As nationwide protests decrying police brutality against people of color enter their third week, the mayor of Camas is using his platform to speak about racism and police use-of-force policies.
In a video posted June 6 to the city’s YouTube channel, Camas Mayor Barry McDonnell says the protests — which stem from the May 25 videotaped death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black father killed during an arrest in Minneapolis after a police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes while three other officers watched — have sparked needed conversations about systemic racism and excessive use of force by law enforcement officers.
“People need to approach (these conversations) with an open mind. We need to be willing to accept the hard truths and … change for the greater good,” McDonnell said. “How can we change? By connecting to each other.”
In the video, which had been viewed 566 as of Tuesday, McDonnell shares his own experience of moving to Atlanta, Georgia, from his home in Ireland as a pre-teen.
“In ’78, in Dublin, there was not much diversity where I grew up,” McDonnell says. “My family moved to America in 1990 … to Atlanta … and everything — the landscape, the people, everything — was so amazing and so different from anything I’d experienced before.”
Right away, McDonnell says, he fell in love with the diversity of his new country.
“I loved it and still do,” he says. “The melting pot is the greatest thing about America.”
When he was around 13, McDonnell began to learn about the more brutal side of America’s diversity after hearing classmates use racial slurs.
“I learned more about race and the history of race in America, in the South,” McDonnell says.
The mayor urged Camas residents to become more aware of their own prejudices and to learn more about people who are different.
“Acknowledge that that other person is just as vital and important as you,” he says.
The mayor shares that he recently had a conversation about prejudice and privilege with a Black coworker and that, following that conversation, he started thinking about his own privilege as a white man.
When he was younger, McDonnell said, he used to get pulled over by police, but rarely got a ticket.
“I was a good talker and could usually get out of (a ticket) that way,” he says. Unlike his peers of color, McDonnell adds, he never had to worry that the police would harm him during those traffic stops.
“Not once did I ever worry about my own safety or that I was going to make it home to my kids, McDonnell says.
At the end of the video, McDonnell says he is having conversations with Camas Police Chief Mitch Lackey about the local police department’s use of force policies.
McDonnell says he has pledged to adopt the goals of the #8CantWait campaign, a Campaign Zero project intended to provide short-term solutions to police brutality against people of color. The Eight Can’t Wait initiative calls for police departments to implement the following reforms:
A ban on chokeholds and strangleholds;
- Require de-escalation;
- Require warning before shooting;
- Require exhausting all alternatives before shooting;
- Have a policy that other officers have a duty to intervene when their coworkers are using excessive force and to report that incident to a supervisor;
- Ban shooting at moving vehicles;
- Require use of force continuum; and
- Require comprehensive reporting.
The :”8 Can’t Wait” campaign also calls for more long-term solutions, including divesting funds away from law enforcement and reinvesting in affordable housing, education and jobs; funding community safety; reevaluating police use of force policies and police union contracts; and demilitarizing police forces.
Mayor urges public to get involved in city’s budget process
McDonnell told the Post-Record this week that the Camas Police Department is adhering to most of the recommended short-term reforms.
“We are in compliance on all except the ‘restricting chokeholds and strangleholds,'” McDonnell said. “And the word ‘continuum’ is not in our policy.”
He added that Camas, which is consistently ranked among the top 20 safest cities in Washington state, has a better track record when it comes to police use of force than many larger cities.
“We’re unique to a certain extent,” McDonnell said. “Camas police use force 0.0008 percent of the time. In the past 50 years, there have only been four incidents where a (Camas police) officer has shot their gun. So, luckily, we’re not having a lot of these instances. But it’s always good to have this conversation.”
The mayor said he is continuing to speak to the police chief about the reforms and that he and Chief Lackey will take part in a Camas School District equity forum on Thursday, June 18, to hear feedback from the community about these issues.
The mayor also hopes these issues will be part of a larger conversation at a virtual town hall slated for June 29, and that community members interested in some of the recommended long-term police reforms listed by Campaign Zero and its “8 Can’t Wait” initiative will turn out for the city’s 2021-22 budget discussions.
The city of Camas has OK’d spending increases for the police department over the past few years. In 2018, the city budgeted $4,395,213 from its general fund for police salaries and benefits. By 2019, that figure had climbed 4 percent to $4,570,364. In 2020, there was a 5.3-percent increase to $4,810,838.
The city’s police department budget for salaries and benefits is $1.7 million greater than the combined salaries and benefits of the city’s parks and recreation, parks maintenance, library, community development, planning and building employees combined.
“I think this is a great time to have this conversation,” McDonnell said. “The budget process kicks off (this week) and there will be more public engagement, more opportunities for the community to give that sort of feedback.”
City councilors support mayor’s video, differ on response to protests
Several Camas City Council members shared their thoughts about the mayor’s video and about the ongoing protests over police brutality against people of color at the Council’s June 15 virtual meeting.
Councilman Don Chaney, a former Camas police chief, thanked the mayor for his video, which Chaney said “showed heart and connection,” and said he hopes the council will begin to engage in a conversation amongst themselves about these issues and then engage with the public “about how seriously our community takes these concerns.”
Councilwoman Ellen Burton said she believes it is time for people to start working together to address inequities in the community.
“(This is) a time for us to reassess ourselves and reassess structural racism in our own institutions and in our policies and procedures,” Burton said, “because they do exist.”
Councilman Steve Hogan thanked the mayor for sharing his video and said he hopes this discussion will be part of the city’s virtual town hall on June 29.
“I think these public discussions need to happen and I think we can begin those at the June 29 (town hall) and, hopefully, when COVID releases us, have more conversation with the community,” added councilman Greg Anderson.
Councilwoman Bonnie Carter urged constituents to educate themselves about issues of racism by listening to people of color, reading books and doing their own research.
But councilwoman Shannon Roberts had a different take on the subject.
“We are not Atlanta or Minneapolis. We are Camas. Camas, Washington. And I’m not in favor of defunding the police,” Roberts said Monday. “That leaves a void. There’s no accountability. No matter how well your intentions, it doesn’t end well.”
Roberts added that she was “happy to see many citizens out protesting in Camas,” but added that she had seen many out-of-state license plates in the local Safeway parking lot, which made her wonder about the protests.
“I have to wonder how many citizens actually protesting were from Camas,” Roberts said. “Is there a greater agenda at work here?”
In the end, Roberts praised the mayor for his transparency in the video and said she believed “all Americans, everybody living in America … needs to learn how to treat each other well.”