Nat Jackson said he didn’t want to be at Saturday’s meeting about police and community relations.
He said he didn’t want to be there because he thinks there should have been more progress by now. But, in light of a May 21 incident in which two young black men were shot by an Olympia police officer, he felt that attending the meeting was important.
“I really don’t want to be here today,” Jackson said. “And I say that because I wish these things did not happen.”
Jackson told the group that he grew up in Louisiana, and marched with Martin Luther King Jr. He said that when he was a young man, a police officer pulled a gun on him after mistaking him for a freedom rider. Jackson said he was able to diffuse the situation, and it ended peacefully.
“I say thank God for those experiences, because I came away with a positive attitude about what we can do,” Jackson said.
Jackson and several other community members spoke at an Ad Hoc Committee on Police and Community Relations forum at the Risen Faith Fellowship Church.
The committee, made up of five community leaders with diverse backgrounds, was created in response to the May 21 shooting of two shoplifting 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 were charged with two counts of second-degree assault after Donald said he was attacked with a skateboard when he tried to apprehend the men. Chaplin faces an additional charge of fourth-degree assault for allegedly throwing beer at a supermarket clerk earlier in the evening, which prompted the call to police.
Donald has not been charged with a crime in connection with the shooting. In addition, the Olympia Police Department conducted an internal review and determined that Donald did not violate department policy. Donald is expected to return to work in the next few weeks.
There are obvious steps that can improve accountability within the Olympia Police Department and improve relationships with the community, Jackson said. Policies allowing dash cameras and body cameras would go a long way to help, he said.
“We have this technology available, and we need to strengthen the bond between the community and the police force,” Jackson said.
Mustafa Fowler, who moved to Olympia about a year ago, said that in the time he has spent in the community, he’s had a few negative encounters with police officers. Once, he said, officers asked him repeatedly if he had put money in a parking meter, even after he said that he had. He said the officers followed him around for about 20 minutes.
“In my opinion, I see aggressive officers, very young officers,” Fowler said. “… I understand that for officers, it’s very hard out there. But compassion is the most important thing ever.”
A few others said that they had nothing but positive interactions with the Olympia Police Department. Ken Michael, who has lived in Olympia for 78 years, was one of those speakers.
“I’ve lived here all my life, and I think the only problem with the Olympia Police Department that I’ve had were the two traffic tickets,” Michael said. “… I support the Olympia Police Department. I think they do a tremendous job.”
He said that he’s noticed a commonality between the recent police shootings: that the people shot often hadn’t followed officers’ orders. He prefaced the statement by saying he knew he would be “stepping on a few toes.”
“How many of those incidents would not have happened if people had obeyed the first command?” Michael asked.
Committee co-chairwoman Reiko Callner said Saturday’s meeting was the first of five that will be hosted by the committee. The next one will be Nov. 5, and the group will discuss the Olympia Police Department’s relationship with the Latino community. Another meeting is scheduled for Dec. 7. Times and locations of the meetings haven’t been set.