As the manhunt continued for Maurice Clemmons, the man believed responsible for the slaying of four Lakewood police officers, African-American community leaders are concerned about the heightened potential for racial profiling.
As a manhunt for the suspect in the slayings of four Lakewood police officers spilled into Seattle’s streets late Sunday night, Oscar Eason Jr. talked with a friend about possible consequences for African Americans.
Eason, chairman of Washington’s African American Affairs Commission, came to one painful conclusion: For African-American males between ages 20 and 50, he said, “I would caution them to be very careful and only travel when necessary.”
While expressing condolences to those affected by the slayings, African-American leaders nonetheless are concerned that the furious manhunt for Maurice Clemmons, 37, the man believed responsible for the crime, could raise the potential for racial profiling.
Few community leaders have heard direct complaints. James Kelly, president of the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, said one person had complained to his agency about excessive police monitoring. “I am surprised,” he said of that call, but added that he understands the position police are in.
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“Our hearts go out to the department, the community and the family, especially the children that have lost their fathers and mother,” said James Bible, president of the Seattle / King County chapter of the NAACP.
At the same time, he said, “as a civil-rights organization, we do want to make sure people’s constitutional rights aren’t being violated.”
By Monday morning, Clemmons’ photo — the broad shoulders, arching eyebrows and distinctive mole — was everywhere, on the Internet, on TV, on the dashboards of Washington state troopers. “I feel sorry for every husky black male with a mole on his face,” trooper Cliff Pratt said.
Such concerns are exactly what community leaders worry about, especially in the wake of the Oct. 31 murder of Seattle police Officer Timothy Brenton. Officers are predictably worried for their safety, while tensions are heightened in the community.
And in the days after Brenton’s murder, before Tukwila’s Christopher Monfort — who has a mixed white-and-black racial background — was charged, the local NAACP chapter did receive racial-profiling complaints. “The whole community did feel targeted,” Bible said.
“God knows what goes on in an officer’s mind,” Eason said. “… With these incidents in Seattle, there is some cause to be cautious for your own protection.”
But even as racial-profiling concerns are voiced, he added, “we know these officers are out there protecting our community. That’s a message we try to get across.”
Seattle Times staff reporter Susan Gilmore contributed to this report.
Marc Ramirez: 206-464-8102 or firstname.lastname@example.org