SPD, DOJ, and Monitoring Team Participate in University of Washington Diversity Week "Policing Communities of Color" Event

By Mohammed Kloub, The Daily (University of Washington) (Feb. 26, 2015)

Early Wednesday afternoon, as the participants in the University of Washington Walk Out in support of #BlackLivesMatter could be heard outside, a panel gathered in William H. Gates Hall to discuss the policing of communities of color in Seattle and beyond.

The discussion, part of the UW School of Law’s Diversity Week, was originally scheduled to feature Seattle Police Department (SPD) Chief Kathleen O’Toole. However, in the wake of the #BlackLivesMatter Walk Out, O’Toole opted not to appear because she thought it would create discord. Instead, the SPD was represented by its supervising attorney Brian Maxey.

Maxey’s fellow panelists included Michael Diaz, an Assistant United States Attorney from Seattle, Matthew Barge, Deputy Director of the Seattle Police Monitoring Team, and Dustin Washington, Director of the Community Justice program with the American Friends Service Committee.

Law professor William Covington, who mediated the discussion, said he believes the United States is seeing the beginning of a new civil rights movement, one ignited by police violence in communities of color across the nation and here in Seattle. 

“We have our unique challenges and issues here in our department,” Maxey said. “I still believe that the SPD is no better or worse than other departments in other metropolitan cities in the country.”

Despite this, the SPD is currently under a consent decree from the Department of Justice for excessive use of force and racial discrimination. 

Diaz, who has been the lead line attorney on the United States v. City of Seattle case since 2010, confirmed that there has indeed been a pattern of excessive force in the SPD. 

“When a police department builds walls that prevent it from engaging and asking the community what it wants, a lot of things break down,” Diaz said. 

He cited a lack of critical self-analysis on the part of police departments as contributing to this breakdown of communication.

Washington, who is also an associate professor in the School of Public Health, focused on entrenched discrimination in the justice system and other institutions as the main contributor to racial disparity in the United States.

“We have not gutted out the white supremacy and racism embedded in many systems and institutions in this country,” Washington said. “The roots of crime have to do with living in a racist and capitalist society.”

When asked about how to bridge the disconnect in understanding between police officers and oppressed communities, the panelists agreed that further training for police officers in recognizing implicit biases and shifting their roles from militarized warriors to service workers is crucial. 

“There needs to be accountability to respond to the community, not just talk at them,” said Matthew Barge. “Lip service does not translate to something that can be felt in the streets.”

Washington also emphasized that policies for police reform that are not developed with racism in mind are not going to be successful. Separation from the racialized society we live in will only serve to perpetuate racist systems, he reiterated. 

According to Diaz, although reform policies can be set, and in turn set expectations, policy is only as good as the training given to officers.

The School of Law’s Diversity Week events will conclude today with several events in William H. Gates Hall.