Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said this week he won’t cancel a controversial “Killology” police training session planned later this year, even as public backlash against it continues to mount.
Last week, 66 organizations and 371 individuals signed an open letter to the sheriff written by three members of the Spokane Regional Law and Justice Council’s Racial Equity Committee.
Letter writers Angelique P. Sam, Carmen Pacheco-Jones and Rickey “Deekon” Jones were also the organizers of a petition with some 3,000 total signatures and a guest editorial published in The Spokesman-Review.
Another petition opposing the training garnered nearly 4,000 signatures. The organizers of that petition did not respond to requests for comment about their advocacy.
Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, a prominent law enforcement trainer whose philosophies are the subject of regular criticism, was set to host a “mindset bootcamp” event that included topics such as “combat preparation for your spouse and family,” active shooter situations and what makes a person a “winner,” according to a flyer for the event.
Knezovich responded to initial criticism of the training by scheduling a public forum with Grossman during his planned trip to Spokane in October and suspended the training for law enforcement officers until after the forum. Scheduling details for the public forum will be determined based on the COVID-19 public gathering regulations in place this fall, Knezovich said.
The letter writers rejected Knzeovich’s planned public forum, calling on the sheriff to cancel Grossman’s visit altogether and instead to “participate in a community listening session with Spokane County Black, Indigenous, and communities of color about the mental health impacts of policing on these communities,” as they wrote in their letter.
In an interview with The Spokesman-Review, Pacheco-Jones said she was extremely displeased with Knezovich’s response to the Spokane community and to continued outrage from people of color about the planned training.
“His response was simply based in white supremacy,” Pacheco-Jones said. “We know what’s right, and you (Knezovich) need to sit down and listen. It was suppression of Black and Brown voices.”
Pacheco-Jones said that the training is just a symptom of systemic racism not only in law enforcement, but also in American society as a whole. She encouraged Knezovich to “read the room” when it comes to hosting the public forum.
Knezovich said the Killology training has “nothing to do with race,” and that training in general is not the problem with law enforcement.
“It seems like everybody wants to attach race to everything going on here, which again is not an accurate statement. What happened in Minneapolis was not about training,” Knezovich said, referring to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May. The incident sparked an international resurgence in the Black Lives Matter movement, including protests against police brutality in Spokane.
The officers surrounding Derek Chauvin, who kneeled on Floyd’s neck for nearly 9 minutes, should have pushed him off, Knezovich said.
“It is not about training. It is about doing the right thing,” Knezovich said.
Grossman’s training has been grossly misconstrued by both the media and the letter, Knezovich said.
Knezovich argued Grossman’s training is nothing like what opponents say.
“I’ve never heard anything like what these people are portraying, and what they do portray has been so far out of context that it doesn’t mean anything,” Knezovich said.
In an email sent to community organizations asking them to sign the letter, David Carlson, an attorney and director of advocacy at Disability Rights Washington, wrote that Killology is “a debunked pseudoscience that claims law enforcement officers should use lethal force sooner and without remorse.”
Knezovich took issue with portraying the training as teaching officers to “use lethal force sooner and without remorse,” calling the statement “false information used to get signatures.”
“If Grossman actually thought this way, do you think I would actually have him train here? Categorically, no,” Knezovich said.
While Carlson acknowledges the statement is from his point of view, he said he stands behind it.
“As a lawyer who takes raw facts and tries to paint a picture with them, I don’t think that’s inaccurate, and I think it gets at the core of why people are concerned about this,” Carlson said.
Pacheco-Jones said that Knezovich’s continued defense of the training and his unwillingness to listen to thousands of community voices is evidence he doesn’t value the voices of Black and Brown people. But Knezovich said he has been listening for years, ever since he was elected sheriff.
“I’ve been to every meeting that they’ve ever called me to. I’ve gone to so many meetings with them it’s not funny, and nothing ever comes from them,” Knezovich said. “They never once bring a solution to the table. And when solutions are brought to the table they never help buy in or push those solutions through.”
When asked who he meant by “they,” Knezovich said Pacheco-Jones and also “anybody from the African American community,” saying he talked to “every group.”
When asked if generalizing the Black community as “them” could be offensive, Knezovich pushed back.
“It’s not meant to be offensive, but everybody can use the word ‘offensive,’” Knezovich said. “It’s the new cop out of not wanting to realize the group that you’re talking about has different factions within themselves and they don’t necessarily like each other. And I’ve actually tried to bring groups of them together and failed miserably in doing so.”
The use of “us versus them” language is one of the problems Carlson has with the Killology training.
The training creates an “it’s always easier to kill them because I saved us” atmosphere, Carlson said.
Pacheco-Jones said that white people can assign roles to Black and Brown activists and leaders, then disregard the rest of the Black and Brown community.
This issue often leads white leaders to perpetuate disagreements in communities of color, she said.
Knezovich told the Inlander that organizers should “fix their own damn house.”
“If they’re perpetuating this separation, how can they then tell us to get our house in order?” Pacheco-Jones said. “My response to him would be to get your house in order. … I’m talking about the entire white community that experiences this kind of elitism and exemption of any responsibility from any kind of justice.”
Groups and individuals who signed the letter were also unhappy with Knezovich’s initial response to criticism of the training and demands for it to be cancelled.
Janice Miller Krummel, executive director of the Inland Northwest Business Alliance, said of Knezovich’s community forum that “having a community conversation isn’t an option when the person having the conversation has already made up their mind.”
Miller Krummel said opposing the training was important to the LGBTQ businesses that the alliance represents because of the intersectionality of all civil rights issues, citing the high rate of violence nationally against Black transgender women as an example.
Personal injury attorney Josh Mauer said he signed the letter because the training does not align with a needed “fundamental change in policing.”
“I’m not anti-law enforcement – I work closely with law enforcement in my job,” Mauer said. “But I do believe that the use of force has changed over time, and I don’t believe we’re headed in the right direction.”
Anwar Peace, a longtime police accountability activist and nominee for the city of Spokane’s Human Rights Commission, said the training is “appalling.”
As a proponent of defunding the police and redirecting funds to other social programs like mental health treatment and education, Peace said the Killology philosophy is at odds with the defunding movement.
“Killology is a philosophy where police are the No. 1 top dogs. That’s not what we’re asking for in defunding the police,” Peace said. “I don’t believe that kind of philosophy and that training philosophy is needed in our town.”
It bothered Jones, a mental health professional and executive director of the youth outpatient facility New Developed Nations, that Knezovich used the Killology training as a way to address officer mental health.
After watching hours of Killology courses available online, Jones said he felt “this sort of psychology” is unfounded. Jones proposed continued mental health support and resources for officers, not help “just for a critical incident.”
Knezovich said those mental health resources are available to officers.
“We have that across the board, and we monitor their mental health,” Knezovich said. “If we start seeing changes in attitudes and work habits, those things are identified and worked through.”
Knezovich said he’s upset organizers “chose to start a public fight” when they could have come to him personally. He also said he has received emails and phone calls from people who researched Killology and discovered it “isn’t like” what the opposition is saying.
“The folks behind this, they don’t necessarily speak for the whole community,” Knezovich said.
But with thousands of people publicly opposing the training, organizers argue Knezovich isn’t listening.
“What is the issue that is persuading you to go against what your community is asking you to do?” Sam said. “There are these thousands of people who are saying no.”
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