Olympia Police Officer Ryan Donald won vindication from two recent investigations that looked into the May altercation that ended with the shooting of two crime suspects. Officer Donald is white; the two suspects are African-American. One of the suspects is now paralyzed and unable to walk.
Police Chief Ronnie Roberts says Donald’s reentry to duty after the West Olympia tragedy began this week but will be a slow process.
“There is no immediate plan to put him back in a patrol car,” Roberts said recently. “It’s going to be a phase in.”
Taking time is a smart move, and it’s not just Donald who needs to make an adjustment.
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Our community, which responded mostly with concern and restraint to news that the white officer had shot two black men in the early hours of May 21, is changed by the experience. While there is no clear evidence that race motivated Donald’s decisions, this incident made many of us realize that our community is not free of the racial challenges that are a legacy of American history.
Out of this tragedy, white people have gained greater awareness of the perspective of African Americans when it comes to issues of policing. There is now a wider interest in exploring what it will take to counter any subconscious bias that might be occurring in police-citizen interactions.
Some residents remain very angry that Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney Jon Tunheim filed felony assault charges against the two injured brothers. Demonstrators have been arrested in protests at Tunheim’s office. There has also been vandalism and violence in Olympia’s downtown by purported anarchists.
But restraint is essential. So are open minds. The question is what we can learn from an incident that brought up images of police shootings of often unarmed black men in Ferguson New York, Baltimore and other cities.
Our shared goal should be to use this incident to deepen our whole community’s understanding of what it’s like to be black in Olympia, and to identify what we can do to take the next steps in building trust between our community and police.
We credit Chief Roberts and his department for moving ahead with outreach to people of color in recent months as part of the police agency’s effort to build better relationships.
Mayor Stephen Buxbaum is also to be commended for creating an Ad Hoc Committee on Police and Community Relations. It is soliciting public comment as it writes recommendations for City Council action later this year and a final report due next spring.
Representatives of minority groups and the police are on the panel. They include co-chair Reiko Callner, a former city prosecutor who now leads the state Judicial Conduct Commission; co-chair Curt Pavola, a former council member; citizens Kerensa Mabwa, Clinton Eugene Petty and Alejandro Rugarcia; and Lt. Aaron Jelcick, a nonvoting member.
Requiring police to use body cameras to create a visual record of police-public interactions is one likely recommendation. That is something Chief Roberts and Mayor Buxbaum favor, and they are looking to the committee to make recommendations on privacy issues, public records concerns and costs.
The mayor’s group also is looking for public advice about how to improve police relations with Latinos, African Americans and other minorities.
The mayor’s group is inviting the public to a four-hour meeting starting at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Risen Faith Fellowship, a church on the city’s eastside. Four similar forums will be held in the next few months in various locations around the city.
These forums should give city leaders good feedback about how to take the next steps to make Olympia the inclusive community we want it to be. We urge our readers to attend, to listen to each other carefully, and speak their minds – forcefully and respectfully.