At points, participants of the third quarterly Black and African American Community meeting clashed with the mayor on Jan. 27 as community members’ concerns and the mayor’s explanations got lost in translation.
The quarterly meetings could be called “real talk with the mayor,” said moderator Cynthia Ricks-Maccotan, due to the passion behind confronting difficult conversations in order to create systemic change.
The meeting opened with a Federal Way Black Collective (FWBC) update from director Lyn Idahosa, followed by a legislative update by Teri Rogers-Kemp, a defense attorney and community advocate working with several organization including the Black Collective. Rogers-Kemp outlined several bills in the Legislature that are considering police reform and gun control policies.
Sanetta Hunter, who is on the governor’s policing and racial justice task force, explained the groundwork recommendations set by task force regarding independent investigations that oversee police misconduct, police-caused deaths and major injuries — and the possibility of independent prosecutors to handle those matters.
Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell addressed several asks that had been outlined by the community at the previous meetings.
The city is now hiring for a part-time diversity, equity and inclusion coordinator, who will work closely with the Federal Way Diversity Commission along with city departments, to provide leadership, vision and action to achieve racial equity for city employees, residents, and the community at large. The position is slated to earn between $3,327 to $4,214 a month and in the near future, the city hopes to make the position a full-time opportunity.
Discussing rental assistance provided out of CARES Act funds, Ferrell highlighted that $498,600 of the $500,000 El Centro de la Raza allotment went directly to rental assistance. Of the 182 grants provided to residents, 28% (51 grants total) were contributed to families of the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) community. About 10% (19 grants) went to white families and a handful of grants were provided to Asian and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander families. Fifty-seven percent of grants (103 in total) went to other multiracial families.
Ferrell also noted upcoming plans to create a sister-city partnership with a city in Africa, and with the city of Rivne in Ukraine. Federal Way currently holds two sister-city relationships with Hachinohe, Japan, and Donghae, South Korea, and a friendship relationship with Shantou, China.
Moving into the question and discussion portion, a popular topic of discussion was the difference in a police oversight board, compared to Federal Way’s current structure of the “Chief’s Call,” a private quarterly community board directed by Dr. Bob McKenzie.
When community members pressed Ferrell about police misconduct and how discipline works within the city’s department, Ferrell held strong to his stance.
“We do not tolerate lying. We do not tolerate misconduct or assault,” Ferrell said. “We don’t tolerate misconduct by our officers … We have a clear system of accountability.”
Tensions began to rise as the discussion turned toward Josiah Hunter, who was wrongfully placed in a chokehold by a Federal Way officer in 2014. The following lawsuit cost the city upwards of $655,000, and the involved officer remains on the force.
“Mayor Ferrell, respectfully this is a space where people are saying they do not feel heard by the process with the Chief’s Call or any current process is not enough, and as we have discussed in the past when showing up for BIPOC, it is very hard to hear that everything is OK. If the community here felt that the current system was working, they would not continue to bring this up,” Lyn Idahosa wrote in the meeting chat.
She urged the mayor to respond on the side of his residents, not his police force.
When the community says they have fear, or have mistrust in police, it is not an indictment of the entire police department or the leadership’s ability to act, said moderator Cynthia Ricks-Maccotan: “What it is, is saying ‘we’re crying for help.’”
Questions ranged from how many officers have had repeated complaints against them, and how many complaints were made by people of color, to how the mayor is working to address police reform within the Federal Way Police Department.
While answers may not be readily available and it will take time to change the system, the community needs — and deserves — an acknowledgement of the validity of their complaints and their pain, Ricks-Maccotan said.
Attendee Evan Cook urged the mayor for truth and transparency when discussing police issues, not political doublespeak.
“This is my example of why we need the community involved in the process in reviewing officer misconduct … that’s the point of these calls, that’s the point of these conversations,” Cook said. “If we’re going to bridge that gap, we are going to have to get some of these things answered truthfully.”
At the Feb. 2 Federal Way City Council meeting the following week, Mayor Ferrell acknowledged the work still needing to be done.
“We’re going to keep working on these and make sure that all the voices in our community are heard. There’s some healing to do in this community,” he said. “I think we can all play our part.”
The next quarterly Black and African American Community meeting will be held in April.