- Ansel Herz
- Brian Davis is an administrative professional who moved to Seattle in 2001. Over the course of the last year, he's lost some measure of trust in the Seattle police department's ability to handle cases of racial bias.
Yesterday, I wrote about a complaint filed with the Office of Professional Accountability regarding Seattle police officer Cynthia Whitlatch's alleged racially-charged remarks on Facebook. The man who filed that complaint is Brian Davis, a 41-year-old black, gay man who moved to Seattle from Omaha, Nebraska in 2001. He currently works in administration, but didn't want to say much more about his professional life. He's also a board member for Gay City Health Project.
Today, over coffee at a downtown cafe, Davis explained to me what led up to what he believes was his encounter with Whitlatch on Facebook—and how he attempted to work through SPD's accountability system, and how he believes that system has failed.
Within a month of moving to Seattle, Davis told me, he met a man named Dorian Oreiro. They became "close friends," Davis said. He preferred not to divulge much more about their friendship.
But around 2008, Oreiro became a Seattle police officer, according to Davis. "I couldn't track how he changed" after that point, Davis said. "I just know that he did... I just noticed that he became a lot more conservative." Oreiro's name is listed in this 2011 roster of SPD personnel.
In August of last year, Ferguson, Missouri was engulfed by huge protests over the police killing of Michael Brown, and the militarized police response to those protests. During that month, Davis said he saw Oreiro post this article from The Blaze, an online right-wing blog, to his Facebook page.
"Regardless of the facts, it’s always 'whitey’s' fault, and it’s always about race," the article claimed.
The SPD has not responded to requests to make Whitlatch and Oreiro available. But Davis said he left a comment on the Oreiro post saying, "If you, or the writer of that article, truly believe that 'Blacks' are blaming all of white America for 'all of our problems,' you've missed the point of why so many of us are angry."
- Brian Davis
- Here's a screenshot Brian Davis took of his Facebook comments on a conservative blog post about race and Ferguson, Missouri—and the response by a Facebook user named Cynthia Whitlatch. View the rest of the Cynthia Whitlatch screed here.
"I felt like I had to say something," Davis told me this morning. "It was just saying, 'There's another way of thinking about it and you're missing the point.'"
He continued: "That unleashed this tirade that I got from Cynthia Whitlatch. So I was just taken aback. It's been a long time since I've seen that kind of ugliness pop up... I have conservative friends. We get into debates often... That was really different."
The Facebook comments under the name Cynthia Whitlatch include, "I am tired of black peoples paranoia that white people are out to get them," and an accusation against Davis that he is a "black racist."
I asked Davis whether he'd experienced that degree of racial vitriol in Seattle on any other occasion. He said no.
Davis came to the conclusion that Whitlatch was a police officer when she started challenging him to file public disclosure requests, he said. "It was too inside baseball," Davis told me. He Googled her name, and found a flattering profile of her on the department's website.
At this point in time, Davis had no idea that just two months earlier, in July, Whitlatch had arrested 69-year-old William Wingate (he's now 70), for no apparent reason, while he walked through Capitol Hill with a golf club that he used as a cane. Wingate is a black, elderly military veteran who'd driven a bus for King County Metro for 35 years. Whitlatch accused of him carrying a weapon, yelled at him, then arrested him and booked into jail for the night, with the assistance of several other police officers in the East Precinct.
Wingate insisted he'd done nothing wrong, and in a press conference today, said Whitlatch singled him out solely because of his race. More on that soon, but for now, back to Davis.
In August, Davis sensed that bringing the attitude that Whitlatch allegedly demonstrated on Facebook "into interactions with African-Americans was going to be dangerous. Something was going to happen."
That's why, he said, he went to the trouble of calling police to ask about their social media regulations and then filed a complaint with SPD's Office of Professional Accountability (OPA).
Davis's main request to the OPA? "Get her diversity training," or re-training of some kind.
"Re-training at least tells me they're taking this seriously," Davis explained. "When I heard that she'd just sat down with her supervisor, that didn't scream accountability. And I think it's tragic that it takes a compounding of incidents to have someone look at it deeper."
He added: "This isn't a joke to us, on the streets."
The decision to recommend a discussion with a supervisor, and nothing more, came directly from the top of the OPA. In an interview by phone, OPA Director Pierce Murphy told me: "Her chain of command was directed to talk with her and to remind her of the importance of using discretion when representing herself. I made the determination... Despite the content of what was written, which I obviously don't support, officers do have the ability to express their opinions on their own time, as long as they don't directly implicate the department."
Where does that leave Davis—who said he has cousins and uncles who are police officers—in terms of how he views Seattle police?
"I'm trying really hard to not let it change how I see the police department," he told me. "I'm trying."
Then he let out a hearty laugh.
"I'm not this raving anti-police person," Davis continued. "I'm not looking at everyone through a specific lens. It has changed the way that I would interact with Seattle police. If I were ever in trouble and I wanted to get help, I would seriously think about how to get help in other ways before calling the police—especially if it involves people of color."