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One year later—the struggle for justice continues

May 21, 2016

Drop the Charges

There was a march and rally of 150 to 200 people in the rain, May 21, 2016  from Woodruff Park to Olympia  City Hall and back. We took the streets. This is the text of my talk in front of City Hall.

Today is a sad anniversary because of what happened a year ago! Let us turn it into a positive and meaningful day. I want to thank the organizers and all of you who are here.

A year ago, two young Black men, Andre Thompson and Bryon Chaplin, were shot by White police officer, Ryan Donald. They had attempted to shop lift beer from Safeway and after dropping the beer inside the store were returning home.  Officer Donald stopped them and claimed he felt threatened by their skateboards. He shot them many times in the spine and torso. Bryson Chaplin is now in a wheel chair. In a very overt display of racism among the police chief, other law enforcements agencies who investigated the shooting, the City Council and City manager, and County Prosecutor Tunheim, charged Bryon Chaplin and Andre Thompson with felony assault, and totally cleared Police Officer Ryan Donald. Donald remains a danger as a police officer to the community, especially to young Black people.

I know the brothers—Andre Thompson and Bryson Chaplin—their sister, Jasmine, and mother Chrystal; they are real assets to Olympia.  Andre and Bryson are unlike what many unacquainted people think of them. Many, who have no knowledge of them, have called them thugs—a racist term. They are decent young men.

We in Olympia need to put forward a different narrative and do our own investigation about what happened a year ago because otherwise too many people will accept the police narrative designed to cover up the actions of Ryan Donald.  Many lawyers advise not to discuss the evidence.  I disagree. Giving a true version of what happened, putting holes in the police propaganda, will build support for Bryson and Andre and can create a climate that will increase the chance the jury will acquit them or that the charges will be dropped.

I have lived in Olympia almost 30 years and raised my daughter and three sons here. Several people I know had thought a police shooting of innocent young black people could not happen in Olympia; shootings of this type happen elsewhere, not in our “liberal progressive” city. Sadly Olympia, its mayor, the city council, and much of the population are not progressive when it comes to challenging racism and being inclusive around race, class and sexual identity. They are not progressive when it comes to treating the homeless population with respect and making housing affordable for all, nor progressive enough to support  a $15 an hour minimum wage and paid sick leave. They are not progressive about taxing upper income people to pay for the first year or two of college, nor progressive when it comes to ending our port’s complicity with the military and the war machine.

Let us connect these issues and build a bold and inclusive mass movement that makes racial justice a core principle. Let us challenge poverty in Olympia and beyond and make connections among all these interrelated issues which includes climate justice and the determination not to accept meaningless proclamations of concern. Let us add to our numbers in our organizations and in the streets and win these changes, but not stop there.

This is not the first time in Olympia that young people have been unjustly harmed by the police.  This is not an isolated case. Danny Spencer was killed by the Olympia police in 1989 for being high on LSD; Stephen Edwards was tasered to death for shoplifting in 2002; Jose Ramirez-Jimenez was shot and killed by the police in 2008.

In the cities where police shootings or killings have taken place, e.g., Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Akil Gurley in Brooklyn, John Williams in Seattle, Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Antonio Zambrano-Montes   in   Pasco, Washington, Daniel  Covarrubias in Lakewood, Washington, and Bryon Chaplin and Andre Thompson in Olympia,  the claim is always police actions were justifiable or it was an accident.  In each of these cases, the official story is that other places  may be experiencing racism or excess police force, but not in our town, not in this specific case; law enforcement  and our city are innocent, blameless and not racist.   Too many accept this scenario—including in Olympia. Let us see through this rationale for Olympia and not let Olympia exceptionalism continue.

A year ago today, May 21, 2015,  in response to the shooting of Andre Thompson and Bryon Chaplin, 800 people rallied and marched from Woodruff Park to Olympia City Hall standing against police violence and racism. This was important and inspiring, but we need to struggle continually—not just once a year—against racism and all forms of oppression in Olympia and beyond. Let us demand the charges be dropped against Bryson and Andre, that their medical expenses be paid for by the City of Olympia, that Officer Ryan Donald be fired, that the police be demilitarized, and an independent civilian review board be created that can discipline cops who violate the law.

While it is important that we talk to people about this case and attend demonstrations and rallies, this is not enough.

We are living in a period of growing economic inequality, an accelerating environmental crisis, and a continuing practice of our government waging wars around the world. Our government and its police, along with the corporations, are waging a war at home against the working class and poor peoples, especially, but not limited to, African-Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and Muslims.  Hillary Clinton is part of the problem—a representative of the one percent. The Republican Party candidate, Donald Trump, encourages white supremacists and fascists in creating a climate that helps build their organizations, many of them support him. Trump hopefully, because of his extreme racism, will cause a rise of a militant and bold anti-racist and anti-fascist movement. Let us be a part of this upsurge.

I urge everyone to think big and to do something every day—as individuals and in the groups we form and build, in our communities, workplaces and schools—to go beyond business as usual and beyond normal daily activities. This means listening to and talking to people we haven’t talked to before; it means a willingness to take risks and risking arrest because militancy can challenge those in power. Let us make the connections between poverty, racism, Islamophobia, militarism, sexism, homophobia, climate change and meaningless jobs and alienation to the underlying oppressive and destructive global capitalist system that is destroying the planet in order to benefit the 1%. Let us create a society based on production for need, a participatory socialist society, where sustainability is real—a non-class liberated society where poverty, racism and all forms of oppression are ended.

Drop the charges against Bryson Chaplin and Andre Thompson.

Si, se puede, power to the people.

Black Lives Matter!

Pete Bohmer teaches political economy at Evergreen and is active in organizing for economic justice and against U.S. imperialism. He is currently  coordinating and participating in Economics for Everyone workshops in downtown Olympia.

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