Pasco has gone viral because of a police shooting — that’s not how I want my hometown to be known. All the media attention could serve as a call for better policing.
Pasco is one of those towns few know much about unless you grew up there. I did, and have had to explain countless times where Pasco is — even to people on the western side of the state.
Last week, my hometown burst intointernational news after police shot and killed Antonio Zambrano-Montes. The 35-year-old man was throwing rocks at passing vehicles and police in a busy intersection near the supermarket where my mother shops.
The intersection, at 10th Avenue and Lewis Street, is less than a half mile from my parents’ home. I often walk to Fiesta Foods to pick up a gallon of milk or an extra pack of tortillas during my trips home.
Now Pasco is being compared with Ferguson, Mo., and garnering attention for this atrocious incident. More than 1 million people have watched videos of the shooting on YouTube.
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A New York Times headline, “Killing in Washington State Offers ‘Ferguson’ Moment for Hispanics” jumps to an oversimplified conclusion. We should move beyond the Ferguson comparison based on assumed racial tensions and focus on the issue of better policing.
Pasco is a rapidly growing community where the population doubled from 32,000 in 2000 to an estimated 68,000 in 2013, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. About 55 percent of residents identify as Hispanic, which has been consistent since 2000.
Every community in America with a large ethnic group experiences divisions, but that doesn’t mean racially fueled police shootings are more likely to happen.
Police departments throughout the country must do a better job of serving their communities and handling people who are not in a coherent state of mind.
Accounts of police using excessive, sometimes deadly force, have become far too commonplace. That type of behavior makes citizens distrustful of police, angry and panicked for their communities.
In the last six months, Pasco police have killed four people, including Zambrano-Montes. The other three were white and armed, and police were cleared of wrongdoing in those cases.
Bystanders are conditioned to pull out their cellphones to record incidents. The trend is unsettling, but also helps citizens hold law-enforcement officers accountable.
In Zambrano-Montes’ death, Franklin County Coroner Dan Blasdel has called for an inquest for the case and Consejo Latino, a group of Latino community leaders, requested the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate. Zambrano-Montes’ death deserves a thorough investigation and the public will be watching.
Zambrano-Montes was known to have used methamphetamine and had served time in jail for assaulting a police officer. Drug use by no means justifies his behavior. But it calls into question how police respond to people who could be impaired by drugs, are mentally ill, have disabilities or are in the middle of a personal crisis.
The larger issue is the trend of police using excessive force and allowing confrontations to escalate to the point where someone gets shot.
Police officers in Pasco receive training in de-escalation and “verbal judo” techniques while at police academy, said police department spokesman Ken Roske.
But it’s clear more and better training is needed — and not just in Pasco. A bill going before the Legislature calls for mandatory crisis-intervention training for police officers. The proposal, SHB 1348, is named after Doug Ostling, a mentally ill Bainbridge Island man shot by police in his parents’ home. A federal jury awarded the family $1 million after finding that the police department failed to adequately train its officers. Training is less expensive than lawsuits — and the loss of lives.
I called my mother the night after the Pasco shooting and she said, “Things are ugly here.” I thought she was talking about the weather — she wasn’t. “I’ve never been so scared,” she said.
This is not the type of conversation you want to have with your widowed mother who lives three and a half hours away. My family has resided on the same block on Ainsworth Street since my parents moved to Pasco 40 years ago.
My childhood best friend took to Facebook to write, “This isn’t the Pasco I have always known and loved.”
No, it isn’t. Zambrano-Montes’ death is an example of the worst — an egregious incident that I hope is not repeated, in Pasco or anywhere. My hometown should again be a place where you can visit the grocery store without fear.