A few weeks ago, the second public Zoom meeting was held between Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell and representatives of the Federal Way Black Collective.
Like many cities through out our region, people of color have protested against racism and Black community members being killed by white police officers. Unlike the last meeting where Ferrell took over the meeting and scheduled speakers without talking to the other participants, the Federal Way Black Collective brought a list of requests to help focus the conversation. Cynthia Ricks-Maccotan served as moderator.
The participants wanted three public statements from their city government.
They wanted a proclamation declaring racism a public health crisis and a declaration of no tolerance for racism in Federal Way. They wanted a proclamation or statement of support of Black Lives Matter, including peaceful protesting and assembly and affirmation of the struggles faced by Federal Way residents of African diaspora. They wanted a mayor and city council statement declaring safety for all Federal Way voters casting their votes at the dropbox adjacent to City Hall.
Under budget items, they wanted a diversity, inclusion and equity manager hired to help recruit and train city staff to overcome potential barriers to recruiting a diverse workforce along with grant writing, outreach and serving as a liaison to the minority community.
They wanted the Diversity Commission moved to the Community Development Department and to expand the role of the new diversity, inclusion and equity manager to include all city departments.
They wanted an independent residents review committee, which would be staffed by the new staff person, along with a crime prevention specialist to review all police department protocols including use of force as well as making recommendations to ensure equitable and inclusive treatment.
They wanted a statement of affirmation to housing for all Federal Way residents to protect tenant rights, encourage diverse housing options, including shelters, transitional, rental and special needs, and a report made to the community.
These are important issues to much of our community, including whites, and reflect similiar ideas being discussed in other communities. However, Ferrell didn’t seem warm to any of the ideas. Ferrell said he cares about Black lives, but rather than embrace the “Black Lives Matter” concept, Ferrell continued to show his political fear of the phrase and substituted a proclamation saying we are an “inclusive welcoming city.”
If our city government is not listening to an important part of our community who feels unsafe, are we truly an inclusive city? Or is that just a phrase?
Recall that Ferrell said “no” to flying the BLM flag, and substituted a flag for Juneteenth in its place. That is appeasement, not inclusion.
Listening is the beginning of understanding. Ferrell should have listened more and tried to grasp why the phrase and the commitment to the ideals are so important to a major portion of our community, not just the Black Collective. He thought their request for safety while voting was creating an issue where none exsited. He may not remember the history of how difficult it was for Black people to get the right to vote. Or he may not have read last week’s police report where a Federal Way Black man was beaten because of the color of his skin in a hate crime.
Black people face a different challenge than white people and it was only a few weeks ago we were reminded that racism is here in Federal Way with the destruction of Sound Transit artwork. Saying racism is bad should be easy and saying Black Lives Matter in print should also be easy.
The role of a new staff person should not be a surprise and should be funded as part of a more progressive human services department or out of the mayor’s office if the city wants it to mean something. But the new staff person should not be in the police department. And a complete review of police policies and protocols is being discussed in many cities and is overdue in Federal Way.
Why is Ferrell struggling with supporting these requests? Because much of his political support comes from the Police Guild and he is up for election next year. His Sept. 25 “Mayor’s Memo” had a not-so-subtle picture of Ferrell swearing in five new police officers, above a title “A budget that reflects our priorities.”
If you’re interested in social justice and equality, Ferrell’s budget doesn’t contain much of anything for you, and his efforts at appeasement are meant to try and gain support for Ferrell in the Black community without alienating his conservative supporters or the Police Guild.
More learning and understanding is needed by City Hall before any progress will be made.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.