On Sunday, according to witnesses, two young men stood at Pike Place Market and challenged people to give them hugs by blindfolding themselves and holding a sign that read: "I'm a Muslim. People Label Me A Terrorist. If You trust Me, Give Me a Hug." One witness alleged that the men were "harassed" and "threatened" by a Seattle police officer. Now, a second witness has come forward making the same claim—and with video to back the claim up. It shows Officer Thomas Christenson calling one of the men "a racist" and wagging his finger in their faces. Tilt your head sideways—sorry, we don't know how to rotate this video—and watch:
@spekulation @Ripynt outta nowhere dude is like "cause I'm Asian"... Lol. pic.twitter.com/9VGScLgCwA
— Nathan Summers (@chevthechev) February 23, 2015
"You're not going to let him talk for himself, huh?" says Christenson, inches away from the two men. "You're not going to let him talk to me because you're a racist because I'm an Asian guy."
Then he waves his finger in their faces, and I can't make out what more is being said. One woman exclaims from off-camera, "Oh c'mon, don't even play that race card! Are you serious?" Another points out that the two men are on the sidewalk, which is public property.
The witness who posted the video, identified as Nathan Summers on Twitter, also said, "he was harassing these muslim dudes. then he accused them of racism." (I've attempted to contact Summers for more information but haven't heard back.)
Christenson was previously seen on Slog last August, helping the downtown mall security guard who pepper-sprayed Raymond Wilford. On that day, Christenson barked at witnesses to back off as they tried to wash out Wilford's eyes.
You may also recall—or, at least, I recall because it was so weird—that when Brian Davis expressed alarm last August about a policeman's post on Facebook about Ferguson, Officer Cynthia Whitlatch accused Davis, a black man, of being a "black racist."
Is this a trend? Or, worse, an enduring mindset among Seattle police officers?
Stating the obvious, here, but: It's completely bizarre for Seattle police officers to accuse people of color—who themselves are objecting to prejudicial attitudes—of being "racist." What alternate universe do they live in?
In the real world, Seattle cops are the ones who need make sure they aren't discriminating. The Department of Justice, when it entered the department into a consent decree to force reforms, "raised serious concerns that some police practices—particularly those related to pedestrian encounters with police—could result in discriminatory or biased policing."
I asked the SPD how it intends to deal with the allegations that an officer harassed these two men whose entire purpose, according to witnesses, was to challenge stereotypes. There’s no evidence, at this point, that either of them said or did anything racist.
"Based on this information that you're presenting," said spokesperson Sean Whitcomb, "you've expressed a concern, as apparently have others, and because of that, OPA [Office of Professional Accountability] will need to take a look."
Speaking to me on Tuesday afternoon, Whitcomb explained why the referral to OPA wasn't made sooner. "Yesterday, there was limited information," Whitcomb said. "Today there's the video, plus there's an assertion that two witnesses say Christenson was harassing them."
Whitcomb copied me on an e-mail relaying the allegations to OPA Director Pierce Murphy.