As a long term resident of this city and one who has and continues to contribute significant volunteer time with city and state agencies and commissions, I was very disappointed to hear Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole’s remarks on the Nov. 28
protest in downtown Seattle. The protest was a community response to the Ferguson, Mo., grand jury decision to not indict a white police officer in the death of Mike Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black youth. Protesters disrupted a holiday celebration at Pacific Place Mall, including a performance by carolers. Their actions also interfered with public transport.
While chuckling during an interview on KIRO-TV Chief O’Toole accused the protesters of being people who did not want to demonstrate responsibly. And she added that, as a mother, she was frustrated that the young carolers were not able to perform. Her response was one- sided, and it disrespected a large segment of Seattle residents who felt betrayed and shamed by our nation’s judicial system. As much as residents have the freedom to shop on Black Friday, residents also have the freedom to protest against injustice. Through her comments, it seemed Chief O’Toole was only concerned about shoppers and the young carolers who were not able to perform that day.
As a mother, I understand the pain of a child not being able to go through with what she/he has planned. However, throughout the country, there are families who were not able to celebrate the holidays with loved ones because a family member’s life was unjustly taken away by police brutality. As a mother of young adult males of color, I constantly fear for my children’s safety.
As active young men, they want to play and enjoy their lives like their classmates and sport teammates. But too often, I attempt to curtail their activities away from home because I fear they may be wrongfully targeted by the police because of who they are: Young black men. Although they are smart and respectful, I find myself sounding like a broken record, lecturing them almost every time they want to hang out with friends. I do so simply because of their race. As a mother, it pains me to have to do this over and over.
So when I heard Chief O’Toole’s remarks, that protesters have no desire to protest responsibly — in other words, they are nothing but trouble makers — I say: Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!
It was not too long ago that we marched downtown to protest the slaying of Travyon Martin and the acquittal of his murderer. And now Mike Brown and Eric Gardner. The pain for many of us is so unbearable that often we do not find the words necessary to express it. Through protest, we find strength and support to make our voices heard.
It is the duty of the chief to serve all the residents. Unfortunately, her comments were so biased that many of us now question whether she is here to truly bring change in how SPD does its job. Imagine how powerful it would have been to seize the Nov. 28 civil unrest as an opportunity to teach or remind the children, whose performance was disrupted, about the continued injustice and racism in our country or to brainstorm ways for the children to deliver their performance at another time. As a country, we pride ourselves in supporting (and sometimes instigating) civil disobedience in other regions of the world, whether in Beijing, Venezuela, Hong Kong, Cairo, Iraq or Ukraine. It is ironic that when civil disobedience is here at home, we object to or even demonize it.
When our criminal justice system cannot be trusted to bring about change, civil disobedience becomes a necessary means to demand meaningful change. Civil disobedience is a protected right, and I and others urge her as chief of SPD to respect and protect that right. As long as systemic injustice against people of color persists, voices will be raised, and people will take to the street to march for equal rights and justice.
I thank all the people who are supporting this cause, and I hope that you, Chief O’Toole, join the movement for a just and peaceful city and country.