Compiled from members by Taylor Weech, PJALS Steering Committee Member
After Wednesday’s Community Forum on Racism, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Justice, I had a lot of strong reactions and wanted to check in with other PJALS members and friends about their take on the meeting and what our next steps might be as an organization, given that it didn’t seem in the forum, led by Knight Sor of the Dept. of Justice Community Relations Service, that the topic of whether Jim McDevitt would be retained as interim chief of police– after his racially inflammatory and inaccurate remarks were brought back into light this month– wasn’t on the table. You can read The Inlander’s take on the meeting and coverage of McDevitt’s hiring here and the op-ed in question here.
The following are some of our members’ reactions to the meeting. As you’ll see, we aren’t all in lock-step on our reactions, but a few commonalities do rise to the surface. Were you present? Post in the comments. To stay up to date and involved in police oversight and reform in Spokane, the best place is likely the Spokane Police Accountability & Reform Coalition (SPARC). Meetings are held on the 4th Wednesday of every month at 5:30pm, at 35 W. Main. To join our coalition email list, please contact Shar Lichty at [email protected]. You can also connect with us on Facebook!
“I had a mix of feelings, including some hope and lots of frustration. I was very moved by the courage of the people of color who spoke. They shared their stories with humility, power and truth. From the statements and responses of McDevitt and Condon, it’s doubtful they ‘get it’. To me, I heard the message Wednesday night, and also from the folks who gave their testimony at the City Council regarding Smart Hiring: to ask us to meet one another as equal human beings. And the reporting in the Spokesman Review missed that point, too.
I’m concerned about the facilitator. Is he inexperienced? Untrained? Both? Do he and DOJ have full background and history of the depth and the history of Spokane and racism and law enforcement? After the meeting I question that they do. Toni Lodge and both of you [Liz Moore & Taylor Weech] spoke eloquently as well, especially about the need to take time to work on this. Personally, I believe a truth and reconciliation process or something similar is needed. Condon and McDevitt apologizing is just the beginning, and offering to meet individually with people, while saying they are open, just doesn’t do it for me.
Elementary students are taught that ‘I’m sorry’ is only the beginning of working through conflict. Understanding the point of view of the other person, making a decision to repair the wrong with a plan that the person agrees to, then acting on it are steps that demonstrate sincerity and build trust.”
“It is evident that the Department of Justice (DOJ) believes it can come into communities, assuming they have credibility, talking about embedding themselves in communities, and trying to get communities to put unresolved issues behinds them, and move straight to ‘praising police’, without even knowing which police are in the room (in this case 8 to 10 uniformed but unnamed officers and 8 to 10 out-of-uniform and undercover officers, also unnamed). One can be certain that the DOJ will plan the next meeting to make sure that certain voices and perspectives are excluded. The DOJ cannot come into this community and take over a community process. That is totally illegitimate and unacceptable.”
“The sooner we can get a team of anthropologists in there to look at the office culture through the Police Ombudsman Commission and through an independent oversight committee, the better. I say this both as someone with a degree in cultural anthropology and who has read about officers and former officers with degrees in anthropology writing about how important anthropological analysis and advising of a department’s culture is to reforming and revising it. I also, by way of contrasting the officer at that night’s meeting [Asst. Chief Craig Meidl] with what I expect from a great police officer representing the community, have an aunt with a dad who was an officer, who had his degree in anthropology, and was one of the best cops I ever met: the opposite of the officer in the room that night. He was a very fair man. He didn’t like bullshit and fake people and was an astute judge of character. The officer in the room [Meidl] in comparison seemed mostly interested in using every inch of what he considered his power to persuade us that fear and intimidation tactics and department policies which are preventing functional, good community relations.
I want to know who makes the rules and how they are made in the process of hiring new police officers. Who is in charge of that? How did that policy get decided? It seems to me that the officer in charge [Meidl] was very defensive. He seemed to be very politically oriented, and side-stepping the issue, and throwing character aspersions on people instead of talking about his own or the Department’s actual responsibility and any kind of transparency on what the Department does and how the Department does it. This is simply unacceptable and untenable for a public agency. The police are not the NSA: I’m saying this in a vehement as manner as possible. Either way, we the good citizens and people should decide how we want to be policed. We should write the policies! Most of the officers are appallingly ignorant of the communities they serve in so many ways: Culturally, economically, emotionally, community health-wise. This links to the larger issues facing police nation wide.
Where are these officers getting this ideas of what constitutes red flags and so on in the hiring process? Undoubtedly their training. If so, the curriculum is in serious need of revising. We can’t put a band-aid on this anymore. This has to be more of a long-term overhaul. When this police officer [Meidl] was explaining to us that the reason women of color and people of color from Spokane for not getting hired, he connected it to them having past criminal records. This stuns me. I was completely livid. I am infuriated, still. We need to know exactly what the high standards are that he was talking about or red flags they’re watching out for are when they talk about there being criminal record in someone’s past.
Also, regarding the red flags, and time elapsed between them to become an officer if there were deeds committed in the past, I wonder, if they are looking for the right red flags, since it seems sexual violence is normalized within the Department. I consider that the Spokane Police Department has officers who have slept with victims of domestic violence, have been accused of sexually harassing and assaulting other officers at parties and a plethora of other problems. I’m completely upset by this and it just seems like he is totally gas-lighting, using cognitive dissonance. He’s used to power and getting his way and he doesn’t want that much scrutiny into what he’s doing it’s a very plain to see this is why every single person who has tried to reroute this department has had to deal with corruption and obfuscation. A kind of backwards way of doing police work.
So there’s a lot more work that needs to be done, for real transparency and agency for this community with the police, and it’s not going to be easy since it’s already taken years. I don’t know what’s going on, but we need to take some other tactics and light a metaphorical fire under them to change it and hold them accountable, because they are accountable to the citizens. Also, unlike many of my fellow activist or friends, I disagree there will always be those who are doing wrong things and breaking the law so we will always need the police. I want a world where we don’t need police mostly because there’s no reason to break break the law, because everyone has what they need. As usual, watching this department reminds me that in the real world, there’s some serious Game of Thrones manipulating, some Machiavellian power schemes going on. Which brings me to my favorite police officer, and department, in fiction. It’s Commander Vimes of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld saga and the entire cadre of officers there. I strongly suggest everyone read it. It’ll give everyone the sense of humor we’re going to need to make it through this.”
“I thought the outcome was good. I had not been to an NAACP meeting in many months and did not know about McDevitt’s 2015 article. I did finish reading it before the meeting. I was impressed how well the meeting was run. The moderator was experienced.
I was satisfied that McDevitt said he has come to realize that unless you walk in someone’s shoes, you can’t understand them and he apologized for the hurt. ‘Statistics are cold. In that regard, they’re dangerous.’ His intent was not to endorse racial profiling but to point out that it exists, McDevitt said. He blamed having to repeatedly shorten his opinion piece for its lack of clarity. ‘I tried to put too many things in a short article,’ he said.
McDevitt invited people to meet with him about their concerns. ‘I’m open,’ he said. ‘It’s part of the journey, part of the learning process.’ We shall see. Not being black nor part of the gay community, all of my contacts with police departments have been positive. It is shameful that some don’t have that same experience. I was grateful to all who spoke and shared their hurts and distrust and positive and negative experiences. I wondered if they would be harassed after these communications. Will someone be watching [to ensure this doesn’t happen]? I hope so.
I applaud Mayor Condon for engaging the Department of Justice’s Community Relations Services (CRS) to come in and assist the City, SPD, and the community in addressing issues on race relations.
Going off what I know, I feel like Jim McDevitt didn’t really address the issues people brought up. I feel like he was just trying to move the conversation along to end it quickly. His apology felt really hollow and not sincere at all. Just the fact of him telling us to give him a report card at the end on how well he did was like a slap in the face, like he didn’t really care about our opinion, which actually irritated me. He admitted that he is a product of white privilege, but I felt like he didn’t need to keep going on about the stuff he did in the past, and bringing up banning the box (I understand how important banning the box is, but that wasn’t the issue that night) made me feel like he was just trying to waste our time.
When David asked if any cops that were not in uniform to raise their hands and 10 of them did, it kind of freaked me out a little bit. I don’t know why he felt the need to have that many cops in there in the first place. If anything, that made me feel really unsafe. I really don’t trust him, especially when Jaclyn called him out for him being incompetent for not knowing all the facts, because it just reinforces her point on him not being qualified to lead the police.
I was not present at the beginning of last Wednesday’s forum, but I came as soon as possible after work. After listening to the audio of the portion that I missed and reading the reflections from fellow PJALS members, I am affirmed that my overall impression of what happened there is based on a fair view of the meeting as a whole. In a procedural sense, I found the meeting incredibly disappointing. It boosted my confidence in the progressive community’s ability to organize grassroots meetings that work, that make people heard, and that accomplish their goals. The facilitation by the Community Relations Service professional from the DOJ far undercut my expectations of professionalism and ability, given that this has been his role in departments around the country. By the end, he seemed disconnected from the atmosphere of the room and words of those who spoke who remained dissatisfied. After McDevitt’s apology and the follow up comments from Assistant Chief Craig Meidl, he asked whether we could say some positive things about the department.
As I shared in the meeting, I found that question insulting and a distraction from the systemic nature of the issues we are dealing with in this community and nation. To ask community members and activists, who have been working for something as simple as basic oversight and accountability of our police for easily 30 years, to put their differences aside and say some nice things struck me as patronizing and displayed the absolute ignorance that the DOJ, the Mayor, and the SPD hold about the level of mistrust and betrayal that this city feels. That we passed Prop. 1, including independent investigative authority, racial equity measures and more, with a 70% yes vote (an absolute political rarity!) speaks to how much this is not a fringe issue in Spokane. And while the actual structural progress in this fight has been discouraging, and slow, and tedious, and frustrating, particularly as we have a zero faith partner in the Mayor’s office, I still felt a slight sliver of hope at this forum.
I expect that the SPD, and the Mayor’s office, and the DOJ imagined that we would be more tired by now. That we would see their report and trust that small steps, without actual independent oversight, were enough. That we would hear stories of sexual assault of female officers, inappropriate sexual relationships by officers with victims of domestic violence, harassment, and assume in their favor that it was a case of a few bad apples and not a serious cultural problem to audit. That we would fail to notice that the Assistant Chief is one of the officers who stood and saluted Karl Thompson at his sentencing after his brutal beating of Otto Zehm, ten years ago this week. That we would accept the racially skewed police contact statistics in our city, despite its overall whiteness, as perhaps justified. That we would accept that nonfactual and racially biased analysis coming from Jim McDevitt himself, and that after his fellow PLAC members pointed it out, that the Mayor would not remove him from the process, but rather, hire him. Well, we didn’t. And people did not leave that meeting happy. We are not done here and I believe that every meeting, rally, and forum hereafter will only have more people who desire a police department we can trust in attendance. I’d like to challenge our members to help make that true as these processes continue. Mayor Condon may have been asleep at the wheel when he hired Frank Straub despite his clearly checkered record, but this community is wide awake and we have our eyes on this process. We are not going anywhere.
My favorite moment came near the end of the meeting. I had been standing near the door, near a man whose role I don’t know (I don’t know whether he was a cop because I missed the moment when plainclothes officers were asked to identify themselves), but who was one of the few in the room who did not raise his hand when a member of the audience asked whether people acknowledged the reality of white male privilege in our society. A well known African American female activist entered the door and non-verbally greeted three to four other people of color in her immediate proximity, with head nods and small waves. They waved and nodded back. I watched this man, directly behind her, track all of these interactions like a tennis match, the alarm growing visibly on his face. Then, just before she sat down, she smiled and waved at me. And I waved back, and I like to imagine that the look dawning on his face was one of the understanding that our communities are connecting more than ever over this issue, and the real threat to power that those relationships represent. His surprise and mild terror at that is, on some level, echoed by the SPD and the Mayor. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have felt the pressure to attend such a forum in the first place. They wouldn’t have scrambled to smooth things over at all. And as of now, things are still not smooth. Building trust is going to take much more than a few meetings, but a genuine process of accountability and reckoning with conditions in this city regarding race, policing, and power.