The latest public forum by the Ad Hoc Committee on Police and Community Relations invited social service providers to join the discussion about building better relationships in downtown Olympia.
About 30 people and a handful of police officers gathered Monday evening at First Christian Church at Seventh and Franklin. It was the third public forum since the committee formed last August in response to an Olympia police shooting involving two black suspects and a white police officer last May.
The all-volunteer committee’s goal is to hold five public forums that examine difficult topics such as race and privilege in Olympia. In February, the committee will present the public’s ideas and feedback to the Olympia City Council.
The local social service sector was represented at Monday’s forum by groups such as Interfaith Works, Community Youth Services and PFLAG Olympia, which work directly with the street community.
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Danny Kadden, executive director of Interfaith Works, noted the range of life experiences among the various people who come to downtown Olympia. He said the committee can help the community mature through open conversations about culture and class.
“This is a golden opportunity to bring together these forces and players in a way we haven’t done before,” Kadden said.
During Monday’s forum, attendees were divided into three small groups for an informal discussion that focused primarily on two questions:
▪ Why do you come into contact with Olympia police officers in the greater downtown area, and what do you feel is currently working for you when interacting with the police?
▪ What opportunities do you see to reduce conflicts among downtown populations, including residents, businesses and people seeking services?
A common theme in these group discussions was the need to build trust between the street community and police officers. People on the streets often suffer from mental illness or personal trauma that has a profound effect on the way they interact with police, for example. One suggestion was to train police in how to handle these types of interactions.
Other feedback touched on everything from hiring a liaison for the Hispanic community and holding an appreciation session for police at a local church to supporting training on implicit bias. The latter term describes a person’s subconscious reactions to other races.
Committee member Kerensa Mabwa, who gathered everyone in a circle for a brief reflection at the end of Monday’s forum, said she is optimistic about what she’s hearing at the forums so far.
“I feel like we’re starting to get momentum,” she said. “But we’re not looking at strict closure when this is all over.”
Future forums will include a discussion about implementing police body cameras. So far, the committee has held public forums geared toward the African-American and Latino communities, although people from all backgrounds and walks of life are encouraged to attend.
Olympia resident Regon Unsoeld has attended each forum and praised the committee’s intentions. He said the police department needs to be more “service-oriented” when tackling the challenges in today’s society.
However, he noted that the presence of uniformed and armed police officers at Monday’s forum may have discouraged “the most critical voices” from attending — namely, minorities and other folks who may have a fear of law enforcement.
“It’s going to be intimidating to people who need to be here the most,” he said.
About the committee
The 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. Donald was not charged and will not be reprimanded by the police department.
The Olympia Police Department has been under scrutiny since the shooting. 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.
More conversations ahead
To determine the format for future public forums, the Ad Hoc Committee on Police and Community Relations will hold its next planning meeting at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 14 at the Olympia Fire Station, 100 Eastside St. NE. The public is invited to attend this work session. The next public forum is slated for 1 p.m. Jan. 18 at a location to be announced. To contact the committee, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Black Alliance of Thurston County and the Olympia Police Department will host a “conversation café” from 6-9 p.m. Thursday (Dec. 10) at South Sound Manor, 455 North St. SE, Tumwater. The community is invited to attend and discuss race issues. To learn more, email Karen Johnson at email@example.com.
A free program called “Defeating racism today: What does it take?” will run 7:30-8:45 p.m. Thursday (Dec. 10) at the Olympia Timberland Library, 313 Eighth Ave. SE. Guest speaker Eva Abram will lead a conversation about the history of institutional racism and how it affects specific groups. Adults and teens are welcome to attend the program sponsored by Humanities Washington and the Friends of the Olympia Timberland Library. To learn more, call 360-352-0595.