Saturday afternoon, nearly 200 people marched through Capitol Hill’s streets bearing golf clubs and demands for police reform. Beginning at Cal Anderson park, the “Walking While Black” march wound its way around nearby streets through intermittent rain, at one point stopping in front of the SPD’s East Precinct.
Though the march did not have a city permit (organizers instead cited the US Constitution), police escorted it as though it did and made no attempt to confront the marchers.
The golf clubs were a nod to veteran and retired Metro driver William Wingate, an elderly black man who was arrested in July by white Seattle police officer Cynthia Whitlatch. Whitlatch has claimed that Wingate swung a golf club, which he used as a cane, toward her while she was driving past him, but dash-cam video of the incident does not bear this out.
“I’m still confused,” Wingate—who no longer uses a golf club as a cane—told the crowd. “I don’t have any beef with the police, so why would I swing my golf club at them?” At his side was former state representative Dr. Dawn Mason, who appealed specifically to “white women willing to do the work” of fighting racism.
Also present was Jesse Hagopian, a Garfield High teacher (also black) who was pepper sprayed by an SPD officer (also white) at a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day march in January (also without any apparent provocation, also caught on video).
“If you have dark skin in this city,” Hagopian told the crowd, “you are a target [for] Seattle police.” The teacher went on to echo a common criticism of the SPD’s practice of putting accused cops on paid leave: “A paid vacation is not justice,” he said.
Since The Stranger broke the Wingate/Whitlatch story last month—and as as further evidence against her has piled up—the beleaguered cop has become a posterchild for the racial bias and unaccountability which many (including the Department of Justice) say is simmering beneath the surface of Seattle’s Finest.
But Whitlatch’s behavior is just one pixel in a larger mosaic of lawless law-enforcement, said artist and march organizer Chad Goller-Sojourner. “That type of racism is what I call ‘front street’ racism,” he said. “There’s all different kinds of racism, but this is like, ‘I don’t care, this is who I am.’” The larger problem, he said, was that the SPD has an environment where such brash prejudice is allowed.
Goller-Sojourner added that while he thought the marchers had been “heard” by city officials, race-related reforms in Seattle are hampered by the city’s progressive self-image. “What happens in Seattle and the northwest is they have contempt for Southern racism,” he said. “‘We’re not that’…But you ask any black person I know, we’ll take a cup of Southern racism over [Seattle’s] kind of racism any day. Because this one’s harder to prove.”
You can see more photos of the march on my Twitter feed.