Ferguson shooting prompts local panel on racial issues

Rep Denny Heck hosts panel covering racial inequality, and racism in the police force, among other issues

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Ferguson shooting prompts local panel on racial issues

Kaitlyn Turner, Staff Writer

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“I am not an African American and I will never know what that’s like,” said State Rep Denny Heck, adding, “I am not afraid of this conversation.”

Heck hosted a panel last month that focused on communities of color and social justice, motivated by such events as the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, the 18-year-old African American who was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, in August.

“Lord knows that we have to make progress as far as social justice in this country,” Heck said.

“You have to think about the laws police reflect,” replied Luther Adams, a UW-Tacoma professor. Instead of reforming police, Adams believes that social justice can be found by focusing on the larger issues, such as white supremacy segregation.

“Racism is a fact of life in America,” said Paul Pastor, Pierce County Sheriff. “Racism is not a white man’s disease, it’s not a police disease – it’s a species disease.”

The Rev. Christopher Gregory of Shiloh Baptist Church and president of the Tacoma NAACP believes the solution lies in changing the culture.

“If the head of any organization does not recognize that there are issues, then change will never come,” Gregory said.

Another panelist, Theresa Henderson, is the co-founder of Evergreen Empowerment Group, which helps people get criminal records expunged so that they can find jobs.

Some people may be barred from getting a job because they have a felony on their record from almost ten years ago. “Until we get over these stigmas, then we will not be able to move forward,” Henderson said.

Also problematic, according to Adams, is “the reality that not all of our lives are equally valued. Black and white, man and woman.”

“Vice is funneled into certain neighborhoods,” Adams said. His belief is that the police crack down on vice in some neighborhoods and let it slide in others because not all lives are valued the same, at least by the police system.

Sheriff Pastor, who is in charge of around 700 police officers, puts a heavy importance on ethics and morality in the force. The police have a wider mission in Pastor’s mind, and that is to do justice and undo injustice.

“If the word ‘race’ is in a complaint, it goes straight to our investigations,” Pastor said.

In Pierce County, which Pastor oversees, he has seen more problems on a regular basis with “crazy white people” than with any minority. When Pastor asked the producers of the TV show, “Cops,” why they kept coming back to Pierce County, one of their reasons was: “We arrest a hell of a lot of white people.”

To change the culture, “We have to have real relationships,” Rev. Gregory said.

“We have to have these conversations with people even if we totally disagree with them.”

To avoid a fatal encounter, Henderson said of black youths: “Run. Run like a track star. You have a better chance of running away than getting judged fairly.”

Gregory disagreed: “If we teach kids to run, we’re going have more funerals. Let’s put all our eggs in this basket: at the genesis of the encounter, lay down.”