by Felix Chrome
Saturday May 21 marked the one year anniversary of the shooting of Andre Thompson and Bryson Chaplin by Olympia Police Department Officer Ryan Donald. One year later, Officer Donald remains on the police force and Thompson and Chaplin are being charged with assault. Community member organized a protest demanding once again that Officer Donald be fired and the assault charges against Thompson and Chaplin be dropped.
On this rainy Saturday afternoon people gathered solemnly in Woodruff Park. Members of indigenous communities from the surrounding area shared a prayer song in support of Thompson and Chaplin intimately and publicly displaying the bond between these communities, population that are both fighting against the highest rates of police violence.
Chaplin and Thompson were in attendance, as well as their mother and sister and who took a role in leading the march and speaking to the crowd gathered. Others who have lost family members or loved ones to police violence in the surrounding area were also in attendance, including family members of Che Taylor. The day also marked the three month anniversary of Taylor’s death, a black man who was shot and killed by Seattle police on Feb 21.
Family members of Jackie Salyers, shot and killed by Tacoma police in January 2016, Daniel Covarrubias, shot and killed by Lakewood police in April 2015, and John T. Williams, shot and killed by Seattle police in 2011, were also in attendance. Later, many spoke about their experiences and shared messages of care and support for one another, highlighting the fact that they have been working and organizing together.
Around 5 p.m. the crowd left Woodruff park, which is next to an Olympia Police Precinct, moving into the street on Harrison and marching downtown. As they began march into the street where a pick-up truck almost immediately tried to drive through the group despite people standing in front of him. One individual jumped on to the truck as it continued to drive to avoid being run over, but no one was injured that we are aware of.
This was the only direct conflict that we witnessed, as cops closed off the street and redirected traffic around the protest. The crowd marched down Harrison, over the bridge and through downtown to Olympia City Hall, which also houses the OPD Headquarters.
Among the chants of “Black Lives Matter,” which has become a national rallying call, people lead chants of “Native Lives Matter” and “Latino Lives Matter” which organizers stated was “to honor the families who came out in solidarity with Andre and Bryson.”
Once at the City Hall building they held the intersection of Cherry Street and 4th Ave. creating a circle for people to speak. Organizers and families of those affected by police violence shared their demands and stories. Messages varied from talk of legal reform and lobbying government institutions to calls for revolution.
Some spoke about the movement to change the Washington state deadly force statute to remove the requirement to prove that an officer was acting in “good faith” without “malice,” as the law currently states, “A public officer or peace officer shall not be held criminally liable for using deadly force without malice and with a good faith belief that such act is justifiable pursuant to this section.” Many argue that this makes it nearly impossible to charge an officer because one would have to prove that officer did not believe they were acting in good faith.
There was previously a bill introduced that would have made this change, but was never brought to a vote outside of committee. Organizers told those gathered that they are currently working towards collecting signatures to petition the legislature introduce another version of this bill. This bill they are working towards would employ a procedural move to skip committee and go straight to a vote, and then be put to the public as a ballot initiative if it did not pass in the legislature.
While some expressed very specific goals, others spoke more broadly. Evergreen faculty Peter Bohmer spoke, linking issues of racism and state violence to a larger struggle against capitalism. He said that we should not treat political issues separately but approach seemingly disparate struggles, such as those against police violence and attempting to combat climate change, as already interrelated.
Covarrubias’ sister expressed an indictment of the entire police system, not just specific officers or laws, saying she “can no longer say that not all cops are bad.” She also emotionally shared that she was “not even able to grieve properly” because the police officer that killed her brother is still on the street, and she has to keep fighting for the living.
Caro Gonzalez echoed the sentiment that these problems are structural, telling the crowd, “Our city council is racist, all city councils are racist… our state government is racist, all government is racist.” Another community member shared this attitude, telling the crowd when cops shoot someone and say they are just “doing their job: are telling us something; they are telling us that that this is their job.”
While the day was somber and there was much discussion of the long and difficult struggles ahead, most of the visions of the fight against racism and police violence focused also on caring for one another, and the love and solidarity between communities. All of the families who had lost loved ones or been affected by police violence gathered for a picture and the crowd was lead in a chant of “ONE FIGHT/ONE STRUGGLE” before heading back towards Woodruff Park.