Thursday, May 21, 2015

Olympia Community Comes Together After Police Shooting of Two Men

Above: Olympia Police Chief Ronnie Roberts gives an overview of the day's events regarding the shooting of two African American men at a forum tonight at Temple Beth Hatfiloh in downtown Olympia.

By Janine Unsoeld
Hundreds attended a public forum held tonight at Temple Beth Hatfiloh in downtown Olympia in response to the police shooting incident of two young African American men on Olympia’s westside early Thursday morning.
The forum provided an opportunity for community members to share their feelings about the incident and engage in dialogue. About 15 clergy members from various faith communities and City of Olympia officials, including Chief of Police Ronnie Roberts, Mayor Stephen Buxbaum and other councilmembers, and city staff were in attendance.
Over 30 speakers spoke for an hour and a half, voicing feelings of sorrow, fear, hurt, disappointment, anger and many other emotions. Reiko Callner, a local attorney, human rights activist, and member of the City of Olympia’s Civil Service Commission, facilitated the open mic session. Speakers had at least three minutes each to speak.
Rabbi Seth Goldstein welcomed everyone, saying that the purpose for the evening was to come together to hear diverse points of view in unity…with intention…open hearts, open hands, and prayers for peace, justice and healing.”
Speakers were eloquent, passionate, and spoke from the heart. Many called for an independent citizen advisory review board, police dashboard and body cameras, better training of police officers, and transparency and openness in the investigation process.
Below are some people’s thoughts:
“Police don’t get a chance to apologize because it would bring lawsuits like fleas on a dog…I wish we could include that without tearing them down…They’re just human….” said a man.
“I do support law enforcement…hindsight is 20/20, we all don’t know what happened last night…I believe we all need to stand together as a community…it’s sad when lives are lost and people are hurt….God be with us….” said a woman.
A man who heard the incident said, “This shooting incident happened about 100 yards from my house. I was awakened by the first three shots and…the shooting was all over in about 10 seconds. There were three quick, evenly spaced shots, then an interval of perhaps five to 10 seconds, and then four more shots again, evenly spaced. And, in between, I could hear shouting. I couldn’t hear voices or what was being said but there was audible shouting between the shots and after the shots. I certainly don’t know anything about the officer’s state of mind or to what degree he was threatened or felt threatened but I do feel that…there wouldn’t have been any time before that…it was swift and it was over. And, well, what that means to the investigation or anything, I don’t know. That is what happened, that is what I heard.” [Editor's Note, 5-22-2015: This reporter was in the back of the room. The man was questioning the police version of events. The ellipsis means the speaker went on to say more important information that I have not included here. This man's quote as included here is not to be used as fact in a court of law or to be used as evidence.]
A man said, “It was wrong to have those boys get shot, in my opinion…because they stole some beer….There’s a pattern going on in this country where the cops do these kinds of things and they walk away from it…and that bothers me a lot…The racial question cannot be avoided….It’s so clear…I don’t understand…I look at you (Ronnie Roberts) as the chief, what’s going on? People are getting shot, particularly black people and Hispanic people….This cannot be handed over to the police to investigate….”
Another man said, “My primary concern is that the process work for as many people as possible. The ideal process should find out the truth, a sense of fairness for all…and an outcome of compassion, justice, accountability…and a plan for moving forward….I want an investigative body besides Thurston County…I don’t know what that would look like…I am struggling with the issue of process going forward….”
A social worker said he is highly concerned that officers are not being held accountable when in his profession, he is held highly accountable to state standards.
One man admitted that he had shoplifted when he was young.
“…I was never in fear that I was going to be shot…I have one daughter who is perceived to be white, and one who is perceived to be black. I suspect that if they were caught shoplifting, they would be treated differently…I don’t trust the police after what I’ve seen in the last six months….” He lamented that he has not heard our local police say a word about the incidents that have occurred nationwide. '“Where are the police?'” he asked.
One woman said that she has felt sad all day, hearing helicopters over the westside neighborhoods all day.
“I watched the press conference and heard the tone of defensiveness (from the police) that maybe this officer was acting appropriately….That scares me that I live in a community that somebody can throw a can of beer and no one is saying, '“Wow, we made a mistake…a mistake was made…”' She expressed that there are too many police with military training.
“Military training is very different from community policing….What are we going to do to make sure this never happens again?” She said she was grateful that this gathering was happening and that, as a grandmother, she knows her blue eyed, Caucasian grandson is privileged, and her heart grieves for African American mothers who fear for the lives of their children.
One woman asked why a Taser couldn’t have been used instead, and expressed her support for the young men’s mother.
Another woman said, “Everyone is human, and racism is foundational to the creation of our country and continuation of systems of power….As a white person…I look at my own racism…It’s hard to sit through this stuff…As white folks we don’t know our own privilege, and we need to call it out, what’s happening.…(if we don’t) it’s the worst kind of racism….”
Another woman said, “I don’t trust the Sheriff’s Department to lead the investigation…listen to the audio recording….The militarization of police forces across the United States is a disease, and now we have this disease in Olympia….”
A man said, “….I have more questions than answers…a shift has occurred in me. I feel like I’m afraid of the police, and I’m not homeless, I’m not mentally ill, and I’m white. Why am I afraid? I don’t know. There is a disconnect and I don’t know how to fix it….”
One woman asked, “Why pursue in the first place? That started the whole sequence of events…What’s the outcome of this?”
A clergy member asked, “How will we heal? This is a good first step…Healing needs to be an intentional thing amongst the media and our community….”
Another clergy member asked, “….I wonder about a community that has trained its police and empowered people in the community to confront two people under suspicion by themselves without backup….”
A woman said she could pick out someone that she loves seated in every row. “We deserve better than this and we are better than this….”
A man who lives in the Goldcrest neighborhood said he was detoured this morning from his usual route to work and just got off work to attend the forum. “….This is hard to imagine in Olympia that unarmed people could be shot by police…I hope we’ll give benefit of the doubt as to motives until we know differently….I hope we’ll look at every way to learn from this….”
“I’m horrified this happened in Olympia…and it did….I have no faith that Thurston County officers are going to say it wasn’t a justified use of force…I want from the city council a clear and specific recognition that implicit racism is at play here…explain it, describe it, and hold people accountable for it…we are now a community that an officer shot two unarmed black boys….” said a woman.
A woman who identified herself as a member of the Christian community at The Evergreen State College said she is frustrated about the call to not rush to judge the police’s actions.
“What’s so frustrating is that these two black boys were not given the opportunity… to defend themselves….Black men are demonized…. I remember reading about...Officer Darren Wilson saying that Michael Brown was like a demon coming after him, and that’s how black lives are viewed…so I think it’s about more than body cams, although that’s a good start…I think it’s about how people with privilege and power choose to view…marginalized communities….What happened this morning is not an isolated incident….We need to model something different….”
A registered nurse with 20 years’ experience said that the young men deserve our prayers. “…Even if they recover, their spiritual and body wounds will be long….” She said the shooting was irresponsible in light of the national climate and oppression, and did not believe that race had nothing to do with the incident. “I don’t believe that…I’m the mother of a teenage boy who is light-skinned…I fear for his safety but I can’t imagine what it’s like for African American mothers who worry about their children….”
That woman’s son also spoke up, saying there is racial inequality at his school, eloquently closing by saying, “A color should not determine whether you live or you die….”
A woman who said she’s lived in Olympia for four years said, “I love Olympia…but I’m not surprised that something like this has happened in our community because people of color are harassed…We’re neck deep in right now….”
Another woman said, “If I accidently hit somebody with my car, I’m held accountable….Everybody is responsible for what they do….”
A clergy member said, “There’s one truth – love is greater than fear…As we embrace and resist fear that is out there and fight the fear and find the treasure of love, people will look at Olympia and say, 'We do things different here….'”
Another clergy member, Rev. Amy Walters, of First Christian Church, said, “I am troubled and hurt for our city but I’m going to leave here with some hope to continue to take steps forward to have dialog and we’ll work things out together – we are better – and clergy are committed to this process…While my heart is heavy, I’m going to leave with hope.”
For more information about the incident from the City of Olympia, including the 911 audio recording of the incident, go to
For previous articles about the City of Olympia Police Department on Little Hollywood, go and use the search button to type in key words.

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