POLITICAL ACTIVISTS can be wimps. They talk big about how they are going to confront the Man, only to have that confrontation amount to little more than occasional protests with hundreds of others present to boost their bravery.
Anwar Peace, on the other hand, is no wimp. For three years, hes been on the case of the Seattle Police Department for alleged brutality of African Americans. Whats more, he is not afraid to take his cause to the streets and into the faces of officers all by himself, a lone-wolf activist lodging his own complaint with the system. He talks with cops where he finds them and offers public testimony at City Hall. What drives him, he says, are shootings of African Americans by police, especially the 2000 killing of David Walker, a mentally ill man.
All of this has made Peace, 28, famous among downtown cops. Hes hard to miss: Hes the African American wearing a target sign around his neck.
Thats how they see us, Peace says. As targets.
In July, Peaceyes, thats his birth namedecided to symbolically swap roles and turn the cops into targets, especially Chief Gil Kerlikowske, as he declared in a July 17 e-mail to government officials and Seattle media. In the e-mail, he wrote that he wanted to talk with Kerlikowske, as well as other police and city officials, about alleged police brutality.
Kerlikowske did not respond. That didnt sit well with Peace, who got a lot more aggressive in demanding that meeting.
ON JULY 23, after a City Council meeting, he saw the chief walking up Cherry Street with Lt. John Hayes, headed for police headquarters. Peace was on the opposite side of the street and sprinted up the hill, shirtless and wearing track pants, shouting his desire to have face time with the chief. Kerlikowske disappeared into the building before Peace could intercept him, leaving the frustrated activist outside to chat with the amiable Lt. Hayes.
Ever since, relations between SPD and Peace have not been so amiable.
On July 26, Kerlikowske was riding in a vehicle in the Torchlight Paradeand there was Peace, walking along with him on the sidewalk with his target sign. Peace says two officers detained him, then told him to leave the parade route. Peace refused. Hed done nothing wrong, as he saw it, and was standing on a public sidewalk. That argument won him an overnight stay in the King County Jail on a charge of obstructing a peace officer.
Released the next day, Peace called the chiefs office 17 times, filling the voice mail to capacity after reading into it various newspaper articles about police misbehavior.
Any time someone leaves 20-odd messages, that would be considered to be harassing, says officer Scott Moss, an SPD spokesperson.
Sgt. Carmen Best called Peace, who has no criminal record, and told him he was harassing the chief and to cease. Peace said he wouldnt stop calling the chief because Kerlikowske is a public official.
Both events occurred during Peaces nine-day sit-in at a table in front of police headquarters downtown. On July 30, Kerlikowske emerged from HQ escorting his 79-year-old mother. An SPD incident report filed five days later claims that Peace closely approached the chief and loudly berated him. Peace says he remained behind his table and spoke to the chief in a moderate tone.
On Aug 7, Peace filled an SPD voice mail box again. In a subsequent SPD incident report, Sgt. Best wrote, Peaces mental state is questionable.
THROUGHOUT THE FOUR incident reports connected with Peaces meet-the-chief campaign, SPD has painted Peace as a man deranged. If he is, police are the only ones who see it. To date, my many encounters with and observations of Peace have revealed a dedicated, passionate young man who could use schooling in how to get the attention of the powers that be.
All the same, on Aug 15, Kerlikowske filed for a protection order, which included a temporary no-contact provision until a court hearing. On Aug 21, Peace composed another mass e-mail informing one and all that hed been served with the protection order. He did not, however, send it. The next morning, his girlfriend accidentally sent the e-mail to Peaces e-mail list, which includes Kerlikowske. There was no threat in the e-mail, but it did violate the no-contact order. That afternoon, Peace was arrested and booked into jail; he was released the next day.
Given Peaces recent brushes with the law, it would seem that Kerlikowske has a lock-and-load case against him. But King County District Court Judge Eileen Kato will have to slog through constitutional issues at a hearing Sept. 19.
Kerlikowske is both a cop and a public official. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that citizens have some freedom to harangue cops. Also, Aaron Caplan, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, says that the states anti-harassment statute might not apply to repeated accosting of a public official because thats a constitutionally protected activity. But thats for Judge Kato to sort out.
THERE IS, INTERESTINGLY, a chance for Kerlikowske and Peace to sort this out themselves. Both men are expected to be in City Council chambers on Sept. 17 (the current protection order allows Peace to be near the chief when Peace is appearing before the council). Perhaps the chief and Peace can meet casually in one of the corners of the lobby and talk.
After all, thats all Peace wants.