One year ago, the Black Alliance of Thurston County introduced itself to the community with a hope-filled celebration at Olympia’s Risen Faith Fellowship.
The founders of the organization talked about their goals: to change Washington’s deadly force statute and bring an end to systemic racism.
On Saturday, many of the same people came together in the same church to celebrate a year of work, efforts made in the local police department and a law passed by the Legislature prompting an analysis of the deadly force statute. The founders reiterated that they’re here to stay and that they’re committed to creating lasting change.
“We’re focusing on systemic change, not individual, small activities that will come and go,” said Thelma Jackson.
Karen Johnson took the microphone and described the Black Alliance’s first meeting, which took place in a backyard on a hot, summer day. They were brought together by the May 21 shooting of Andre Thompson and Bryson Chaplin by an Olympia police officer. The two men are suspected of stealing from a west Olympia grocery store, then assaulting Officer Ryan Donald as he tried to apprehend them.
Thompson and Chaplin will stand trial for assault and theft charges starting Monday.
The men were present Saturday — Chaplin appearing for one of the first times publicly with a walker instead of a wheelchair. He has used the wheelchair due to injuries sustained in the shooting.
But while the shooting was a catalyst for the meeting and the eventual formation of the Black Alliance, Jackson said Saturday that the shooting was only a catalyst. Since then, the organization has found causes outside of officer-involved shootings to work on.
Founders emphasized Saturday the importance of education and voting, inviting the candidates for state superintendent of public instruction and County Auditor Mary Hall to speak. Founder Clinton Petty opened the event by asking the audience to raise their hands or cheer if they had voted.
“This is our country, it’s up to us to make it the best,” Petty said.
The Black Alliance also recognized people who had worked with them during the past year. State Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Olympia, received the Public Servant Award for her work on deadly force legislation. Kathy Baros Friedt and Leslie Cushman received the Founders Award for their work on the same issue.
Olympia Police Chief Ronnie Roberts received the Trend Setter Award for his work to curb institutional racism within his department.
Both Olympia High School and the YWCA received the Beloved Community Award.
The African American Alliance at Olympia High School received the Gifted and Black Award for finding a constructive way of confronting racism at their school.
She said that in its second year, the Black Alliance doesn’t plan to slow down. In 2017, the organization will host monthly events to facilitate courageous conversations, and Black Alliance has already begun discussing criminal justice reform. And Johnson said she’s looking forward to a Nov. 21 meeting, at which a state task force will present its findings on the state’s deadly force statute.
“That’s what it’s all about, coming together,” Johnson said.