Tacoma police confrontations with members of the black community haven’t reached the boiling point like they did in Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri.
In those cities, police-involved deaths of black men sparked riots, injuries and millions of dollars in property damage. Tacoma, so far at least, has been spared a similar eruption.
Knock wood. Or better yet, take proactive steps to make it less likely that will ever happen here.
Enter Project Peace – a series of five conversations beginning Thursday between Tacoma police and citizens at neighborhood meetings, culminating in a community-wide event Nov. 8 (see below for schedule).
It’s designed to help us get to know each other a little better and give voice to why distrust exists between law enforcement and some sectors of the community.
Ideally it will also help cultivate something at least as important: a sense of mutual respect.
A meeting held in May at The News Tribune with leaders of the black community and officials from the city and police department reflected that kind of respect – at least at the level of those participants.
But it was clear that on the street, things are different.
Some of the black leaders related stories of their own run-ins with police, of being mistreated when they had done nothing wrong. They had heard of other incidents from people they knew.
What would happen in Tacoma if one such interaction led to an officer-involved shooting? Lyle Quasim, co-chair of the Tacoma/Pierce County Black Collective, said he fears what happened elsewhere could happen here, too.
Project Peace is a welcome start. But going forward, city, police and community leaders also should explore a better avenue for people to report negative experiences with officers, one that holds officers accountable for how they treat civilians.
No law-abiding Tacoman should be fearful of the police. But that’s the case, says Gary Boone, who operates a downtown art gallery. At the Project Peace kickoff, he said he had been stopped by an “overzealous” officer. His was not an isolated incident. “Our community is scared of the police department,” he said. “That shouldn’t be.”
Chief Don Ramsdell gets that, and he’s already taken steps to improve the department’s relationship with minority communities. He meets with black pastors, and he marched with Mayor Marilyn Strickland after the Ferguson riots. That is to his credit and shows that his heart is in the right place.
Although it might take only one incident to spark civil unrest, steps Tacoma is taking could go a long way toward keeping a lid on the aftermath. Give Project Peace a chance.
Project Peace meetings
Doors open at 4:30 p.m., and events run from 5 to 8:45 p.m.
Sept. 3: Peace Community Center, 2016 Cushman Ave.
Sept. 14: Asia Pacific Cultural Center, 4851 South Tacoma Way.
Oct. 5: Lincoln High School cafeteria, 701 S. 37th St.
Oct. 21: University of Puget Sound Wheelock Student Center, 1500 N. Warner St.
Oct. 29: Center at Norpoint Cascade Hall, 4818 Nassau Ave. NE.
Nov. 9: Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center, 1500 Broadway.