hard for me to believe that she was that ignorant of what she was doing because that would indicate a gross level of misunderstanding of who these people are. If OPD does not know what the 3% symbolizes your office and the chief of police have more serious issues to deal with than a grossly misinformed uniform cop. If she in fact did know what these folks represent, she and her fellow officer probably do need to go.

I learned last week of an armed militia group, welcomed by our own Olympia PD, congregating in our community in order to “protect” us. The day before, my 14-year-old daughter, passionate about the Black Lives Matter movement, demonstrated peacefully with her friend for three hours on the corner of Harrison and Plymouth. I felt a huge sense of pride and also very safe knowing she was in our Southwest Olympia neighborhood, a place where her passion for equal rights would be met with mostly

honks and positivity.

If my daughter had asked to demonstrate on the day this armed militia group was in our neighborhood, there is absolutely no way I would have allowed her to go. What am I supposed to tell her? Should I tell her that her first amendment right is void and her voice should be silent if someone who disagrees with her is present with an automatic rifle or weapon?

Should I tell her that it doesn’t matter if she asks the police to protect her first amendment right, because the police invited this group to come to our community and instill fear?. Unfortunately, this is how I have to explain it. Mayor Selby, this is a very difficult thing to tell someone so young and full of passion.

Every day I work with people around issues of trauma. I know that crime, addiction, domestic violence and abuse are products of generational, systematic and institutionalized violence. In order for our community to become stronger and healthier we need creative and trauma-informed responses that address some of the real problems: generational poverty, systematic racism and blatant disregard for black, brown and Indigenous lives, a broken health care system, the war on drugs and its legacy, and a lack of investment in services that support and improve community health and wellness.

This is a very important moment. You have an opportunity to make a real difference. I urge you to advocate for a budget that reflects the needs and priorities of our community. I urge you to advocate for a reallocation of funds away from policing and towards social programs and resources that support housing, jobs, education, health care, child care, mental health, and public health.

I also want [you] to address the issue of the legitimately terrifying militia of white men ..with long guns, bullet proof vests and ammo strapped to their chests who have been walking in groups through my neighborhood. I have seen them all over downtown.

We have a problem in Olympia, and we are in serious trouble. Our police department has been hit with two scandals this week: having a smiling officer pose with an anti-government armed militia group (the 3 Percenters) that was requested by a business owner to protect them from Black Lives Matter protestors… then allegedly she and her partner thanked them for showing up to support the police.

It would be easy to claim ignorance or a rookie mistake by the officer, except that earlier this week, a woman of color alleged that as she was trying to leave a protest, she was arrested and during processing, an officer ‘joked’ to another “I could put my knee on her…”

The Olympia Police Department is investigating these incidents, but no one should ever get to investigate themselves without adequate community oversight. Whether or not OPD eventually claims it’s just a misunderstanding, people of color do not feel safe; [they] feel like the enemy. When we take steps to make sure that people in our community are not cast as “the enemy,” everyone is safer.

Olympia likes to think of itself as “exceptional.” But it is not. The OPD is not much different than other police departments. An officer stopped my friend’s mixed-race son with her lights blazing as he was pulling into the parking lot of his apartment. She pulled a gun on him and told him to put his hands up. “What have I done wrong? I don’t want to die!” he said. “One of your headlights was out.” [The boy] never filed a complaint—he didn’t want to call attention to himself —and the incident does not appear in police records. Why would a cop do this? Was she afraid of him because he is mixed race? This kind of out-of-control behavior is common among the OPD. I could cite many, many other examples.

Olympians want misconduct addressed

Policy changes advocated in messages to the city

  1. Ban the use of knee holds, chokeholds and other lethal holds
  2. Adopt a Use of Force Continuum with at least six levels of steps and clear rules on escalation
  3. Provide for denial of recertification credentials when it is determined that an officer’s use of force was unwarranted under federal guidelines
  4. Make officer misconduct information and disciplinary histories available for public scrutiny
  5. Establish a Citizen’s Review Board with authority to review agreements between the police guild and sergeants and the City in order to hold the police department accountable and reestablish trust with the public.
  6. Study and implement budget alternatives for public safety. Hire and deploy social workers, mediators, addiction specialists with salaries and working conditions appropriate to performing roles previously belonging to police

You’re under arrest! Oops, no, I mean “thank you!”

State RCW 38.40.120 forbids unauthorized groups to “associate themselves together as a military company or organize or parade in public with firearms. Any person participating in any such unauthorized organization shall be guilty of a misdemeanor

RCW 9.41.270 outlaws the carrying of any weapon “apparently capable of producing bodily harm, in a manner, under circumstances, and at a time and place that either manifests an intent to intimidate another or that warrants alarm for the safety of other persons. Any person violating the provisions of this subsection above shall be guilty of a gross misdemeanor and if convicted shall lose their license to carry a concealed weapon.

 

One Comment

  1. Melissa August 3, 2020

    Thank you for sharing this letter. I am curious how to join with more people in our community to work toward developing a local NACOLE (National Association of Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement) I understand we have one in Seattle and there chapters across the country. Do you know who Is working on this and how I can join in this effort? Thanks.

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