On April 17, 2010, a freelance photographer captured on videotape a scene in which Seattle police officers beat and stomped on a Hispanic man, who had supposedly participated in an armed robbery that had occurred earlier that night. In the video, police officers can be heard shouting racial epithets at the Latino man as he lays prostrate on the concrete: “You got me? I’m going to beat the f***ing Mexican piss out of you homey. You feel me?”

After the incident became publicized about a month later, the Seattle Police Department experienced a maelstrom of criticism from not only the Hispanic but the minority community as well. Diane Narasaki, of ACRS (Asian Counseling and Referral Service), voiced her outrage soon after the incident reached the public.

She says, “I think it’s just one more example of police misconduct and brutality, combined with racial profiling. The beating further erodes trust between communities of color and the SPD.”

Such incidents are not new to urban minority populations. Here in Seattle, the Asian Pacific Islander community also experiences its share of racial profiling that, though not as dramatic as the incident described above, still corrodes the relationship between API citizens and the officers who protect them. The-Anh Nguyen, a community activist, tells of numerous occasions in which he felt he was subjected to discrimination by the police because of his ethnicity.

“It actually started when I was 17. . . I pulled into a friend’s house at New Holly. At the time, I had a sound system installed in my car. Later on that night, somebody vandalized my car, and when I called the police, he didn’t say anything. He just said, ‘Well you Asian people with your loud system.’ My friend had a blue shirt and he had some jeans, and the cop said, ‘Is he a crip or something?’ I filed a complaint with the captain, but never got an apology from him.”

One of the primary reasons for poor relations between police and minority communities is lack of diversity within the police department. Especially for APIs, who are not as employed by the department as other ethnicities, the lack of representation makes for difficult interactions between officers and the API community. Renee Witt, of the Seattle Police Department, admits that APIs are not adequately represented in the SPD. “Being a former recruiter, it’s difficult to get people of color for civil service type jobs.“

The deficiency in API representation within the police department can be attributed to a number of factors. Nguyen voices his opinions.

“First of all, the hiring practices are pretty evil. The department needs a separate entity to hire. In addition, managers dictate the interview questions. This can manipulate the process for getting jobs. Hiring practices get worse because of online applications.”

There is also a need to educate officers within the department about interacting with minority communities. Narasaki mentions, ““I think there needs to be education within the police department about racism and how to prevent racism within the department. I also think that the police should be held accountable for racial profiling and hate crimes . . . The police who don’t agree with racist activity need to step up and make sure that there is zero tolerance for racism – a culture intolerant of racism – in the department. There must be a stronger accountability system for the police.”

Racial profiling is an unfortunate reality for many APIs living in the Seattle area. To help alleviate intolerance between APIs and the police, Nguyen states that “the only way to correct racial discrimination is interaction between races.” Greater awareness of racial profiling on the part of both APIs and the police will result in more cohesive interactions that will benefit the community at large. Hopefully, racism within the SPD will diminish as the department hires more APIs (not to mention other minorities) and increases racial tolerance within the community.

An opportunity to raise concerns with potential SPD police chief candidates will be given at a community forum at Bertha Landes (City Hall) on June 2 at 6 p.m.

Previous article“The State of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Washington”
Next articleCindy Ryu – Building support and gaining momentum