University of Washington student
President of the UW Black Students Union
Why are you marching today?
First of all, I think there's extreme economic inequality, there's extreme rent hikes. People don't have enough jobs. I feel it as a student, not being able to always pay on time. Secondly, I think there's an overall climtate of disguised liberalism. Seattle has this reputation of being a very liberal city, and me, as a black person in Seattle, I don't always feel that's very real. People don't feel entirely safe all the time, which is unacceptable.
How does that manifest itself?
Particularly at the University of Washington campus, there's an overall feeling of... disrespect. I don't know how to put words to it, but it doesn't feel like the progress that people like to describe.
The police chief was invited to the State of the Union address. The Obama administration, the mayor, and the police chief now are all talking about Seattle as a model for police reform across the country. What do you think?
Seattle has this reputation across the country. I'm not going to knock them for the reforms that they have made and they're doing, but I think the whole entire structure of the police system nationwide has to change. There's issues with the training of the officers, the way they engage with civilians... there just needs to be an overall culture shift as an institution.
Is there any one thing that you'd like to see SPD do better?
I would love to see SPD out in the community more and engaging with the civilian population and being more of a presence in terms of supporting the community rather than just policing that community.
Anything else you want to add?
Black lives matter!
Retired construction worker
Do you live in the Seattle area?
Yeah, I lived in the Seattle area all my life. Now I live in Tukwila.
Were you gentrified out of this area? What caused you to move?
Yeah, I think so. My rent got too high so I moved out to Tukwila. Which is, you know, I kind of hate moving out of this area but I still have family in this area. It is what it is, I guess. [Laughs]
When did you first notice the rent start going up to the point where it became unaffordable for you?
Well, let's put it like this. I moved into an apartment. My rent in the beginning was $1,200. By the time I was ready to renew my lease after two years, they told me my rent was going to be $1,475 for a one-bedroom. I found a two-bedroom in Tukwila for $990. Two bedrooms, two baths. That's kind of crazy, isn't it? So that shows you what they're trying to do. [Laughs]
Where did you live?
Right there on 23rd and Jackson. In the new building right there on the corner.
Where'd you grow up?
Mount Baker area. My sister and family still live there. They own a house there, right by Franklin High School. I went to Franklin.
So, do you miss living here?
I do miss living in the neighborhood, because it was close to everybody. But I'm not that far out. I wouldn't go to Kent or anything like that. A lot of people are moving out to Kent, but that's a little too far for me.
Why are you out here marching today?
I'm out here marching because, I want to say, a little bit of... anguish. Unrest. Stuff like that. Everybody thinks everything has changed, but it's still the same.
In other words, there's still a lot of work to be done to realize Dr. King's vision?
It's still... what we want America to be. I'm talking about lives and equality for everybody. A lot of young people forget that a long time ago, you couldn't do things you can do now. I talked to a guy who once went into a McDonald's, and the lady told him you gotta get out here and go through the back door. I was like, McDonald's, are you serious? Down South, you can't go in the front door. I mean, shit like that kinda sets you back, because I was raised here, and I knew when McDonald's opened you'd go in the front door.
Do you think Seattle still has a lot of work to do to get rid of racism?
Of course I do, because there's a lot undercover racism in Seattle. There's a lot of racism you don't really see up front in your face, but it's there. I know it's there because I've been on job sites. Even when I was on certain jobs, they wouldn't let me do certain things. Easy stuff to do—running the equipment, it's not hard, it's like driving a car. It's got a brake and a steering wheel, what's hard about that? But, you know, no you can't do that. Or I'm only going to let him drive that piece of equipment over there, where there's no skillset involved.
I've been covering the federally supervised police reform process. Are you familiar with that?
Yeah, a little bit.
What do you make of the feds coming into Seattle and the whole reform process? Right now, they're saying Seattle is a model for reforming police departments across the country.
I don't know if you want to say that about Seattle, because Seattle doesn't have the same problems of other cities. I remember the first time I was accused of being a gang member. I know nothing about a gang. I was raised here, we didn't have gangs when I was younger. The officer said, "Yeah, you're one of those Blood gang members!" I looked at him and said, "I don't know what you're talking about." That was a Seattle policeman. But at that time, in the '80s, they were thinking that everyone was migrating up from California to be a gang member. You can't just judge people like that. It's a lot better than what it was, I can say that, because I haven't been pulled over lately and just, you know, asked something totally ridiculous.
Mom, full-time student
Why are you marching today?
We're marching down to the federal building just in observance of this day.
Do you think Seattle has more work to do to get rid of racism and achieve the dream that Dr. King talked about?
In what ways?
Just by people getting involved in the community, staying active. Education, everything. Just being aware of what's around them.
I talked to a gentleman earlier who moved to Tukwila because of the rent going up. Is that something that concerns you?
A lot of the people are pushed out of the areas because of their income not being able to pay the rent or even the mortgage, if they want to buy a home. I have a son that goes to Garfield and another son that goes to Madrona. I love the schools they go to, so I would love to stay in the neighborhood.
What do you think of the Seattle Police Department right now? People are saying that Seattle is a model for how police can reform all across the country.
They really do care. Not all, but there's some who do support the community. Yes. Very much so. We see them pretty much daily. So that's good to know. For my children, at least. Like, Officer Cookie is active in the community.
For those who aren't familiar, can you talk about who Officer Cookie is and why she's a good example?
She's a mentor, too, even though she's an officer of the law. She mentors a lot of the kids in the community, like at the Rainier Vista Boys and Girls Club, where my kids grew up. Two of them are adults now, but she just stayed around. And that's what our children today need to see. They need to stay around and not just pop up when there's trouble, be active in the community.
Anything else you want to add?
This is my first time doing this walk. I enjoy it and my kids as well. They're here as well. We're part of Tabernacle Church. It's not just black lives, it's everybody's lives matter in the community.
Staff member at El Centro de la Raza
Community Police Commissioner
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Enrique Gonzalez and I work at El Centro de la Raza. I'm also a member of the Community Police Commission. Part of the reason why I'm here is not only to honor the memory and work of Dr. Martin Luther King. We at El Centro de la Raza are all here. Instead of taking the day off to go shopping or to do whatever we'd normally do on a weekend, we're all here in our capacity as members of our organization—marching, organizing, we had a workshop at Garfield this morning. For us, it's not just a matter of making it a memorable day, but rather building a movement that doesn't just happen one day out of the year. For us, there are too many things to do and fix and work out that can't happen just in one day. This is an ongoing struggle that has to happen every day of the week. So we use this day to really build momentum, to ask, how do we stand for something every day of our lives?
What does MLK represent for you, when you think about what he did during his life?
To be quite frank, I think Dr. King's message has been hijacked. What I mean is that the message he left us is not just about dreaming. That's so often the misconception that people have. The real message that Dr. King spoke out about was against poverty, against racism, and was very blunt about it. Especially at the end of his life, he spoke a lot about how poverty and racism and wretchedness weren't things we would sit back and dream about ending, but rather things we had to organize against. We're here to remember not just the dreaming part, but rather the hard work, the uncomfortable work, and to understand that we're not doing that work by ourselves.
What kind of work do you think Seattle has to do in that vein?
Seattle has a tremendous responsibility. Police accountability, police reform, there's too many black lives being lost and incarcerated. There's too many people being deported by ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement]. We're standing in front of the federal building, and we have people who are currently being deported as they're trying to go to work on a daily basis. All of this stuff isn't happening in another country. It happens here in Seattle. When we think about honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, those kinds of injustices cannot happen here in the county named after the person who stood against those things.
Police chief Kathleen O'Toole was at the State of the Union address. She was invited. SPD is now describing itself as the model for police reform across the country. What are your feelings about that?
If the Seattle Police Department is the model for the kind of police department that we need to see in this country, then we're all in trouble. I say that with as much compassion but honesty as I can. I think there are good people in the department. I think there are very good police officers in Seattle. But I don't think that the structure works. I don't think we are where we need to be, because there are still people being killed, still people being harassed, and there are still systems in place that don't work.
So, we had a really great meeting last week with the federal judge about how we can do some things, which was promising and positive. But if we take our foot off the gas when it comes to pushing for reforms, then we won't see those reforms. Instead, we'll see tokenized people being taken to the State of the Union and saying that we've made it, when in fact we've just started. I don't think we're there yet. I think we have a lot of work to do. Seattle will be a model when we see some things changed and lives changed.
What's your name and why are you out here today?
I'm Jerry Savage, and I'm marching today because I'm very concerned about racism in our country. And I'm especially concerned about what's occurring with the black community with the police.
I've been studying this accountability issue for a while, since I got injured, and the more I dig into this issue, the more problems I uncover. These problems are certainly systemic. So I want to come out here and have my voice be heard.
Can you describe what happened to you?
Well, I attended the May Day march where I was hit by a blast ball grenade. I wasn't doing anything wrong, nobody accused me of doing anything. I was standing on the sidewalk when this happened. And I was injured. It was a very scary situation. So I complained to the Office of Professional Accountability. And OPA took seven months to conduct an investigation and failed to even interview the person who threw the blast ball at me. So it's been this struggle to try to get them to be thorough and objective in their investigation. And again, that's SPD as well as OPA. The struggle with accountability, to make sure bad officers are disciplined... it's really difficult to get them to do that.
Chief O'Toole was at the State of the Union address last week, and SPD is being talked about as a model for police reform. What do you make of that?
My belief is that some advances have been made. So for instance, we have the CPC and there's been some refinement of policy. But the big issue is you have all these new rules and procedures and so forth, but it's really difficult to get OPA specifically to hold cops accountable. So it looks like everything is hunky-dory here on the new policy, the people that we have in place, but we continue to experience these problems. And some preliminary analysis I've conducted suggests the proportion of complaints that are filed by citizens with OPA that are sustained still remains very, very low. Particularly with excessive force cases and allegations of bias. It suggests to me again that the problem is still there, we just haven't solved it. They may say it's ideal, but we're a long ways out.
I notice you have your camera on and are recording. Why is that?
Because I've seen violence from the police out here. And I want to be prepared to film it if I see it. I know it can happen. It's happened at past marches and happened to me. So a few of us are out here with multiple cameras.
These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.