4/5 of OPARB, looking totally engaged as the meeting begins.
  • The Stranger
  • 4/5 of OPARB, looking totally engaged as the meeting begins.
Last night's public meeting, hosted by Seattle’s Office of Professional Accountability Review Board (OPARB) at Seattle University, was billed as an "open discussion" to ease tensions between the Seattle Police Department and communities of color, led by Dr. Jay Rothman, a blazer-and-mock-turtleneck-wearing "expert" in conflict resolution.

And clearly, its 100-plus attendees had high hopes: Before the meeting, small groups of people traded war stories about the Seattle Police Department, discussed concerns about what happens next with the Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation and what its findings mean for people of color, and expressed frustrations with OPARB, the civilian office in charge of reviewing the quality and efficacy of the police department's Office of Professional Accountability—which in turn reviews and investigates allegations of police misconduct (in other words, the watchdog's watchdog*).

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City council member Bruce Harrell further drummed up people's expectations as the meeting began. "There are no taboo subjects here tonight," Harrell said. "I want you to ask the tough questions. I want to know: Does OPARB have the kind of street cred you’d like them to have? Do they effectively review the OPA or have they gotten off the path of true accountability?"

And the he handed over the microphone to our expert facilitator, Dr. Rothman, and everything promptly went to shit.

*Because Seattle loves its watchdogs smothered in extra process.

Instead of a two-hour "open discussion" on how to overcome the deep-seeded mistrust between minority groups and the Seattle Police Department, Dr. Rothman and his colleagues delivered a seventy minute public lecture on the 2000 Cincinnati race riots and the importance of collaboration, followed up by a condescending video called, A Dynamic Illustration of the Action Evaluation Process.


It was literally the most worthless presentation I have ever sat through in my two years of professionally sitting through worthless presentations. If OPARB wanted to publicly flaunt how out of touch and useless it is, it couldn't have found a better mascot than Dr. Rothman. This was not an audience that needed to be lectured on the importance of collaboration; this was an audience packed with civil rights advocates demanding a microphone—a platform to air their concerns, questions, and grievances—as they'd been promised. Members of OPARB should've been listening to them and taking notes instead of trying to sell us a race riot in Cincinnati.

I started reading my email spam for entertainment. Finally, 50 minutes before the meeting was scheduled to end, Dr. Rothman and his colleagues opened the floor to questions. Here are a few worth repeating:

Pamela Masterman-Stearns, leader of the City of Seattle Native Employees group, CANOES: How can our communities get funding coming directly to us to make [the DOJ] process work?

Eric Rachner, victim of police misconduct: The OPA has failed to hold police accountable for misconduct, and clearly OPARB has failed at its job to hold the OPA accountable. How can this process be taken seriously if the people behind this travesty continue to hold their jobs?

Harriet Walden, Mothers for Police Accountability: OPARB doesn’t have the clout or credibility to take this on, they don’t have the system. If OPARB thinks it does, how do they intend to prove it?

None of these questions were answered by members of OPARB, or even handled very professionally by our professional moderator, who seemed flustered at the animosity in the room. More people rose to speak, including members of Occupy Seattle, who predictably called for Seattle to "take to the streets and manifest our own power and get justice for once," followed by Seattle Police Sergeant Jay Shin, who said, "It’s important to the police department to hear your concerns but hopefully, it’s an exchange. Hopefully, you can hear the good and the bad and the ugly on our end."

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Before I was a lawyer, I was a black kid walking around. I know what this town is like.
  • The Stranger
  • "Before I was a lawyer, I was a black kid walking around. I know what this town is like."
The "discussion" concluded with moving testimony from a black civil rights lawyer whose name I didn't catch named Ernest Saadiq Morris. "Community action is about change, it’s about concrete change," Morris said, "especially when there’s inequity of power. We are looking at a situation where we are being asked to collaborate with people who have all the power. We’re not being asked to collaborate, we’re being asked to comply."

He continued: "What I want to know is, are you building general consensus by ignoring specific conflict? Because that scares me as a member of an oppressed community."

Once again, OPARB had no response. And with that, the meeting was adjourned with many questions left unanswered and many more unasked.

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