A new group helping Olympia engage in difficult conversations about race and privilege delivered its first progress report Tuesday to the Olympia City Council.
About 65 people attended the Ad Hoc Committee on Police and Community Relations’ first of five public forums Oct. 10 at Risen Faith Fellowship Church. That site was chosen because of its connection to the African-American community.
The committee is still a work in progress, co-chairwoman Reiko Callner told the council, but she noted that the first forum showed promise because of its honest and heartfelt tone. The goal with the public forums is to create a safe place for discussing difficult and emotionally charged topics such as race in a predominantly white community like Olympia.
“We want to reach out to people who are less than typically likely to participate in civic affairs,” Callner told the council. “We have a strong sense of responsibility to make sure this does not become a flash in the pan.”
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Comments at the forum included calls for mandatory cultural diversity training for police, more transparent investigations into potential police misconduct, teaching young people to cooperate with officers, screening police candidates for psychological stability, and encouraging officers to show more respect when working with people of color.
Committee member Kerensa Mabwa said the forum was a powerful experience and good starting point for moving the community forward.
“We were not the folks in charge at that forum,” Mabwa said. “The community took the lead.”
Several council members praised the committee for connecting with people in an authentic way that ensures all voices are heard.
“Your work is setting a foundation for meaningful change,” Mayor Stephen Buxbaum said.
The next forum is slated for Nov. 5 at Family Education and Support Services, and is geared toward the local Latino community. This forum will follow a format similar to the first, in which attendees can discuss their experiences with Olympia police during an open-mic session before breaking up into group discussions. Spanish-language interpreters will be available.
Another priority for the committee is to discuss the implementation of police body cameras, and a forum will be scheduled to address that topic. Committee co-chairman Curt Pavola said he hopes to organize a panel of experts who can explain aspects such as technology, costs and potential legal issues surrounding police body cameras.
“It’s not so much a question of, ‘Is it good or bad to have it?’ It’s more like, ‘How do you have it?’” Pavola told the council. “It really is about educating the community.”
The ad hoc committee was created in response to the May 21 shooting of two crime suspects, Andre Thompson and Bryson Chaplin, by Olympia police officer Ryan Donald. The incident has racial overtones because the suspects were two black men shot by a white police officer. Thompson and Chaplin have since pleaded not guilty to assault charges. Donald was not charged and will not be reprimanded by the police department.
The Olympia Police Department has been under scrutiny since the shooting, and some residents have called for more police accountability through the establishment of a citizen review board, for example, or revised policies regarding bias and use of force.
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The Ad Hoc Committee on Police and Community Relations will hold a public forum from 5:30-8:30 p.m. Nov. 5 at Family Support Services, 1202 Black Lake Blvd. SW, Suite B1. Spanish-language interpreters will be available. Additional forums also are scheduled at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 7 (location to be announced) and Jan. 18 (time and location to be announced). To contact the committee, email email@example.com.