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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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‘Killology’ kills empathy: Group protests now-suspended law enforcement training

Protesters listen to speeches before marching onto the Spokane County Courthouse campus on Sunday for a protest against the upcoming Killology public forum for Spokane County law enforcement. (Libby Kamrowski/ THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Protesters listen to speeches before marching onto the Spokane County Courthouse campus on Sunday for a protest against the upcoming Killology public forum for Spokane County law enforcement. (Libby Kamrowski/ THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

A group of about 70 protesters were surrounded by law enforcement officers Sunday as they spoke out against the now-suspended “Killology” training-turned-public forum scheduled for October in Spokane.

A new activist group, Human Rights Activist Coterie of Spokane, organized the “Rally to Cancel Killology” on Sunday.

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.

Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie 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. When and where the forum will be held will be determined based on the COVID-19 public gathering regulations in place this fall, Knezovich said.

However, thousands of people continued to sign petitions against the training and Grossman’s upcoming appearance.

The Sheriff’s Office declined Sunday to comment further on the Killology training and the protest.

The HRACS group, which started earlier this month, organized the protest as one of their first events. HRACS is organized by young activists in Spokane who hope to create a more consistent roster of protests in Spokane on various human rights issues, said Emily Peters, a spokesperson.

“It’s just a way to increase police brutality,” Peters said of the training. “The kinds of messages that Dave Grossman sends, the things that he says in his training, in interviews, in his books are just disgusting.”

Peters said the group is opposed to Grossman coming to Spokane at all.

“We need to make sure that it doesn’t happen at all, and honestly we don’t even want to have that public forum happen,” Peters said. “We don’t want Dave Grossman to come to Spokane at all. We don’t want him to come give the community a sugar-coated version of his ideologies.”

Fellow organizer Melanie Perry said when police kill someone, they often use the idea that the deceased person shouldn’t have “messed with police.” She said that police look up “anything” that could imply a deceased individual was a bad person.

“That’s what this Killology training does, it kills your empathy,” she said. “If they can’t empathize with you as a person, then they don’t need to worry about if they kill you or not.”

On Sunday afternoon, masked protesters gathered at Spokane City Hall and marched across the Monroe Street bridge to the Public Safety Building.

They chanted, “Two, four, six, eight, no police, no hate!” and “Say his name, Otto Zehm!” as they marched.

One speaker, Jay Warton, who is currently studying to be a social worker, talked about the impact the Zehm case had on the Spokane community.

Zehm, 36, a developmentally disabled man with schizophrenia who worked as a janitor, died in police custody in March 2006. Former Spokane Police Officer Karl Thompson was convicted of civil rights violations in his death and served time in federal prison.

Warton, who is on the autism spectrum himself, said people with cognitive disabilities don’t respond the same way as neurotypical individuals.

“Many people I work with, if you were to raise your voice at them, they’re likely to escalate in return,” Warton said. “It’s just part of not understanding modern social cues, or just general social cues.”

But police, Warton said, often escalate situations rather than de-escalating them, something he says the Killology training encourages.

When the protesters arrived at the Public Safety Building, more than 30 police officers surrounded them from a distance, a fact that bothered Natii Straub, an HRACS event coordinator.

“They’re choosing to go out and teach themselves how to kill us indiscriminately, and that’s not something we can tolerate,” Straub said.

Straub mentioned the community-focused policing alternative, CAHOOTS in Oregon, as something he would like to see in Spokane before attempting to engage with officers. That program uses traditional emergency dispatchers to assign crisis counselors and other social workers to respond to people who need help.

Straub asked a leader from the onlooking law enforcement officers to come speak to the crowd. When no one responded, Straub retorted by saying, “You have no honor.”

Salem Lutheran Church Pastor Liv Larson Andrews said she believes this training hurts police, too.

“No one is addressing what happens to their soul when they’re taught to be a killing machine,” Larson Andrews said. “Killology injures police.”

The pastor said she felt called to protest because she is worried about the direction training like Killology is moving the country as a whole, especially morally.

“It’s not only what’s happening to Black and Brown people being killed, but it’s what is happening to police,” Larson Andrews said. “I’m called to care about everybody’s well-being, and I’m staggered at the rate of suicide among veterans and police.”

David Brookbank, a longtime anti-police-brutality activist, said he sees the Killology training as part of the militarization of police. Brookbank said it’s not just Knezovich allowing this training that the community should be worried about, it’s the militarization of policing as a whole.

“This has to do with the police mentality in the United States,” Brookbank said.

Brookbank’s idea that the Grossman training is a symptom of a nationwide problem is something that HRACS agrees with.

Perry said the group eventually wants to work toward getting the training banned nationally. For now, they want to help bring other activist groups together to stand up against the training, and to encourage elected officials to remove any funding for the training.

They also want to outlaw the training being held at the sheriff’s training center in Newman Lake, citing the fact that the center is funded by tax dollars.

Finally, the group wants Knezovich to admit the training is dangerous, Perry said.

“We want to see him publicly admit that’s not OK,” she said.

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