Seattle Council Reacts to Latest Police Shootings of Black Men

It’s not clear how this will impact the impending Seattle police contract.

In two separate incidents this week, two police officers shot and killed two black men. Tuesday night, police officers in Baton Rouge pinned Alton Sterling to the ground, then shot him to death. Wednesday night, a police officer in Falcon Heights, Minn. pulled over Philando Castile, then shot him to death. Both incidents were filmed on cell phones, though in Castile’s case the film doesn’t start until immediately after the shooting.

News of these shootings, which has spread like wildfire through social media, comes at a time when the City of Seattle is in contract negotiations with the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild.

While they declined to discuss the contract negotiations, Seattle city council members Rob Johnson, Lisa Herbold, M. Lorena González, and Sally Bagshaw did share with Seattle Weekly their reactions to these two brutal slayings, while councilmember Tim Burgess declined to comment. We have not heard back from other councilmembers yet, but will provide updates when we do.

Here’s the killing of Alton Sterling:

And here’s the video immediately after the killing of Philando Castile:

“I had difficulty sleeping last night contemplating how our country could have such a continued cycle of police violence against innocent citizens,” said Rob Johnson, who represents District 4 (U District, Ravenna), in an email statement. “It’s important to reiterate today, and every day, that #BlackLivesMatter. But it’s also just as important, if not more so, that we come together to reflect and take concrete, actionable steps to ensure that each community, especially Black and Brown communities, feel safe and not in fear of losing their lives whenever they interact with police.” Johnson says that he’ll push for more police training in use-of-force and de-escalation, putting more neighborhood locals on the police force, expanding body cameras to the entire force, and making the Community Police Commission permanent.

“What I saw in Baton Rouge is absolutely appalling,” Sally Bagshaw told Seattle Weekly, calling the footage “sickening.” Bagshaw, who represents District 7 (downtown, Queen Anne), said that as of early this afternoon, she hadn’t yet seen footage of Castile’s death. “I am so sad for the families and friends,” she added. “Gun related deaths are out of control.”

Lisa Herbold, who represents District 1 (West Seattle), became visibly emotional when discussing the killings, saying they fill her with an “increasing sense of desparation, powerlessness, fear—for my family.” Herbold is white, and has two African American grandchildren. “If the script was flipped and we had all these killings of white people at the hands of police, I don’t know how I’d leave the house every day. It’s…” she said, trailing off, her eyes red.

“America’s a scary place.”

Herbold added that the videos of both killings “remind me of the value that observers have” in holding police accountable, and suggested the council could pass an Observers’ Bill of Rights to protect people who witness and film events like these in Seattle.

She also cautioned that “sometimes when we talk about solutions, we’re missing the forest for the trees. Yes, we need better oversight. We need better training, we need a police force that is representative of our communities. … But I really think the bigger problem is fear. We have a national problem with police forces that are seeped in fear.”

M. Lorena González, who is one of two city-wide councilmembers and who chairs the council’s public safety committee, called the shootings “more of the same.”

“What we are continuing to see in this country is the continuation of law enforcement using deadly force in their interactions with black men throughout the country,” she said. “The loss of life is absolutely crushing, of course, but I think that people are upset not just because of the loss of life, but because people are tired of being the target of this disproportionate police action.”

cjaywork@seattleweekly.com

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