The chief of the Olympia, Washington police department says an internal investigation is taking place after an officer posed for a picture with several members of the group Three Percent of Washington early Friday morning. The group of about a dozen gun owners were standing guard outside of a local gun store after the owner requested “armed members of the community to make a presence in his parking lot” over concerns that his store would be targeted by burglars.
Friday evening, Olympia’s interim police chief, Aaron Jelcick, released a statement announcing the investigation into the officer.
“I am disappointed and frustrated that the photo was taken at all, but particularly at this sensitive time in our city and nation,” Jelcick wrote. “I regret that this photo may damage the trust our community places in us that we have worked so hard to build. I apologize for the pain this has caused our community. It is imperative that Olympia Police Officers uphold our values, remain neutral to the message at public demonstrations, and do not engage in or promote conduct that will bring discredit to themselves, the Department or the City.”
Meanwhile, Olympia Mayor Cheryl Selby accused the group of promoting white supremacy by flashing “white power” symbols.
“After a long week for my community, I’m discouraged that I have to make a post like this,” the mayor wrote. “I have confirmed a photo of an Olympia police officer posing with a group of armed militia members, some of whom are displaying white power signs. I find this behavior to be abhorrent and unequivocally unacceptable.
“Our council/manager form of government restricts me from discussing disciplinary measures, though my council and I are demanding a thorough investigation,” she wrote. “As the picture clearly illustrates in no uncertain terms, a culture change within the police department and city government is clearly needed.
“We hear our community demanding it and we must rise to meet this challenge. The presence of an armed militia is not what we want to see in Olympia, and we are asking those people to stay home to ensure that peaceful protest can continue in our city.”
She ended her post with “BLACK LIVES MATTER!!!!!”
There are a couple of problems with the mayor’s assertion that the armed citizens were on hand to promote white power, starting with the fact that the group of armed citizens were actually more diverse than the city itself. At least one black gun owner is standing front and center in the picture, and Three Percent of Washington co-founder Matt Marshall says two Hispanic gun owners and one Jewish gun owner were a part of the armed citizens in a “defensive posture” outside of the gun shop.
As for the supposed white power symbols being flashed by some in the group, Marshall says they’re actually holding up three fingers as a reference to the “three percent” movement.
None of that seems to matter to Mayor Selby, who seems to want to generate conflict rather than promote conversation and understanding. Staffers with The Olympian newspaper managed to find and talk with Marshall about the armed citizens to get more information, but the mayor chose to spout off without doing any research of her own. Not only did she unfairly accuse the group of being racists, she also called the officer’s behavior “abhorrent,” and implied that the female officer was somehow promoting white power.
Things are bad enough at the moment without the mayor adding to the tensions. The “armed militia” she refers to wasn’t about promoting white power, nor were they interested in trying to interfere or disrupt any peaceful protest. In her statement, Selby spoke about a need to change the culture “within the police department and city government.” Perhaps she should lead that change by tendering her resignation if she’s not going to wait for the facts before demonizing a group of white, black, and brown gun owners who were on hand to prevent a gun shop from being burgled of being a bunch of white supremacists intent on causing mayhem in the city.