When the vice chairwoman of the Spokane Human Rights Commission, Ashley Torres, shared a post announcing the swearing-in of seven new Spokane County Sheriff’s Office deputies on Facebook, it wasn’t with a congratulatory message.
“So much for diversifying our police force …” Torres wrote.
Torres didn’t step in when another commenter wrote the group of deputies looked “white-washed” and that the woman in the picture was put out front “so she wouldn’t be missed.”
Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said he was disappointed by the post, especially since it came from a member of the Human Rights Commission, and that it sent a terrible message to the seven new deputies.
“Welcome to Spokane and the first day of your new job,” Knezovich said Thursday. “You already have part of the community against you.”
Knezovich, whose agency, like many other law enforcement agencies in the country, is struggling to fill open positions, demanded an apology.
Torres said she was just stating a fact that seven more white people had been hired.
“I don’t feel like the hiring process is working,” Torres said. “There are barriers to hiring minorities and those barriers need to be addressed.”
Torres said she didn’t immediately understand the “white-washed” comment as being racist.
She added that the post was not directed at the people in the photo, and that she did not intend to support sexist comments about the female deputy.
“I understand how it could have been misconstrued,” Torres said. “But I have issues with the disparity within the sheriff’s department, and I’m not going to back away from that.”
Knezovich said that pointing out there is a disparity issue in his agency is a “Captain Obvious” moment.
“How about helping with a solution?” Knezovich said. “We reach out to every aspect of humanity we can think of when we hire.”
Human Rights Commission Chairman John Lemus said the commission will apologize to Knezovich and the new deputies at its meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.
“Ashley and I are not racists,” Lemus said. “Deputies have human rights, too, and this is never anything that could have happened on the commission’s page.”
Lemus, who’s running for mayor of Spokane, also said he’d issue a warning to commissioners on Tuesday.
“We are appointed by the mayor and we are public officials,” Lemus said. “We have to think about what we are posting on social media and how it’s perceived by the community.”
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