Evergreen community speaks out about officer involved shootings

July 8, 2016

(Olympia, Wash.)—Students, faculty, staff, and alumni from The Evergreen State College have expressed fear, shock, and disappointment over this week’s two officer-involved shootings and subsequent Dallas shootings, but also offered solutions and support.

On Friday, President George Bridges said, “We grieve the violent and tragic deaths this week in St. Paul, Baton Rouge and most recently in Dallas. Like other incidents before them, they inflict enormous pain on the families of those who lost their lives, instill fear in the communities in which they occurred, and aggravate the already tense relationship between law enforcement and our Black communities. As a nation, we must be vigilant in ending such corrosive violence, in restoring trust in our system of laws, and in creating safe communities for all people.”

The recent incidents are weighing heavily on the minds of the Evergreen community, a reflection of President Obama’s response that “All fair-minded people should be concerned.”

Alumnus Nathan Gibbs-Bowling ’04, MiT ’06, an educator at Lincoln High School in Tacoma and the 2016 Washington State Teacher of the Year tweeted, “Teachers who can’t deescalate conflict, don’t belong with our children and officers who can't, don't belong on our streets.”

In an interview with Seattle’s KIRO 7, Gibbs-Bowling said that he feels “current policies allowing police to use lethal force when they they’re in danger gives officers too much control over what happens.”

Gibbs-Bowling even wrote A Syllabus for Students When Dealing with Law Enforcement, which includes an introduction describing his personal, “complicated” relationship with law enforcement. “There are good teachers and bad teachers; there are good police and bad police,” he wrote. “Students know they have a bad teacher after a few days of class and can change their schedules or otherwise find ways to cope. But they won’t know they’ve encountered a bad officer until it’s far, far too late.”

Officers, dispatchers and leaders of Evergreen’s Police Services were also discussing the events. In an email to his team on Friday, Chief Ed Sorger said, “You all do the right thing all the time by treating everyone with the utmost dignity and respect. Your reputation as a professional police department is outstanding county-wide and I am thankful for that, as you deserve recognition for the way you conduct yourselves.” He also advised them to “be very vigilant and careful in our community on how we approach times like this.”

In an email to President Bridges, lab coordinator Ashley L. Marie urged the college to “acknowledge the work that has already been done by Black students, staff, and faculty” and to further that work by holding “regular workshops educating white people on ways to deconstruct white supremacy here at the college and in our daily lives.”

Under the new leadership of President Bridges, The Evergreen State College has dedicated hundreds of hours to dialogue and concrete actions promoting tolerance and respect for difference. The college has created new procedures and mechanisms to address incidents of harassment, bias, and misconduct; formed a new Diversity and Equity Council; and established a Vice President of Equity and Inclusion position. In addition, a six-part “Coming Together” speaker series engaged much of the campus community. The series was designed to provide context, guidance, inspiration, and ideas to address the challenges and problems that our students, faculty, and staff of color experience on our campus or in the community. These efforts are set to be profiled in the national publication Diverse: Issues in Higher Education on July 14; Evergreen community members Tyrus Smith, Rashida Love, Felix Braffith, and Maxine Mimms all contributed to the soon-to-be-published feature article.

Despite the national media attention for Evergreen’s work toward equity and diversity on campus, Bridges concedes that the campus community must continue to come together to do more. “We have accomplished a lot since I came to Evergreen last fall, but there is still much to do and I am committed to keeping work related to race and equity visible and active at Evergreen,” said Bridges.

Marie added, “We are responsible for organizing our communities and we must do better.”

Susan DeRosa, a staff member at the college, sent an email out college-wide acknowledging the impact of the week on both civilians and police and calling for unity. “To those of you who protect and serve, please know our hearts go out to you and the families of the fallen,” she wrote. “Let’s hope that the wounded officers and civilians recover fully from last night’s attacks in Dallas, and that acts of violence against our fellow citizens stop escalating with divisiveness everywhere.”

When asked what else the campus could do in times like these, Bridges referred to his statement from a video message created in May. “Again, I call upon the campus community to repudiate acts of contempt, disrespect, and hatred. They have no place at Evergreen, not here, not now, not ever.”

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