Saturday, November 5, 2016

Black Alliance of Thurston County Celebrates Work, Progress


Above: Dr. Karen Johnson, center, acknowledged the collective power of many individuals at the second annual founding celebration of the Black Alliance of Thurston County at Risen Faith Fellowship Church on Saturday afternoon. Left to right: Nat Jackson, Dr. Thelma Jackson, Barbara Clarkson (hidden behind Johnson), Rev. Charlotte Petty, Clinton Petty, Crystal Chaplin, Andre Thompson, and, standing with the assistance of a walker, Bryson Chaplin.

By Janine Gates

Community singing, thoughtful commentary, powerful testimony, and good food was plentiful at the second annual Black Alliance of Thurston County founding celebration at Risen Faith Fellowship Church on Saturday afternoon.

“It doesn’t take an awful lot of people to get a lot of work accomplished, but it does take a lot of heart,” said Dr. Karen Johnson, chair of the Alliance, who served as mistress of ceremonies for the event.

While the westside shooting of two, young African Americans, Andre Thompson and Bryson Chaplin, by an Olympia police officer in May 2015 was the catalyst for the group's formation, their work with law enforcement and the community has taken on a life of its own with a lot of effort and hard work by many individuals.

Special awards were given to Kathy Baros Friedt and Leslie Cushman, for their efforts organizing the Olympia Coalition for the Reform of Deadly Force Laws, the YWCA of Olympia’s Stand Against Racism efforts, Senator Karen Fraser and Olympia Police Chief Ronnie Roberts, and Olympia High School’s African American Alliance, which has held several conversational meetings about race.

Lacey Police Chief Dusty Pierpoint, who was not in uniform, addressed community questions and concerns about the crisis training and psychological testing of police officers, progress regarding fair and impartial policing, and how training about implicit bias can be effectively measured.

In law enforcement for over 30 years, Pierpoint acknowledged that police officers are dealing with difficult, community issues.

“We, as law enforcement, are being tasked with things we should not be. We are not mental health professionals, we’re not drug addiction professionals, we’re not marital counselors, we’re not homelessness experts, but that is who gets called. We are being tasked with things that the community should be dealing with, and it’s not happening. That’s why 30 percent of our jails hold those with mental illness who do not belong there,” Pierpoint said to a round of applause. 

Pierpoint also gave recent examples in which officers have used de-escalation techniques when responding to a call, but described how those incidents don’t get recognized or acknowledged in the media.

Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction candidate Erin Jones gave a powerful, personal talk about education and her first experiences with racism, and Thurston County Auditor Mary Hall spoke about voting and the importance of civic engagement. 

Hall assured the audience that vote tabulation is a safe and transparent process in Thurston County and across the country. She said there are nearly 175,000 registered voters in Thurston County, a record high. She also expects an 80 to 85 percent turnout rate in Thurston County. Ballots will start to be scanned on Monday. 

Part of the work of the Black Alliance resulted in the eventual passage of a bill that created the Joint Legislative Task Force on the Use of Deadly Force in Community Policing. That group's final meeting, which will include proposed recommendations to the governor, is November 21, 9:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., John L. O’Brien Building, House Hearing Room A, at the Capitol Campus.

Among other activities, beginning in February 2017, the Black Alliance will collaborate with The Olympia Unitarian Universalist Congregation (OUUC) and The United Churches of Olympia to host a monthly film series and conversations about race. Films will be held the third Thursday of each month, 6:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m., at the OUUC Sanctuary, 2315 Division St. NW, Olympia.

Perhaps the most poignant part of the afternoon, moving some to tears, was witnessing Bryson Chaplin standing, and then walking to the stage with the assistance of a walker, to be recognized with his family. Bryson still has the officer’s bullet lodged near his spine.

“This is a celebration of what faith and love and hope and determination can do,” said Johnson.

“I just want to say he came in a wheelchair, I prayed for him after church….Oh, give thanks up to the Lord for He is good,” praised Rev. Charlotte Petty.

For more photos and information about the Black Alliance of Thurston County, Karen Johnson, the Joint Legislative Task Force on the Use of Deadly Force in Community Policing, the Ad Hoc Committee on Police and Community Relations, Andre Thompson, Bryson Chaplin, and local groups working for racial justice, go to Little Hollywood, www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.comand type key words into the search engine.

For more information about the Black Alliance of Thurston County, go to www.blackalliancethurston.org.

Above: Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction candidate Erin Jones greets Drs. Sherman and Eve Beverly of Olympia at the second annual founding celebration of the Black Alliance of Thurston County on Saturday afternoon, where Jones gave a powerful, personal talk about education and her first experiences with racism.