Police in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene are wearing black shrouds over their badges this week to honor the five officers slain by sniper fire Thursday night during protests in Dallas, and community leaders are renewing calls for police oversight and reform.
The turmoil in Dallas followed the police shooting deaths of two young black men in Louisiana and Minnesota, which were captured on video and widely shared on social media. The deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, now under federal investigation, inspired the latest wave of Black Lives Matter protests – as well as assaults on law enforcement.
The Spokane NAACP and the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane began making plans earlier this week for a Black Lives Matter vigil at the Spokane County Courthouse Saturday. The shooting of police officers in Dallas hasn’t changed the plan for the event, but PJALS executive director Liz Moore said she finds herself having to emphasize that people can feel sympathy for Sterling and Castile while also feeling sympathy for police officers. It’s not an either/or debate, she said.
“We have to reject the idea that some lives are more important than others,” Moore said. “We have to reject that framing.”
The core belief behind the Black Lives Matter movement is that all lives matter equally, she said. “Violence must be condemned.”
In Spokane and Kootenai counties, there were no reports Friday of violence related to the protests. Vigils were planned Saturday outside the Spokane County Courthouse and at Restoration Church on Sunset Boulevard.
Spokane Assistant Police Chief Craig Meidl suggested city leaders have averted violence by maintaining close relationships with the community, including minority groups.
“We’re out in the community as much as we can be, so when things like this happen, we already have a channel for that dialogue,” Meidl said. “And while there still may be some frustrations within the community, we’re not starting at Ground Zero. It’s much easier to work from that angle than try to build those relationships after something like this happens.”
Mayor David Condon added, “We have been endeavoring on this for several years now … so that we can have frank and open discussions about issues of policing and race and equity and diversity.”
Condon said he had spoken several times Friday with Phil Tyler, the president of the NAACP’s Spokane chapter.
Authorities in Missouri, Georgia and Tennessee said Friday that officers had been targeted in racially charged assaults. Citing safety concerns, departments across the country have taken additional steps to protect officers, such as pairing them in patrol cars.
Local agencies, meanwhile, said they were focused on healing.
“We haven’t made any substantial changes to the way we’re handling calls,” said Coeur d’Alene police Detective Jared Reneau. “We’re just going to continue being aware of what’s going on.”
On Wednesday, Coeur d’Alene police Chief Lee White went to the White House for a briefing on community-oriented policing, and left confident his department already is doing a lot of what federal officials recommend.
Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, blamed m activists and media for the deaths of the Dallas police officers. He said misinformation is routinely peddled in the aftermath of police shootings, which inspires violence against officers.
“I’ve been telling people for years that police officers are being assassinated in the United States,” he said. “I just talked to a young police officer this morning, and his words to me were, ‘I have a hard time justifying putting on a badge today and going to work. I have to go home and see my wife and kids.’”
Officers said the Dallas shootings hit close to home.
“It’s a shock, but not a surprise, given all the tensions that are out there,” Reneau said. “It’s a difficult time to be a law enforcement officer.”
Moore said she hopes that people come to the vigil at the courthouse in order to have a place to express their sorrow, grief and anger.
“I think seeing each other in person really matters,” she said.
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