What started as a conversation about how a former Minneapolis police officer was held accountable for the death of a Black man ended with a call for Edmonds residents and elected officials to hold themselves, their family and friends accountable to ensure the city is welcoming to people of color.
The venue for this discussion was the latest Black in Edmonds online panel discussion, hosted by Edmonds resident Alicia Crank, and the topic was “After the Verdict.” Using the Tuesday murder and manslaughter convictions of former police officer Derek Chauvin as a backdrop, Crank encouraged panelists to examine how the death of George Floyd has specifically impacted Edmonds during the past year.
Crank began by asking Edmonds resident and Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Adam Cornell for his take on the Chauvin verdict. Cornell said that the jury “got it right,” adding “this was a just result.” Among the elements contributing to the verdict, Cornell said, was the fact that the incident was captured on video. “To have that sort of overwhelming evidence of Derek Chauvin’s guilt, it is certainly unusual in officer-involved use of deadly force,” Cornell said. He also cited the “absolutely damning” medical evidence that clearly showed that Floyd’s death “was a homicide, this was an intentional killing.”
One thing that hasn’t been discussed much is the makeup of the jury, Cornell said. “This was an incredibly diverse jury both with regard to race and ethnicity but also you also had an age range from 20 to 60, people from all walks of life who served on that jury, which goes to importance of having diversity on our juries,” he said.
Cornell also pointed to the “cascade of law enforcement witnesses who testified against Chauvin. The Minneapolis Chief of Police and many of Chauvin’s colleagues “one after the other were coming forward and saying that what he did was not reasonable. And that is not something you see in every officer-involved use of deadly force murder trial.” The prosecution team was also “incredibly skilled” and put together a strong case, he added.
Later in the discussion, Cornell said that while the Chauvin verdict was “monumental,” he added that “we’ve got a long, long, long way to go. But I think that that accountability…says something.” As an example, he pointed to the number of police accountability bills passing in the Washington State Legislature during the current session.
Crank then noted that since Floyd’s death, she has observed “a lot of anger in this community, there’s a lot of frustration and it’s manifesting itself in many ways,” and asked panelists for their reflections.
Dedie Davis, a wedding and event planner who served on Mayor Mike Nelson’s Equity and Social Justice Task Force, said the recent task force report recommending the Edmonds Police Department improve its efforts in working with people of color “split the community.” As a result, she said that Edmonds has become “this hot mess. Everyone is so angry and so divided.” Davis also said that as a mother of three boys, she worries about that climate as those angry words “trickle down to our youth.”
Panelist Mike Schindler, CEO of Operation Military Family, said that he welcomed the panel’s ability to have a conversation on this topic as opposed to “hiding behind social media” and its echo chambers. “We’ve got to get back to having discussions on tough topics,” he added.
Schindler, who is white, said he believed his own military experience served as a diversity program, adding that he and his fellow soldiers “could all be diverse coming from different backgrounds and complete missions.” He also stated he wasn’t sure if America had a “racist problem” as much as a “deadbeat dad problem,” adding he works with the State Department of Corrections and 90% of those serving time in prison didn’t have a father in the home.
Some of the panelists said that while they appreciated Schindler’s candor, they noted his experience didn’t reflect what their own friends and family members experienced as people of color in the military. Dedie Davis also said that as a single mom raising “three wonderful, community-connected Black men,” she took exception to Schindler’s example of families without dads being part of the problem.
In addition, Davis noted that her sons had been racially profiled and subjected to racial slurs while living in Edmonds. “I can appreciate your position,” Davis said to Schindler, “but I think you need to understand that there is absolute racism in Edmonds. There has always has been in the 21 years that I’ve lived here and what this last year (George Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter movement) to me has done has only emboldened those people in Edmonds to be more vocal about it — and that’s what we’re dealing with now,” she said.
Crank asked panelist Sally Guzmán, the Edmonds School District’s Family and Community Engagement coordinator, what impact the contentious nature of community conversations is having on local youth and how the school district is addressing it.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, “it has been a hard year all around,” Guzmán said, adding it was particularly difficult not being able to have personal contact with students following Floyd’s murder and the ongoing discussions about racial inequity that followed both locally and worldwide. But she added that because of technology “in the last 10 years, youth have really been leading and because it’s all happening through social media.
“Knowledge and information is right at our kids’ fingertips,” she said. “As soon as you give them a phone you’re giving them basically a gateway to a ton of information.”
She also added that because of the pandemic, “the ripple effect of the murder was people were at home, people were listening, people had some time to process and learn.”
Panelist Micah Tolbert, an Edmonds-Woodway High School and Edmonds College Running Start student, agreed. He noted that high school students “are really leading the way. I’m noticing that people are getting involved in politics a lot sooner, at a lot earlier ages.”
While both Guzmán and Tolbert said that district staff members are receiving training in areas of diversity, equity and inclusion, Tolbert added it’s often the students who are “the real problem” in the schools. For example, Tolbert said he is both Jewish and Black and as a “double minority” has been subjected to insensitive jokes from his high school peers.
Crank then brought up the topic of free speech and “people screaming and defending their right to say what they want to say and some of those things have been racially insensitive.” She added that people are also quick to discount “something they cannot relate to or is not their experience.”
Guzmán said there is “a difference between free speech and hate speech and there are just some things that we cannot allow and I think we don’t have those conversations that are needed.” The school district is working to address institutionalized racism, she said, and she asked that both parents and students reach out to the district if they believe that discrimination is occurring.
Schindler said that while he believes the school district can help with these issues, he thinks that everything starts with a child’s family because “family is going to reinforce what they believe to be true. If we’re going to solve this, it’s got to be solved with the family and define family however you want, but it’s not going to be solved in the school. It’s going to be solved at home.”
Then Crank raised the issue of “civil discourse vs. verbal attacks,” which she said is “running rampant” in Edmonds. “It seems to be more and more acceptable for verbal attacks to not only be published, but then shared and compacted upon.” As a result, “we have neighbor vs. neighbor keeping dossiers on one another,” (on social media, this comes in the form of screenshots of others’ posts) “and getting ready to kind of come after to attack people because they have a difference of opinion. Why is this OK?”
Panelist Darnesha Weary, another 20-year Edmonds resident who is a co-owner of Black Coffee NW in Shoreline, said that racism is nothing new in Edmonds but the solution is to have “neighbors holding neighbors accountable.” Change will happen “when the community says free speech ‘amazing,’ hate speech ‘not OK,'” Weary said. “That’s the responsibility of everyone. Everyone in this community must find their lane, must find their circle of influence and start making the change there.”
Schindler said he believes that people who practice hate speech “lack character,” prompting Weary to ask Schindler how he defines good character. He responded that “character is you operate the way you want to treat somebody else and how you want to be treated. What am I doing, is it honorable? Does it encourage and uplift the other individual? Would I go to battle for somebody? If we can get back to treating with respect and honor I think we start to change society at that point.”
Panelist Mark Davis, a civil engineer who has lived in Edmonds for 20 years, replied that Schindler “is pretty idealistic” but the reality is, “there are some systemic issues that make that very hard for some people of this nation to deal with. Ideally I’m sure everybody should be doing that (acting with character) but that’s not how it is right now in Edmonds. That’s the truth and we need to figure out at least politically how we make things better for everyone while at the same time personally people need to then take some accountability when they can.”
In her closing remarks, Dedie Davis (no relation to Mark Davis) encouraged those in positions of influence in Edmonds to “take time to listen to your communities of color here and what we are going through and take it seriously. And don’t try to interject how you think we should feel.”
“Edmonds has this perception that it’s just this wonderful place to be and it may be for some but not for all,” Davis added. “Put in that work. Hold your families accountable, hold your friends accountable, hold your colleagues accountable beceause that’s what it takes. It’s a community.”
You can watch the entire panel discussion on the Alicia In Edmonds Facebook page.
— By Teresa Wippel