Six months after an officer-involved shooting caused many in the Olympia community to examine local race relations, a duo partnered to facilitate further conversation on the subject.
Karen Johnson, one of the founders of the Black Alliance of Thurston County, and Olympia Police Chief Ronnie Roberts welcomed guests Thursday night to a “community cafe,” hosted jointly by the two agencies.
Interest in the gathering far exceeded what Roberts and Johnson had expected: About 90 people came to the South Sound Manor in Tumwater to join the conversation. Chairs were scarce, and event planners pulled in several extra tables to meet demand.
“I just can’t believe so many people came,” Roberts said. “I wasn’t expecting it.”
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Among those in attendance were community leaders, elected officials, representatives from the Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater police departments, and concerned residents who want their community to change for the better.
Johnson said Thursday’s community cafe is expected to be the first in a series, with the next one scheduled for February.
“I’m excited,” Johnson said. “We’re in a time when people have made the decision to change.”
At the beginning of the meeting, attendees were asked to tell the group why they came to the event.
Wayne Hardy, who has lived in the Pacific Northwest for 78 years, said that growing up in Longview, he knew hardly any people of color. He had his first interaction with black people when he joined the Marines.
As an adult, Hardy said he volunteered for the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America program in Olympia and in Alaska. He said he wondered why most of the “littles” were children of color, and the “bigs” were white adults.
Cmdr. Jim Mack, of the Lacey Police Department, said he attended the meeting because he believes police officers should be at the forefront of change in the community.
Sarah Stockholm said she wants to be a part of the push for concrete change — including legislation.
“This conversation isn’t easy,” Stockholm said. “It’s pretty uncomfortable to be here with police officers because of the legacy of policing in the United States.”
As the meeting progressed, participants were asked to share their own experiences with being unfairly judged and with racial bias, to talk about their impressions of the community, and to describe the changes they want to see.
At the end of the meeting, Johnson and Roberts agreed that while the discussion was a good start, more progress needs to be made.
“It’s beginning,” Roberts said. “I’m not satisfied yet.”
To learn more about the Black Alliance of Thurston County, email firstname.lastname@example.org.