Above: Sign at Olympia High School, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” - Martin Luther King, Jr.
By Janine Gates
The Ad Hoc Committee on Police and Community Relations held its fourth community forum at Olympia High School on Thursday afternoon.
The forum focused primarily on the experiences and ideas of youth and was open to all community members to also share their thoughts about how the Olympia police department can best serve the public.
Several students and staff of Olympia High School were in attendance, including principal Matt Grant. Several uniformed police officers were also in attendance, which prompted one adult to say that their armed presence was difficult for him.
Several students shared stories of their interactions with local police.
One young man, who is African American, said he was with a group of friends and one of them had a BB gun. Someone called it into police, and one officer arrived, who ordered them to the ground. They complied. One responding officer soon turned into three others because a neighbor started arguing with the officer.
“I was scared. I didn’t want to become a statistic,” he said. Asked to elaborate on his feelings about the incident, he said, “Well, the officer didn’t pull his gun out and I didn’t get shot, so the situation turned out A+….”
Another African American student said he felt the Olympia police are better than most.
“They’ve shown me respect,” he said. He said he came from Tennessee, and said that “things are really bad down there….”Asked what he would like to see by the Olympia Police Department, he said more forums and more dialog.
Maddie Hendrickson, 18, shared that she was in a car accident about a year ago in which a school bus rear-ended her car. She was uninjured, but said she didn’t feel like she was being heard by the officer, and he seemed rushed.
“It was a stressful situation and the police could be calmer,” said Hendrickson. She offered many suggestions for how the police could approach teens with more compassion.
A mother described how her son has been victimized at Washington Middle School and Olympia High School due to his African American race.
“There hasn’t been a single year that he hasn’t had a racial incident here in Olympia,” said Karen Arnold. The Arnold’s have lived in Olympia for 15 years and came from Tacoma. In the most recent incident last year at Olympia High School, he was jumped on by another student on the basketball court and called the “n” word. She says the student was given a half day suspension.
“….That is not enough,” said Karen Arnold. “….It gives the message that the behavior is ok….”
Her son, Kardel Arnold, 15, was present and freely shared his stories and thoughts. Arnold said that when he was in the sixth and seventh grade, he was harassed all the time. He described a situation in which he was sitting on the bus and was punched by another student. There was no disciplinary action to the bully.
“I could be wrong, but I’m 99 percent sure that if it had been me who had done the punching, I would have been suspended or expelled,” he said. His mother called the police to see about what could be done, but they said nothing could be done because the other student did not threaten Arnold. Conversely, the school said that they couldn’t do anything because as soon as the police are called, it becomes a police issue, and not a school issue.
In general, Kardel Arnold says he has nothing against police officers, but he makes sure he doesn’t move too quickly or make any wrong moves when he sees police around.
Hired last spring, Olympia High School paraeducator Antonio McClinon, who is African American, said that he would like to see more people of color on the police force. He also said that there are only three African American males who work at the school.
McClinon said he spoke with the school district superintendent a couple of years ago about diversity and what he thought would be a ten minute conversation turned into an hour. He was pleased about that, but in terms of recruiting for teaching positions, the process is difficult, plus, African American teachers who live in the South Sound area tend to take jobs in Tacoma or Seattle, an environment where they feel more comfortable.
“….I could easily get a job there, but I want to be here…. I’m a role model here. It starts with one or two….I am not afraid, I am concerned….There's so much politics and roadblocks….” he said. The African American students surrounding McClinon agreed that he was someone that they felt they could go to if they needed to.
Mr. Grant said that race is frequently an issue at Olympia High School and acknowledged that it is a challenge for students of color to come to the school.
“If I could have a request, it would be that we be constantly in training, for the police and administrators, on how to interact with students of color, learn the issues there, and strategies for creating dialog. I think we learn a lot from each other and I can’t say enough about how much we want to engage in dialog, and we can do a lot more. We have a core group of students willing to engage in dialog but setting those things up are really difficult….”
He said that in his experience, the school has had several positive experiences with the police. Grant said they used to have lunchtime sessions with students of color, but not this year.
“We can always do more,” he said.
The Olympia City Council tasked a group of citizens last year with engaging the community on how the Olympia police can better serve the public, especially people who do not often have the chance to be heard. The group has held several forums. For more information about the group and future meeting dates, go to www.olympiawa.gov.
Editor’s Note: All individuals in this article consented to being identified.
Little Hollywood has written many articles about the Ad Hoc group, police issues, racial justice, the Olympia Police Department, and excessive use of force by law enforcement at Little Hollywood, www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com. Use the search engine to type in key words.
Above: “Throw kindness around like Confetti”sign at Olympia High School.