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Beyond Ferguson: Finding Common Ground

March 17, 2015

While many in the communities of Western Washington remain distrustful of law enforcement and angry about recent incidents of police brutality, a cadre of leaders and career activists are pushing for change on many levels – national, local, community-based and individual.


Seattle Police Officer Kevin Stuckey, Community Police Commission Executive Director Fé Lopez and City Attorney Pete Holmes respond to citizens from different backgrounds who want to know what the long term plan is to stamp out institutional racism.


UW ethnography professor LaShawnDa Pittman, life-long activist Sharon Maeda and Duwamish Tribe Chair and direct descendant of Chief Seattle, Cecile Hansen, as well as other respected voices look to education and careful, controlled growth as key elements of racial equity.  They also challenge us to take a look in the mirror for how we can make a difference in our own lives and daily interactions.

Trey, 19: I do not trust the cops.  I don’t mess with the cops.  I don’t associate with the cops.

Gaby, 17: They target people mostly of African Americans descent I feel like.

James, 46: I’ve had them cut my tents up, I‘ve had them cut my tarps up.  Just because I’m homeless and we don’t want you here.

Mark, 49: I don’t think that’s the solution to the problems is violence first.  Everybody’s a human being.

Producer Nils Cowan: Do you have any questions that you would want answered?

Gaby, 17: Howcome the police never get in trouble?

Mark, 49: I would like to know what kind of training goes into teaching these officers to talk to people.

James, 29: If I could ask the leaders of Seattle anything it’d probably be, is there any long term plan to deal with this – how do you stamp out what seems to be institutional racism?

Officer Kevin Stuckey of the Seattle Police Department and member of the Community Police Commission, believes that the police and the community have to be on the same team.

Officer Kevin Stuckey, SPD: I would be very naïve to say there is not some institutional racism across the country, and especially within the police department.

Fe Lopez, Executive Director, Community Police Commission: It’s tragic what’s been happening nationally and locally, I mean these things impact the very soul of folks, particularly those that are disproportionately impacted.

Pete Holmes, Seattle City Attorney: I’m council of record in that little case called the United States of America vs. the City of Seattle, under which our police department is working to reform.  So it’s probably an understatement to say that race relations and in fact racial equity have been important, important policy objectives.

Now in his second term, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes is tasked with overseeing the consent decree between the U.S. Department of Justice and the Seattle Police Department.

Officer Kevin Stuckey, SPD: In order for us to get to a place where the police and the community feel like we’re all on the same team, we actually have to start speaking to each other in a way that we actually understand each other.  We have to get past being adversaries.

I pride myself in my ability.  I can go anywhere, part of this city and be successful.  It’s just who I am as a person and how I was raised.  Ok, go out there and be outgoing, speak to people and take your time.  Not a lot of people are like that.  But they get there.  They get there when they start to get to know their communities.

Fe Lopez: I believe there is the want and the will, particularly here in Seattle.  We are under consent decree, we do have new leadership in SPD, there are changes being made.  But what we need are those deeper connections into the community, both ways.

Pete Holmes: It’s safe to say that the City of Seattle really truly embraces the cause of social justice.  I actually prefer the term racial equity because in a sense we’re having to try to undo literally centuries of racism – institutional racism.

Jesse Hagopian, History Teacher, Garfield High: Creating deep-seeded change isn’t easy.  If it was easy we would already have a socially just society.  An important part of the change has to be supporting public education.

State Senator Steve Litzow represents the 41st district in the Washington State Senate.

Sen. Steve Litzow, R; 41st District/East King County: We have adults in the system that are, that are more focused on keeping the system straight than doing what’s right for the kids.  I think it’s those types of issues that we need to bring to the surface, make everybody aware of, and how do we start fixing those problems?

Dr. LaShawnDa Pittman: Arming schools and and arming school districts with the kind of resources that will help children in a multitude of ways is I think going to be really critical.

Jesse Hagopian: When we infuse our schools with resources, when we infuse out community with resources, we will build a much stronger basis for a socially just society.

Hollis Wong-Wear: Writer/Performer: More than anything we really have to interrogate the notion of what growth really means.  What does it mean to grow?  What does it mean to develop?  And what does that look like and who does that serve?

Lifelong civil rights activist Sharon Maeda is encouraged by the recent Black Lives Matter protests as a way of forcing the region’s leaders to look more closely at economic policies and their effects on minority communities.

Sharon Maeda, Career Activist/Journalist: It’s great to have new people come to town.  It’s great to have all these high tech jobs and high income jobs, but it’s also really, really important to balance that out.

Officer Kevin Stuckey: How do you want your community to look? What do you want people to say about it when they come through it?  These are all really important things that we have to get to.

Pete Holmes: I think a key to changing the narrative does have to be on a personal, individual basis.

Sharon Maeda: You know in South Africa they had a truth and reconciliation commission.  We’ve never had that.

Dr. LaShawnDa Pittman: One of the ways we keep repeating the past is not understanding it and not talking about it and not dealing with it.  I know what it’s like to see first hand the ways in which people are transformed in learning about these issues.

Pete Holmes: I have benefitted from white privelege.  I have enjoyed educational opportunities, and opportunities for housing, and for even schooling my own children, that my brothers and sisters of color have not enjoyed.  And that continues to this day, and I think it’s really important that when we trealize that, that we acknowledge it.

Cecile Hansen, Chair, Duwamish Tribe: I think that we do need to learn about other cultures.  And if you don’t then you’re stuck in your ignorance of mankind.  I mean, Creator put us all on this Earth, and Creator is waiting for us to get our act together.  So let’s get our act together.


Made possible in part by


Nils Cowan

A native of Calgary, Canada who cut his teeth in the documentary industry of Washington, D.C., Nils moved to the Pacific Northwest in 2009 after working on a National Park Service film about Mt. Rainier and falling in love with the area. He has been producing non-fiction content for thirteen years, from broadcast and independent documentaries to museum films and non-profit PSAs. One of his most recent films, 'Beyond the Visible’ which reveals the inner workings and transformational science of the Very Large Array Telescope in New Mexico, was just awarded the 2014 Cine Golden Eagle Award for non-fiction storytelling.  Nils lives in Seattle with his wife and two kids.

More stories by Nils Cowan

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