An image of a Black Lives Matter protest in Washington D.C. Photo by Tim Eytan, Creative Commons

On June 27th, after three days of deliberation, a jury handed down a guilty verdict convicting Auburn Police Officer Jeffrey Nelson of second-degree murder and first-degree assault for a 2019 shooting that resulted in the death of Jesse Sarey, a Khmer man from Auburn, WA.

In an altercation in front of a convenience store that lasted only 67 seconds, Nelson punched Sarey seven times, shot him in the abdomen once, and after clearing his gun’s chamber, proceeded to again shoot an already incapacitated Sarey, this time in the forehead.

Since this senseless murder, the city of Auburn has reached a $4 million dollar settlement with Sarey’s family. Meanwhile, Nelson has been on paid administrative leave.

The judge has set Nelson’s sentencing for July 16th where he faces a sentence of up to life in prison for the murder of Sarey and 25 years for the assault charge.

Though Nelson’s conviction marks the first conviction under I-940, a 2018 initiative that eased the standard to convict law enforcement officers for on-duty killings, this is not the first time he has killed on the job — it’s his third.

In 2011, Nelson shot and killed Brian Scaman in the head. In 2017, Nelson shot and killed Isaiah Obet in the head. Both killings were cleared by the same department entrusted to keep our community safe, as Nelson was allowed to continue his badge-touting killing spree.

This should come at no surprise, because according to MappingPoliceViolence.org, since the passing of I-940 in 2018, there have been at least 180 civilians killed by police officers in Washington state. What’s more appalling is that the 310 civilians killed by police between 2013-2022 in Washington state ranks 19th in the country — 99% of which were instances where charges weren’t ever filed.

How’s that initiative working out, y’all?

So now I want us as a community to have a tough conversation. I want us to ask ourselves, are we as a community content with one killer cop locked behind bars? And does this conviction actually do anything to prevent anything like this from happening again? Are we safe? 

I’m not so sure.

Remember, it took three people being shot in the head by this guy before charges were ever even filed, let alone a guilty verdict.

Now I’m not saying that this serial killing psychopath shouldn’t be held accountable for his actions. No, far from it. What I’m asking is, what does true accountability look like and what do we need to do to keep bullshit like this from continuing to harm our community members?

I’m not going to lie to y’all, as a prison abolitionist who dreams of a world where prisons no longer exist because they are no longer needed, even I celebrated after hearing the guilty verdict. And yes, I absolutely agree that Nelson had to be removed from community because he was an immediate threat to the safety.

But now what? Do we lock him up and throw away the key? Are we safe now because of it?

America incarcerates more of its citizens than any other nation on the face of the Earth. If incarceration actually deterred violence, then America would be the safest place on the planet, y’all. Seriously, think about that. Let it sink in a bit.

And now, as violence and crime rates seemingly continue to rise according to mainstream media, calls for even more police presence get louder and louder. Remember, we’re talking about the same police that killed Manny Ellis, Charleena Lyles, Tommy Le, Jesse Sarey and countless others. Yes, those cops.

But this is the real kicker, ask yourselves, how often have you heard of a cop actually preventing a crime from happening? I’m not talking about showing up after the fact and taking a report and promising to find the perps who committed the crime, I’m talking about some real life Batman shit! Yeah, not much there, huh?

And even in Jesse’s case, the cops were called there to address a complaint of disorderly conduct. How does that turn into a freaking murder?

We have to demand and do better, or our community is doomed.

But if incarceration and more policing aren’t the answers, what do we do? I’m actually not sure. However, what I do know is that we must stand together to condemn violence in our communities and invest in positive solutions that are grounded in uplifting our people, especially our youth, and that are not dependent on the same government institutions that systemically prey on marginalized communities of color.

That means divesting from prisons and police, and actually reinvesting those resources in our people! But most importantly, that means having the courage to truly reimagine the beautiful world we wanna see.

I end this installment of ‘On the Fence Line’ by sending my deepest condolences to Jesse Sarey’s family and the community who loves him. And I hope and pray with all my heart and soul that you find some sort of peace and healing through these tremendously tough times.

Until next time, keep dreaming!

P.S. Rest in peace, grandpa. I’ll love you forever… 

***

Felix Sitthivong  is a journalist, organizer, member of Empowerment Avenue, and advisor for the Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Awareness Group (APICAG). Through APICAG, Sitthivong has organized immigration, social justice and youth outreach forums and has designed Asian American studies courses, an intersectional feminism 101 class and an anti-domestic violence program. You can reach him with questions for “On the Fence Line” via Securus (WA #354579) or write to him at Felix Sitthivong #354579, PO Box 900, Shelton, WA 98584.   

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