I remember the way his nose flared. Eyes red from anger and tears. He looked deep into his camera phone as he recorded a Facebook Live video demanding answers for the death of his brother. An inquest hearing by an all white jury determined that Che Taylor, a black unarmed* male, died by the fatal shots of two white Seattle Police officers.
I remember my anger the way it yielded to fear, then to sadness, and found its path onto disbelief. As a black attorney and leader of the NAACP, I still found myself tearfully reinforcing the same warnings to my children that have been passed within my family through generations: “Sons, if you are stopped by the police, and you WILL be stopped, do not reach for your phone. If the cop loses his temper, stay calm and do not elevate your voice. If he hits you do not fight back. I need you to stay alive. I need you to come home.”
I’m tired of having to give the Black Codes to Survival. Tired of wiping away tears of mothers burying their children from police violence. Tired of being…. well, tired.
We need real police reform.
The latest report from the Monitor of the Seattle Consent Decree confirms the need for continued police reform. Since the initial 2011 DOJ investigation, there has been a 60 percent reduction in the number of moderate to high level uses of force. However, racial disparity in how force is applied still exists. For instance, whites are met directly, hands-on, with the officer while blacks are more frequently met with guns drawn.
Some city leaders are quick to celebrate the overall reduction of the use of force, but turn a blind eye towards mothers like me who remain in fear of the treatment our Black children receive by the Seattle Police Department. Until race is no longer indicative of how an officer responds to the person standing before them, we must continue to demand change.
I strongly rebuke the veracity of a recent survey proclaiming blacks have a 62 percent approval rating of the Seattle Police Department. As a leader of the local NAACP, our office receives too many complaints from blacks feeling targeted while participating in protests; too many calls from Black families looking for accountability for the circumstances surrounding the death of their loved ones; and too many hashtags demanding the basic acknowledgment that Black Lives Matter.
When community trust in the police department is broken, city leadership must take reformative action by all means necessary.
But who makes the call of success? When determining whether the city’s reform measures are working, we should look to the Community Police Commission (CPC). The mission of the CPC is to give community members a voice and stake in police reform efforts. Specifically, its charge is to represent a broad range of community perspectives and to reach out and engage communities directly, to get critical feedback, and to then recommend changes to SPD policies and practices.
On May 22 at 2 pm, the city council will determine exactly how much power it gives to the CPC to carry out its mission. Here’s a great opportunity to restore public trust.
In addition to specifying a detailed plan of how much money the CPC will receive to carry out its functions, the upcoming city council hearing will also determine the role the Commission could play in the actual investigation. The CPC could potentially instruct the Inspector General to re-open a complaint made against an officer if the CPC determines the investigation was flawed or incomplete.
Moreover, the CPC has an opportunity to go beyond merely making recommendations of improvement. Next week, the CPC will ask the city council to grant it authority to allow the community to evaluate the overall performance of both the OIG and the OPA director, essentially allowing the community itself to be the ones to determine whether police accountability is truly working.
Now that’s real reform.
The city council has an opportunity to restore public trust by increasing the role we, the community, play in police oversight. I want to see more than just recommendations by the Community Police Commission, we need real time power to make sure investigations are fair, thorough, and complete. I want to see more than lip service of accountability, we need a commitment that next year’s budget will allocate funding that allows CPC staff to perform the work. Finally, we need the community to be able to assess whether the demands we have cried for are really working to stop police misconduct.
I will be able to sleep better at night once I know that officers are not going to harm us based off our race. I can trust the reports of the Consent Decree only when the community itself is telling me that the system is working. I’ll be there on Monday, and I hope you’ll be there too.
Sheley Secrest served four years on Seattle's Office of Professional Accountability Review Board. She is now a vice president of the Seattle-King County NAACP and a candidate for Seattle City Council Position 8.
*Editor's note, 2:33 p.m.: Secrest, a member of the Taylor family's legal team, claims the inquest jury ruled that Taylor was unarmed during the shooting, citing that they unanimously answered "no" when asked (questions 46 and 47) whether police found a gun on his person after the shooting. The jury, however, did not definitely answer whether Taylor had a gun in his hand or holster when he was shot, but did rule that crime scene investigators found a gun in the car he had just exited before the shooting.