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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 6, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 06
'Walking While Black - Always Dangerous Until Proven Otherwise'
Section One
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'Walking While Black - Always Dangerous Until Proven Otherwise'

Protest and walk to end bias policing scheduled for Saturday, February 7

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

Chad Goller-Sojourner - author of Riding in Cars with Black People & Other Newly Dangerous Acts: A Memoir in Vanishing Whiteness, the story of what happens when a black boy, raised by white parents 'ages out' of honorary white and suburban privilege and into a world where folklore, statistics and conjecture deem him dangerous until proven otherwise, and author of Sitting in Circles with Rich White Girls: Memoirs of a Bulimic Black Boy - has organized a protest and walk this weekend, in conjunction with #BLACKLIVESMATTER, demanding an end to what he says is law enforcements racism towards black men, called 'Walking While Black - Always Dangerous Until Proven Otherwise.'

Chad is a Gay man of color so he has a stake in this claim. He is going to protest and walk and he's asking you - with a golf club in hand - to join him.

'As black men, in the eyes of many, we are viewed as dangerous until proven otherwise,' he said. 'Therefore, by extension, anything carried by us or attached to our person is often viewed as a weapon. For example white officers routinely kill unarmed black men and their defense is they mistook the victim's keys, wallets, cell phones and candy bars for guns. In this case we have an officer so blinded by her racism she actually was able to turn a 69 year-old man out for a stroll with his putter into a dangerous person trying to do her harm.'



'Walking While Black - Always Dangerous Until Proven Otherwise' is in direct response to the Seattle Police Department admitting to the fact that one of its officers wrongfully arrested a 69-year-old U.S. Air Force veteran and retired Metro bus driver last July, for what his lawyers say was 'Walking while black' in Seattle.

The arresting officer was Cynthia Whitlatch, who is Lesbian, and the senior citizen is William Wingate, now 70. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, following public outcry over the incident captured on police dashboard video showing the officer aggressively approaching the man, ordered SPD Chief Kathleen O'Toole to take Whitlatch off patrol duty.

When word of the video and Wingate's arrest reached the public, an ex-cop (and ex-girlfriend of Whitlatch) accused the embattled officer of stealing marijuana from the SPD evidence vault and smoking it; a bus driver has said that because of a run-in with an irate Whitlatch a few years ago, she will no longer drive a route on Capitol Hill, and more.

O'Toole, who was hired by the Mayor and approved by City Council members last summer to help the embattled department get back on track, also announced the review of conduct and supervision for Officer Cynthia Whitlatch on the Seattle Police Blotter.

'Today [January 28] I heard many concerns from community members about the conduct of an SPD officer assigned to the East Precinct,' she wrote on the SPD Blotter.

Mayor Ed Murray issued a statement saying, 'there appear to be lapses' in police protocol after the public learned of an incident in which Whitlatch, after she was talked to by a supervisor for the arresting Wingate, posted a racially charged rant on Facebook calling a man a 'Black Racist.'

'I've directed the Chief to look not just at the officer's conduct, but all the circumstances and decisions related to these incidences,' said Murray. 'We must do more to reform our system to restore the public's trust in our police department so that everyone feels safe in our communities.'

O'Toole agreed with the mayor and announced she would conduct a comprehensive management investigation and transfer the officer to non-patrol duties for the time being. Whitlatch remains in non-patrol duties at this time.



The series of events that led to all of this is stupefying. In the July 9, 2014 video, Whitlatch can be seen and heard pulling up to the intersection at 12th Avenue and East Pike Street and repeatedly ordering Wingate to set the golf club he was using as a cane down, accusing him of swinging the club at her.

He refuses, shouting 'I've been walking with this golf club for 20 years.'

Wingate demands the officer call for someone else to come to the scene and oversee the encounter, obviously confused as to why she is reacting this way. After multiple requests for him to put the club down, Whitlatch approaches and detains him without incident, with the assistance of another officer who responded to the scene after she called for backup.

Wingate was ultimately booked into the King County Jail for obstruction and harassment, according to the Seattle Police Department.

Former State Rep. Dawn Mason, who questioned why the man was arrested, contacted police officials, which resulted in the City Attorney's Office and SPD reviewing the case and recommending that the charges be dropped.

Last week, Deputy Chief Carmen Best met with Wingate, apologized, and returned his golf club.

'Information sources typically highlight the things that go wrong between the community and police,' Mason said in a statement. 'I believe that it's in everyone's best interest to also highlight the things that go right. That's what happened here - this one is a win.'



Chad and other organizers, however, don't share Mason's sentiments on the matter. And so, as he posted in the Facebook invite for the event, 'On Saturday, February 7th at 2:00 p.m., you are invited to bring your Woods, Irons, Wedges and Putters and join us at Cal Anderson Park Shelterhouse, 1635 11th Avenue, for 'Walking While Black - Always Dangerous Until Proven Otherwise.'

'WE WALK to finish the interrupted walk of a 69 year-old Black Veteran/Civil Servant who on July 9, 2014, grabbed his putter and set out on a brilliant summer day. A day that would forever change both he and this city we call home,' he continued.

'WE WALK because when it comes to police misconduct and black men, there are no local issues, just one long and painful history of bad cops who think it's okay to dole out harsh and sometimes even deadly punishments to black men they deem to have stepped out of line,' said Chad.

'WE WALK because we are tired of our keys, wallets, cell phones and candy bars being seen as guns.'

'WE WALK because the youthful indiscretion period for young black males, continues to plummet, now hovering somewhere around age twelve,' he continued.

'WE WALK because we are tired of government restricting and monitoring the movement of Black Folks: Be it the Middle Passage, Slavery, Jim Crow, Segregation, Intimidation, Montgomery, Selma or Seattle.'

Concluding the post, Chad says, 'WE WALK because blackness and criminal behavior are so merged in the American mind, that regardless of who you are, where you came from, or what you've accomplished, in the eyes of many, being black and male is sufficient probable cause.'



Addressing the fact that people sometimes show up to protests like 'Walking While Black' with their own agenda, Chad has asked that people do not lose focus of why this walk, not a march, has been called to action in the first place.

'While we understand and appreciate the intersection of various social justice movements, we also believe there are times to direct our focus on a specific issue,' he said. 'This is one of those times.'

'While the walk is open to all - people of color as well as allies - we request that all participants keep their focus on this specific issue: law enforcement's racism against black males,' said Chad. 'In this case, we feel that highlighting other issues of injustice, even those involving law enforcement, will serve only to dilute our message. Thank you for your support and respect.'

When asked about what he has done to ensure that the same people that have co-opted similar protests don't, he told SGN, 'As for the anarchists, I'm not worried.'

'I would suspect that even black anarchists have enough respect to not fuck with a walk honoring a 69-year-old black guy,' said Chad. 'As for the white ones, the police will be their last worry. Black folks don't take too kind to white folks disrespecting elderly black folks.'

However, some of the people calling into question Chad's call for people to support black males, are also black. They are black women; both biological and Transgender women have expressed their concerns.

Chad maintains that 'I think we've been pretty clear in what we're doing and why,' Chad said. For the people that have chosen to contact him and remind him that other demographics lives matter too, or that other than male black lives also matter, Chad said, 'I guess my question would be, if you think there is such a pressing problem why haven't you done something?'

'Basically we [black men] are tired of always been seen as dangerous,' said Chad. 'We don't believe the police when they say they don't see color. We don't believe they have any intention of changing their ways of police on their own. And we think it's important every once in a while that they hear it from us.'

Chad has made it clear that this is a nonviolent protest and asks anyone wishing to participate to honor that.

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