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'We're the third deadliest police force in the Nation': Spokane activists rally against police brutality at Riverfront Park Saturday

The group came together to mourn those who have died, challenge current police tactics and fight for justice for all victims of brutality.

SPOKANE COUNTY, Wash. — The Spokane Police Department is the third deadliest force in the United States, according to a police accountability tool from Mapping Police Violence, a research collaboration with activists from Stanford University and Teach for America. 

About a dozen local activists gathered in the rain at Riverfront Park on Saturday afternoon to remember loved ones that died at the hands of police. 

The Spokane Police Department follows St. Louis Metropolitan and Oklahoma City PD for rate of police killings per population. The average annual rate of killings by police must be contextualized by the fact that one additional death in Spokane may move SPD to the top of the list, despite not having as many deaths as larger cities.

Mass Action Against Police Brutality (MAAPB) organized Saturday's protest in Spokane. It is a national campaign to hold law enforcement officers accountable for brutality, according to its website. During the month of April, the organization had a national call to action, with events taking place all over the country.

"Today is going to be great to see impacted families highlighted, because those are the voices that are dealing with this specific trauma, the trauma of losing their loved one," activist Anwar Peace said. "We will hear their voices, hear how much pain they're in, accept that pain and help them move forward."

Peace has been a police accountability activist for more than 21 years and is currently on the City of Spokane's Human Rights Commission

“Ozzie [Knezovich] has constantly maintained [SCSO] doesn't have any racist cops in its force,” he added. “How can that be when Officer Thurman was a veteran who was probably doing this kind of behavior before, and it wasn’t until some of the sensitivity training that it came forward?"

Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich fired Sergeant Jeffrey Thurman in 2019 after the sheriff’s office investigated an internal complaint that alleged the sergeant, while off-duty, called an on-duty deputy and asked if he was ready to “kill some n******.” Thurman is also accused of telling a young female deputy that he would impregnate her during a work training. SCSO said both issues came to light during the investigation.

“He got turned in by fellow deputies,” Peace said. “Again, deputies turning other deputies in, that's the key.”

The deputy who lodged a complaint about Thurman’s racist behavior is now suing the sheriff’s office after he says he was harassed for making the complaint. Former deputy Andrew Richmond filed the lawsuit in District Court on March 30, 2021 claiming retaliation, racial discrimination and constructive discharge.

Event organizer JD Leighty started the event by naming individuals killed by law enforcement across the Inland Northwest. He mentioned the names Eagle Michael, Otto Zehm, David Novak, Ethan Murray, Clando Anitok, Steven Anderson, Jeanetta Riley, Dwight Steward and Nancy King. 

His best friend was Craig Johnson, a man killed by a Bonner County Sheriff's Office deputy. Deputies were attempting to arrest Johnson for allegedly confronting a deputy with a firearm on his own property during a welfare check days prior, as reported by our news partners at the Bonner County Daily Bee.

Peace spoke at the rally, sharing that he believes police reform is necessary and essential for the community to unify.

"I don't think that there can actually be any kind of community healing that takes place until the police departments admit that they have a problem inside their police departments," he added. "It's been really difficult trying to effect change when there is specific leadership here that has a history of being confrontational towards community change efforts." 

They are the same community leaders that have not offered their own advice on how they're going to fix their department, he said. 

This summer, during the Justice for Georgy Floyd and Black Lives Matter rallies, Spokane law enforcement used tear gas on peaceful protesters. In the wake of Officer Derek Chauvin’s guilty verdict, the Washington legislature has looked into making major changes to how police react to protests, riots and events. Mayors, county executives or even the governor would have to give their approval before police could use tear gas to quell riots. 

The community needs to push local leaders to change the norm, he said.

“What we witnessed here in Spokane was very powerful,” he said. “The majority of our community is white and to have the protests take place on our downtown streets, with the majority of those people being white, that was so encouraging. For years, as Black and Brown and Indigenous people, we have been saying that there's a problem with police forces for years.

“And the fact that our white community are now understanding that the issue of racial profiling and policing is not in my head, it's not a figment of my imagination. It is a real thing, that as a black man, I deal with constantly. About how police officers interact with me based upon my race. And for years, it has been assumed that I must be the problem, that if you had some kind of law enforcement contact, you were a suspect, you were a bad guy.”

He added that it works the same way with law enforcement, not everyone in the profession is bad.  

“In the Chauvin trial, seeing the police chief testify, saying ‘this is against policy,’ seeing the various other officers say ‘no, this isn’t what we do,’ that was so powerful and it gives me hope for law enforcement,” he added. “It should give hope to other fellow activists who might have the belief that all cops are bad. Just watch that trial, watch what those officers said about Chauvin. Not all cops are bad.”

Peace is a huge proponent of officer safety, he said. 

“As an activist, that's one of my proposals that I put forward for the police,” he added. “It's not defunding them or banning them, it's trying to get them mental health [help]” 

Hundreds of police officers die by suicide every year, Peace said. Blue H.E.L.P, a nonprofit dedicated to ending mental health stigmas for law enforcement officers in the United States, confirmed that more than 200 officers killed themselves in 2019. 

“The mental wellbeing of police officers not only affects the officer, but it affects the streets that they patrol,” he said.

Peace also wants to have random psychological and drug testing for officers. He said it is a detriment to police departments that they don’t, because they’re not catching officers when they are dealing with their stresses in a negative way.

In addition to admitting there is a brutality problem and evaluating officers, he wants law enforcement to sit down and talk with communities who feel targeted. 

In June of 2020, the City of Spokane proposed roundtable discussions regarding police reform, but they haven’t begun yet. 

"We used to be fifth deadliest, but that number has been adjusted," Peace said. "Now we're the third deadliest police force in the Nation, we need to do something about that."

KREM 2 reached out to local law enforcement but no one was available for comment. 

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