A panel of officers and citizens, as well as accountability experts, concluded Tuesday that the Seattle Police Department must “offer an honest, public apology” to those who protested after the Minneapolis Police Department killed George Floyd.
The Seattle Times reported that the Office of Inspector Review Panel, in its final and fourth review of the Seattle Police response to the months of protests for racial equality, found that officers and commanders failed to distinguish between the thousands of protesters exercising First Amendment rights, and the few troublemakers.
The panelists — which included community members, proponents of police accountability, as well as police officers and commanding officers — acknowledged that many people have a “longstanding fear and trauma” of law enforcement because of racism and discrimination in the department.
Seattle Inspector General Lisa Judge stated that the police actions which caused the protests as well as inability by the police department and city to “immediately craft specificized responses to peaceful protesters’ needs while addressing threats against public order and security” have “deep and long-lasting” effects.
The report stated that a public apology by the Police Department could be an important step towards building trust between the police and the Seattle community.
The department responded by referring to a public letter written in 2021 by Chief Adrian Diaz. In it, he apologized “sincerely” to anyone who lost faith in the police or was hurt. He apologized to “members of the community as well as the department who bear the emotional and physical scars” from the 2020 protests.
Diaz wrote: “Reform is about accepting responsibility, learning from experience and always striving to improve.”
The department has said that it has adopted many of the recommendations made by the panel in its fourth round. These include tactics, accountability and communication, leadership, community trust-building, etc. Officials did provide specific examples.
The department wrote they were looking forward to discussions and collaboration with the city to better prepare for future events of this type.
The final review focused primarily on the response of Seattle police to two protests in September 2020 and one protest in July 2020.
The report stated that on July 25, “panelists reported what appeared to have been a ‘wholesale usage of force’ towards the crowd despite it being largely a peaceful protest.” More than 5,000 protesters were involved in the demonstration over Donald Trump’s announcement to send federal agents from Washington.
Officers pushed protesters onto themselves during a march and demonstration outside the Seattle Police Officers Guild HQ on Sept. 7, using pepper spray, “blast balls”, and their bicycles.
A bat was used to strike one officer during a march of 200 people on Sept. 23, sparked after a Kentucky grand juror decided not to indict police officers for the shooting of Breonna Taylor. Another officer then rolled his bike over a protester’s head.
The report stated that the panel had acknowledged the fact that officers were tired, stressed, and on defense after weeks of protests. All of this added tension to the streets.
According to the panel, police received inaccurate or exaggerated intelligence reports from sources such as undercover agents and the Department of Homeland Security which emphasized the presence of so-called Black Block protesters who were intent on violence.
The panel also criticised officers for their apparent intentional targeting of civil rights and journalists during certain protests.
The panel presented 139 recommendations “to prevent similar events from occurring again” to city and department officials.
The report concluded that “SPD must protect and serve community members in a way that is just, fair, and supportive.”