About 100 people showed up to a community forum hosted by the city of Spokane Wednesday to talk about race relations and the Spokane Police Department.
A focus of the event was an opinion column written by former U.S. Attorney Jim McDevitt that was published in The Spokesman-Review last year discussing violent crime among young black men. McDevitt was named director of law enforcement in Spokane by Mayor David Condon after former police Chief Frank Straub’s ouster.
Several people at the forum in the downtown library Wednesday said they thought the opinion column McDevitt wrote was racist, while others said the statistics he used were inaccurate.
Joshua Washington said McDevitt wrote that black men are arrested at a higher rate than white men. “I’m going to be judged right off the bat because of the color of my skin,” said Washington, who is black. “Those statistics don’t apply to me.”
“I’m not here to condemn the individual,” said Phil Tyler, vice president of the NAACP. “I’m here to condemn his words. In the op-ed, he prejudges an entire group. I’m giving him his Donald Trump moment to repudiate those words.”
Others in the room talked of their fear and mistrust of police.
“I moved to Spokane two years ago, and I’ve been pulled over eight times,” one man said. “I fear the police.”
Another man said he grew up in Spokane. “I don’t fear you guys, but I don’t trust you at all,” he said.
He said he knows that most police officers took the job because they want to protect and serve. “Get back to that,” he said. “Get rid of the race.”
McDevitt said he has come to realize that unless you walk in someone’s shoes, you can’t understand them.
“I apologize for the hurt,” he said. “Statistics are cold. In that regard, they’re dangerous.”
His intent was not to endorse racial profiling but to point out that it exists, McDevitt said. He blamed having to repeatedly shorten his opinion piece for its lack of clarity.
“I tried to put too many things in a short article,” he said.
McDevitt invited people to meet with him about their concerns.
“I’m open,” he said. “It’s part of the journey, part of the learning process.”