In the wake of this month’s shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo., black community leaders and activists voiced their concerns and opinions to Seattle Police Department officials Tuesday at Mount Zion Baptist Church in the Central District.
At the meeting, a few dozen people from various King County groups and congregations spoke with police leaders and officers and emphasized the need for more police engagement with the community. They also stressed the importance of addressing youth issues.
Chief Kathleen O’Toole, other police officials and former Interim Chief Harry Bailey attended the meeting, which was organized by the police department.
Mount Zion Baptist Church’s senior pastor, the Rev. Aaron Williams, said the meeting was held to discuss issues and questions that arose in the wake of events in Ferguson, Mo., where Michael Brown, 18, was shot by a white police officer Aug. 9.
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“We want to engage the community so that what happened in Ferguson won’t happen here,” Williams said.
To illustrate how patrol officers can be more involved with community members, Assistant Chief Nick Metz told the story of a recent Mount Zion picnic.
The church asked for four patrol officers to come by, and when three white officers and one Asian officer arrived, they stood around and watched everyone else.
“You could tell they were uncomfortable,” Metz said.
Members of the church took the officers by the hand and invited them to get food and sit with the attendees. Within 15 minutes, Metz said, the four officers were at different tables having conversations about multiple subjects: policing, Ferguson, even the Seahawks.
The scene showed how the department should be pushing patrol officers to engage more with the community, Metz said.
In that regard, “as a department, we haven’t done a very good job,” Metz said. “And as a community, we haven’t done a good job providing opportunities for patrol officers to engage.”
The police had better relationships with community members in the past, and those relationships need to be restored, community member Paul Bascomb said.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Bascomb said, “(police) used to get out of the car. They don’t get out of the car anymore. And getting out of that car makes a big difference.”
Bascomb’s brother was killed by a Seattle police officer, he told meeting attendees.
In 1988, Erdman Bascomb was shot in his South Seattle apartment by an officer who thought the object he was holding was a gun. In fact, it was a television remote control.
Toward the end of the discussion, O’Toole and Bailey echoed the need for the department to improve community policing and officer-community relationships.
“Ferguson will happen here if we don’t get ahead and make sure that doesn’t happen,” Bailey said.
Paige Cornwell: 206-464-2530 or email@example.com