As police across the country deal with protests in response to the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Tacoma’s chief of police and mayor led a peaceful march Monday evening, as well as a discussion about race relations in America.
Ferguson police have fired tear gas and buildings have burned in their city since a grand jury decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson, who shot the unarmed black teenager.
Seattle police closed downtown businesses Monday evening amid demonstrations.
In Tacoma, people talked.
Local leaders spoke to a crowd at Shiloh Baptist Church downtown, at the end of the Tacoma march, which included about 200 people.
Many groups helped host the conversation, organized by Tacoma Deputy Mayor Victoria Woodards.
“Our police chief led the march,” she told The News Tribune. “That’s what makes Tacoma different.”
Mayor Marilyn Strickland addressed the Ferguson verdict and resulting lack of a trial.
“We were deprived of that process,” she said.
She told Tacomans that they don’t live in a post-racial society.
“Pointing this out doesn’t make me a militant, crazy racist,” she said. “It just makes me someone describing the American experience.”
Strickland said there’s still work to do and that it’s important to have a safe forum for difficult discussions. But she also gave Tacoma credit for its response.
“We have leadership in law enforcement willing to have that conversation,” she said. “That’s how we do things here.”
Tacoma Police Chief Don Ramsdell told the crowd that a couple local black religious leaders called him when the Ferguson verdict was announced. They reached out to offer their support and to ask what they could do to help.
That’s when it hit him, he said, that “It’s working in Tacoma.”
Community-building takes a long time and can’t happen only in response to incidents like Ferguson, he said.
“We’re not perfect,” Ramsdell acknowledged. “We’re here to listen. We’re here for support, as the ministers supported us the other day.”
Working with youth is something to target, he said after his speech.
Bellarmine Preparatory School senior Malando Redeemer spoke at the church about why his life “matters,” keeping with the name of the event: “Black Lives Matter.”
He gave many reasons, in the process challenging perceptions and expectations of black youth.
“I’m not just an athlete — In fact, I’m not an athlete,” the drum major said, eliciting a laugh from those gathered.
Before the crowd gave him a standing ovation, he said: “I’m a loving, caring and intelligent young man. ... I too can change the world.”
Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor told those gathered it might never be completely clear what happened in Ferguson. But he said he thinks fear was at the heart of it and that it’s important to work against that.
“Maybe it falls especially to people with badges on,” he said.
The Rev. Anthony Steele, the new pastor at Allen African Methodist Episcopal Church in Tacoma, said he used to work in St. Louis. He’d been in Tacoma 18 days and said his first impressions were good ones.
“Ferguson, we’ve got a long way to go,” he said. “Tacoma, keep on doing what you’re doing.”