After two hours of public testimony on the confirmation of Police Chief John Diaz, the line separating his supporters from his critics was clear: supporters have had the benefit of working closely with the chief over the years, the critics have not. (Another striking clarity: Of the forty plus people who testified at the hearing, supporters of Chief Diaz were overwhelmingly white and Latino; critics were mostly black.)
Many critics cited the punching incident—and Diaz's lack of public comment or apology to black communities afterward—as the focus of their outrage. "The reason we're here is we want justice," apologies, and answers, testified Milford Muhammad. "The community continues to grow in their outrage. We are not satisfied with your response."
But Diaz had just as many supporters willing to comment on his integrity and professionalism. "Chief Diaz is supportive of alternative communities of which I’m a member," said Suzanne Adams, who's worked with Diaz for 10 years. Adams chairs the LGBT advisory committee for SPD. Last week, the committee voted unanimously to support Diaz's confirmation. "He's overseen the growth and development of very fine officers— [among them] Nick Metz, Jim Pugel, and also Dick Reid. We find these people to be very accountable and follow the same high standards that Chief Diaz commands," said Adams.
"I've had the opportunity to work with officers and the command staff at west precinct, and I've found them to be professional and polite" under Diaz's leadership, said Belltown resident Gina Alexander, who works with the Belltown Community Council and Belltown Citizens on Patrol.
"I challenge everybody here—work with your community councils," testified Audrey Jernigan, a police chaplain and another Diaz supporter. "Bring your suggestions, complaints to your councils. Work with them. Get things done. I challenge you. We can make changes."
Meanwhile, critics testified that change isn't SPD's strength—it never has been—and now the only change they want to see is a change in command. They sited years of police misconduct and shootings the African American community has had to process alone—among them, the 2000 police shooting of David John Walker, a mentally ill man shoplifting suspect, and the 1988 shooting of Erdman Bascomb, a man killed with a remote control in his hand.
"Every time a black man is killed, they say 'we need more training,'" said Charles Oliver, regional president for Blacks in Government. "I’m sick and tired of hearing that we need training in order to do the right thing."
Clearly, old wounds haven't healed, new wounds are being rubbed raw, and as police accountability activist Anwar Peace testified, "Chief Diaz is a band aid to these wounds. The city deserves some stitches." If confirmed by city council, Chief Diaz has work to do. But Paul Bascomb, chairman of the African American Community Advisory Council, cautiously thinks he's up to the job.
"Our issues didn’t happen overnight, they're not going to be resolved over night," said Bascomb. "I believe he’ll try to do the right things that are necessary to heal not only the community but the city. I think we need to give him the opportunity… we need to allow ourselves the opportunity to listen as well as we want to be heard."
The city council is slated to vote on Diaz's confirmation on August 9.