- Ansel Herz
- The students chanted, "Black lives matter! Black lives matter!"
About thirty students and their supporters marched, drenched in rain, from Garfield High School to the Seattle police department's East Precinct headquarters this afternoon to deliver a simple message: black lives matter, from Ferguson to Seattle.
"Not all cops are bad," said Yonathan Beruk, a Garfield senior. "We understand that." He was speaking through a megaphone while facing a line of stony-faced police officers using their bicycles as barriers. "Compassion and empathy are all we can ask from you," Beruk continued. "We are pleading. We are tired."
The Seattle Police Department, as the students were well aware, is under a Department of Justice consent decree to curb its patterns of excessive force and racial bias in its policing.
- Ansel Herz
East Precinct Captain Pierre Davis, a 29-year veteran of the force, who is black, told me he "applauds the gumption" of the students to organize an un-permitted march on an issue. One of the students shouted through the megaphone that the dozen or so officers surrounding the police station with wooden batons seemed threatening. Captain Davis said the batons were necessary in case the march threatened people or property.
Captain Davis also said his officers, while standing in the rain in the middle of 12th Ave facing the students, were listening closely to what amounted to an outdoor lecture on institutional racism—the students rattling off statistics like this one from a report by the Malcolm X Grassroots Project: a black man is killed by police in America every 28 hours (the government doesn't bother tracking police killings nationally, as the Daily Show pointed out recently).
At the same time, Captain Davis said his officers were also wondering about the protesters: "What are you doing for society?" Which seemed an odd thing to wonder, since they were right there explaining the answer to that question.
I asked Captain Davis what he would do if one of his officers wore an "I Stand With Darren Wilson" wristband. (In August, a Seattle police officer posted a message of solidarity with Wilson on his public Facebook page, along with comments defending the militarization of police.) Captain Davis didn't answer directly, but said it's important to him, once he puts on his uniform, to appear neutral.
"I'd like these guys to be a part of this [dialogue on racism in America]," said Seattle Central freshman Adante Melton, who came out to support the high schoolers. "I want them to see my face and my hair, so they can see I'm not some violent person. Mike Brown looked like these kids... Look how big that damn stick is!"
Garfield's Black Student Union sent a declaration to SPD today that includes a "warning" from Langston Hughes at its conclusion. Here's the full text.
DECLARATION TO SEATTLE POLICE DEPARTMENT
It seems as though many residents of this city struggle to make connections between what's happening in Ferguson and what happens in Seattle, even though members of our own police department commemorate the Ferguson Police for their extrajudicial killing of Michael Brown. For example, Sergeant Christopher Hall of the Seattle Police Department changed his Facebook profile picture to a police badge that says, "Officer Darren Wilson I Stand By You," as well as linked his Facebook friends to the Darren Wilson donation page. Sergeant Hall did this on August 20th at 3:43 PM, one day after the murder of Michael Brown. (Brown, unarmed and with his hands raised in the air, was shot to death by Officer Wilson.)
Some are under the impression that Seattle is some sort of liberal Utopia where police brutality does not exist, despite the fact that the Seattle Police Department was under the investigation of the United States Department of Justice within the last three years for excessive force and concerns of discriminatory policing. The Department of Justice Findings Letter stated
"This perception is rooted in a number of factors, including negative street encounters, recent well-publicized videos of force being used against people of color, incidents of overt discrimination, and concerns that the pattern of excessive force disproportionately affects minorities."
The Seattle Police Department has afforded it's officers a "Perspectives in Profiling" class which aims to prevent racial profiling; however, SPD Officer Steve Pomper writes in the SPD's newspaper The Guardian, "The city, using its Race and Social Justice Initiative, continues its assault on traditional and constitutional American values such as self-reliance, equal justice, and individual liberty." Officer Pomper urges officers to "take the City's use of Social Justice terminology and implementation of policy seriously and oppose it in every legal way possible.". Another Officer Clayton Powell wrote in The Guardian newspaper about referring to citizens he interacts with as bitch, motherfucker, and nigga and says "If I can communicate with someone in their primary language... it makes me a more effective officer... Learn to accept and appreciate the direct method of in-your-face communication." With all of this evidence of misconduct in the Seattle Police Department we as students of color at Garfield High School have decided to make a statement about the state of our city’s police department because we understand that in order to affect nationwide change we must first take a look at our own city.
Garfield High School's Black Student Union, in alliance with fellow BSUs and youth of color in Seattle stand in solidarity with the people of Ferguson and with all victims of racial profiling and police brutality. We're congregating in front of SPD East Precinct to assert our rejection of the police force here and nationwide, because we know "protect and serve" does not apply to us just as "All men are created equal" did not apply to our ancestors, nor we their descendants. Though some may argue "not all cops", when you put on that uniform you are no longer an individual but another force upholding a system of oppression. The same system whose origins of American policing are in Runaway Slave Patrol, the entire establishment is rooted in White supremacy and feeds on anti-blackness.
Today we are here to say that we will no longer compromise with those without a conscience, we will no longer beg & plea for you to recognize our humanity. We will no longer demand reform of the 'broken system' because it is functioning exactly as it’s supposed to. Until the people can revolutionize this corrupt institution altogether, we will take justice into our own hands. We the people will police the police.
In order to achieve our goals of accountability and community autonomy, especially for and among communities of color, we are referring to the goals and action plans outlined by the Berkeley chapter of Copwatch.
Berkeley Copwatch's Goals are:
1) Reduce police violence by directly observing the police on the street, documenting incidents and keeping police accountable. We maintain principles of non-violence while asserting the rights of the detained person. We provide support to victims whenever possible. We also seek to educate the public about their rights, police conduct in the community and issues related to the role of police in our society.
2) Empower and unite the community to resist police abuse. We will do this by sharing information with the community, conducting "Know Your Rights" trainings, sponsoring rallies, supporting victims and other community based efforts to deal with the problem.
4) Most importantly, we encourage people to exercise their right to observe the police and to advocate for one another.
Warning' by Langston Hughes
"Negroes, Sweet and docile, Meek, humble, and kind: Beware the day They change their mind.”