UPDATED: City councilors postpone public race, police brutality discussion

Petition asks councilors to denounce systemic racism

A proposed public discussion led by trained facilitators and hosted by the City of Sequim about race and police issues is on hold through at least the Fourth of July or until “the dust settles,” according to Sequim city councilors.

City manager Charlie Bush proposed opening up a community dialogue at the June 8 Sequim city council meeting to gain a “deeper understanding from different perspectives” about national issues that culminated in Black Lives Matter protests and vigils in the city last week.

He said the Sequim Police Department has received numerous calls and he felt “it was an opportunity for a discussion” using trained facilitators within the city staff.

City councilor Brandon Janisse said he agreed with Bush about engaging the community.

“When I talk to people, I tell them I can’t help make changes or policies from what I don’t know,” he said.

Janisse said a discussion could be something to educate themselves because “Sequim as a community has its own unique challenges.”

Other councilors, however, were hesitant to immediately schedule such a community conversation, whike mayor William Armacost issued a statement a few days later on the City of Sequim website (see below).

Deputy mayor Tom Ferrell said he’d “be willing to talk about after the dust settles from everything and from the emotions across the nation.

“I don’t want to do knee-jerk things,” he said.

City councilor Troy Tenneson agreed on waiting saying there are “emotions on both sides” and, “as the City of Sequim, I think holding our cards now is the best move.”

City councilor Mike Pence said, “It’s too soon to see which way this is going to go.

“Now that the two political parties have gotten involved, it’s going to be funny to see who comes out on top and what’s under them when they come up,” he said.

Councilor Sarah Kincaid said waiting was a good idea.

“I myself am known to be an activist occasionally and I always try to keep in mind, If I deny someone else their rights, then I’m denying mine as well,” she said.

Kincaid added that “as long as it’s peaceful, I may not agree with them, but it is their right.”

Armacost said that moving forward the city needs to move quickly with how they can reopen businesses and focusing energy on a decision to close a portion of Washington Street on the Fourth of July.

“Let’s get past the Fourth of July, and at that point see if we need to reengage the community and talk about bringing it back to the community,” he said.

Armacost said he’s not putting his head in the sand.

“We are very fortunate to have an outstanding police force that is communicating with citizens and keeping them safe,” he said.

“That’s something that not a lot of communities are fortunate to have.”

Bush said city staff discussed the idea beforehand and he respected the council’s decision. He said he also doesn’t want to go forward without their approval.

“They feel it’s premature and we should wait a little bit,” Bush said.

“We as an organization are in talks with the community all the time.”

Armacost’s statement, chamber statement

On June 11, Armacost released a statement that was posted to the City of Sequim’s website:

“The City of Sequim is opposed to racism, bigotry, intolerance, and bias of any form. Based on current racial tensions, the City wants to assure the community that the organization, including its governing body and staff, will manage and lead to ensure equal and fair treatment of every citizen.

Respect, defined as “We treat those we serve and each other with courtesy, dignity, and understanding because every person matters,” is one of the organization’s stated and adopted values. Council and staff are committed to serving all citizens of Sequim with respect and will continue to strive to earn the respect of the public and build a community together that makes us all proud.”

Chamber statement

Jim Stoffer, president of the Sequim-Dungeness Chamber of Commerce, said the organization that supports local businesses and the community also released statements this week, addressing both protests and an incident in Forks:

In a Facebook post, the chamber board said: “In solidarity with our Sibling Chamber of Commerce in Forks – we also condemn these intolerant actions. While they in no way reflect the majority of our citizens, and the spirit of the Olympic Peninsula — it is important to acknowledge that this is a problem that needs to be addressed and eradicated. We stand against racism, bigotry, discrimination, and oppression in all its forms.”

A second post reads: “The Business Community is for everyone. We stand in solidarity with Black business owners, managers, employees and volunteers. We stand against racism, bigotry, discrimination & oppression, especially that which exists within ourselves and our systems. We wish to learn and grow together and support each other in being a greater force for good. #BlackLivesMatter”

Stoffer added in an interview on on June 12 that “We are highly supportive and appreciative of Sequim PD and the leadership of chief (Sheri) Crain.

“We have a morality and ethical responsibility to support all peoples of our community.”

Petition

On June 9, the day after the city council meeting, Sequim resident Shenna Younger started an online petition seeking the city council to denounce systemic racism.

She and other Sequim residents Nicole Clark and Vicki Lowe spoke on March 9 holding signs of example racist comments against the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe they said they saw on the Save Our Sequim Facebook page. Organizers and moderators for the page said at the same city council meeting they deleted the comments and don’t condone or allow those comments.

On the petition page, Younger wrote that their plea then for councilors to denounce racism was ignored then, too.

“You are our elected leaders and now you have council members not even willing to discuss the topic of racism in our community,” Younger wrote.

“If you are not willing to discuss the biggest issue at hand, step down. We need real leaders willing to have real conversations and come up with viable solutions to combat this horrible behavior happening in our city.”

Read more about the petition here: www.change.org/p/mayor-armacost-and-sequim-city-council-dencounce-systemic-racism-in-our-community.

Save Our Sequim’s board of directors issued a statement on June 11, denouncing racism as well as backing city leaders and the Sequim Police Department to “efforts to maintain law and order during these difficult and contentious times.”

The statement reads (in full):

“Considering recent events and the impact these events have had on our community: Save Our Sequim (SOS) unequivocally condemns racism in all its forms. We are a diverse, non-partisan group with over 2,500 members. We are aware that some people want to vent their opinions on social media, however, SOS has standards that we adhere to and moderators of the SOS Facebook page immediately remove objectionable and/or racist posts as soon as they come to their attention.

Save Our Sequim supports Mayor Armacost, the Sequim City Council and our Police and Sheriff Departments in their efforts to maintain law and order during these difficult and contentious times; SOS is aligned with these public organizations against racism. We are fortunate that our public agencies continue to remain free from any widespread or systemic racism.

It is unfortunate that people still experience individual episodes of racism in Sequim, on the Olympic Peninsula or anywhere they may live and work. Regretfully there will always be a few calloused and hurtful people because the human race is imperfect. We have all suffered as a result of their conduct at one time or another.

Hopefully we can all agree that wherever and whenever racism appears, it should be called out and eradicated.

Sincerely,

Save Our Sequim Board of Directors.”

Police chief response

During his city manager report Monday night, Bush opened the floor to Sequim Police Chief Sheri Crain, who read a statement she shared on the City of Sequim’s Government Facebook page:

“We are getting lots of comment from the public regarding the circumstances of last week’s protest rally and subsequent actions by a local business owner. Some comments are positive in nature, thankful that calm and reasonable action by all parties allowed the protest to complete their event in a peaceful manner while respecting everyone’s constitutional rights. Some comments are expressing concerns or have questions regarding the business owner’s actions.

“The Police Department took active steps to monitor this event for the safety of the participants, local businesses, and citizens in general. Safety is our primary mission. (our basic goal) We used much the same approach to the protest/rally held on June 4. The difference between the two events was the insertion of social media, to include a Facebook livestream post that went viral, alleging or expressing concerns regarding the potential of outside agitators at the event. At no time was that allegation or concern founded in factual evidence.

“The police at the time of the event, based on the information known or witnessed at the time, did not have probable cause to believe a crime had been committed by the business owner with his actions. The police department is cooperating with the investigation being conducted by the sheriff’s department (regarding) into later events that happened in Forks that may have some nexus to the business owner’s comments made during the Sequim based protest. (continue to cooperate with them).

“Arrests or criminal charges can only be made based on facts to support a violation of law. Just like we support the constitutional exercises of the 1st amendment we also believe in equal and fair treatment based on the law when taking enforcement action.”

She added that the June 3 protest had unfounded rumors circulated on social media about it.

“Every community needs to have its own conversation with riot, race conversations. Policing also comes up in that regard,” she said.

“Washington state is not Minnesota. Minneapolis is not Sequim. They need to deal with their own problems. They’re going to see a federal lawsuit that’s going to change their landscape.”

Crain said “heightened emotions lead to all sorts of things (and) ideas get thrown out and they want to see what’s going to stick on a wall.”

The Sequim Police Department is “happy to be part of conversations as they move forward,” she said. “I think we’ll be able to navigate out of this. We need to do things differently.”

Prior to reading the statement, Crain talked about seeing the video of Minneapolis man George Floyd, whose death at the hands of Minneapolis police officers on May 25 was ruled a homicide. She said, “(I don’t) know if I’ve seen too many more appalling things in my life … we’re all processing on how to move forward.”

Protest talk

Some Sequim city councilors said they appreciated the police force’s actions. Tenneson said he drove by the June 3 protest saying he heard that a few people “jumped out in front of cars but it wasn’t really that bad; it was a little touch-and-go.”

Sequim Police reported no criminal incidents from peaceful protesters during any of the three demonstrations on June 3-5.

Crain said her staff were in contact with multiple law enforcement agencies to fact-check and gather intelligence regarding potential violence during the peaceful protests.

She added that the Olympic Peninsula has the “ability to ramp up response very quickly if needed … but you have to base your response on facts on the ground. You don’t get to make those things up or overreact.”

Armacost gave kudos to Crain, saying the fact that she “walks the walk is huge.”

“The sad reality of the world we live in is the newsreel is 24-7 and what we’re given is rarely 100 percent of the facts,” he said.

Armacost added that he feels the word vigilante has been “thrown into the mix without really truly accepting and understanding what that meaning is.

“Often men become little boys when their testosterone gets cooking,” he said. “They say things and do things sometimes they have to apologize and recant.”

Armacost said a vigilante has to take action to be considered a law-breaker, but that FREDS Guns owner Seth Larson did not break the law.

“There’s nothing there other than exercising his constitutional rights,” Armacost said.

“If things had gotten out of hand, our tiny town would have a different landscape if things had happened.”

Ferrell said he admired protesters exercising their first amendment rights.

“When it crosses over into violence, we’re all upset,” he said.

Ferrell added that the gun owners he knows love their first amendment rights and he would be disappointed if they didn’t respect others’ rights.

“I think both are important; vigilante, vigil and valiant are not swear words,” he said.

“We are vigilant in what we do. We watch our kids. I just want everyone to go to their inherent strengths of talking things out.

“You can really look at things calmly and it doesn’t have to get crazy.”

He encouraged people to study the Constitution.

In March, Vicki Lowe, left, and Shenna Younger, right, asked Sequim City Council to draft a resolution against systemic racism after seeing Facebook posts on the Save Our Sequim Facebook page. Page organizers deleted and denounced the comments, they said. Now Younger continues to seek the same declaration from the City Council through an online petition. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

In March, Vicki Lowe, left, and Shenna Younger, right, asked Sequim City Council to draft a resolution against systemic racism after seeing Facebook posts on the Save Our Sequim Facebook page. Page organizers deleted and denounced the comments, they said. Now Younger continues to seek the same declaration from the City Council through an online petition. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

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