Two police officer unions in Olympia, Washington are publicly backing an officer who’s under investigation after she posed with several armed citizens who were protecting a local gun store late last week. We first told you about the story over the weekend, including some incendiary language from Olympia’s mayor accusing both the officer in question and the armed citizens of being white supremacists.
In actuality, members of Washington Three Percent had gathered outside of the local gun shop after its owner requested help to prevent his store from falling victim to a burglary or looting. According to the Olympia Police Officer’s Guild, the officer in question did absolutely nothing wrong, and wasn’t supporting racism or white supremacy when posing for the picture with gun owners.
“On June 5, 2020 the Olympia Police Department responded to a routine noise disturbance in west Olympia,” the guild’s statement begins. “After the call was handled, an African American male asked the officer to pose for a photo with him and the rest of the group. The citizens involved were members of a group known as ‘Washington 3%.’”
The officer wasn’t familiar with the organization and “takes no position” as to its goals, the response reads. The guild wrote that members are held to “a higher standard of conduct” that requires accountability and transparency and believe that can only be achieved when members are “extended basic fairness and due process.”
“The Olympia Police Guild does not believe in any way the officer took part in anything promoting racism/white power, and the officer was unaware of any hand gestures made while the photo was taken,” the statement reads. “This officer’s record of service with the Olympia Police Department reflects their deep commitment to fair and impartial policing and the nondiscriminatory treatment of all citizens.”
Meanwhile, officials at Olympia City Hall sound like they’re still trying to manufacture a controversy rather than simply admit that the mayor was wrong to accuse the multi-racial group of gun owners and the Olympia officer of endorsing white supremacy.
Officials with the city and the police department had not seen the statement, city spokesperson Kellie Purce Braseth said Tuesday, so did not want to comment on it. Braseth called the situation “fraught.”
“I think what’s important at this point in time is that the community know who we are,” Braseth said, saying the city and police department “serve everyone equally.”
The city is hearing from constituents who are upset and calling for the officer to be fired or put on administrative leave, Braseth said. An investigation is underway, looking into the events that led to the photo, she said. “We won’t know what happened until the investigation is complete,” she said.
“Any image that could send a message that the city does not serve all members of the community fairly, equally, and well” is troubling, Braseth said, “because it’s not who we are.”
If the situation in Olympia is “fraught” at the moment, it’s at least in part because of the response by Mayor Cheryl Selby, who seems to have made up her mind about what happened before an investigation was even launched, much less finished.
“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!!!!!”
If anyone needs to resign here, it’s the mayor herself. She’s the one who has demonstrated no regard for the citizens of Olympia, because she apparently thinks that if you’re a black gun owner protecting a local business with some of your white, Latino, and Jewish friends you’re part of a white power militia. The gun owners weren’t making any sort of white power sign with their hands. They were holding up three fingers because they’re part of a group called Washington Three Percent.
Selby has done a grave disservice to the city she governs with her incendiary description of the gun owners in question, as well as her labeling of the officer’s actions as “abhorrent and unacceptable.” Even now, rather than simply acknowledge that she made matters worse by leaping to conclusions before an investigation was complete, the mayor’s hiding behind a city spokeswoman who also refuses to admit that the mayor’s comments helped turn a non-issue into a controversy. I only hope that when the investigation is completed and the officer is exonerated of any wrongdoing, the mayor take her message of accountability to heart and hands in her resignation letter. The citizens and law enforcement alike deserve better leadership than what they’ve seen from Mayor Selby in recent days.