In times of social discord and national mourning — such as the nation is experiencing following this week’s shootings in Minnesota, Louisiana and Texas — people tend to congregate in support of one another, sharing the hopes that will carry them forward through dark times.
Sunday, outside the Snohomish County Courthouse, the scene was one of hope, support and sharing as nearly 100 people gathered for a vigil recognizing the lives lost in this week’s racial unrest.
The vigil was sponsored by the NAACP of Snohomish County and organized by its president, Dr. Janice Green.
Sitting in the bright sunshine under a banner, “Stop the Hate And Do Something” Snohomish County residents listened to an outpouring of emotion expressed by their local officials over the deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and 5 Dallas police officers – Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Brent Thompson, and Patrick Zamarripan.
As Dr. Green handed the microphone to one official after another many calls-to-action took shape, from active-listening in affirmation of the experiences of others’, to sweeping aside “moments of silence” in order to speak up and take the actions necessary to cool “the boiling cauldron” which Ray Miller, chair of the 38th Legislative Democrats referred to in his remarks. Miller’s sentiments were echoed by John Agyaphong, treasurer of NAACP of Snohomish County, who admitted that, “in times such as this, hearing requests for a moment of silence is becoming annoying.”
South Snohomish County was represented by State Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self (21st District) who said passionately, “We cannot be afraid to talk about race. We must begin to accept people’s perceptions and experiences,” when they speak of the social inequities that they experience.
Referencing her position as vice-chair of the Education Committee and as an educator, she lamented, “I am tired of hungry children!” She went on to explain how she often heard from legislators that they were withholding their funding of social welfare programs because “hunger is a great motivator” — inferring that economically-challenged parents would strive harder to better themselves in order to prevent their children from going hungry.
Ortiz-Self spoke of “committing to a personal responsibility of speaking differently to one another.” As her remarks drew applause, she admonished, “We should all be outraged at [issues like] income equality and homelessness.”
In closing, Ortiz-Self called for three things from her fellow legislators and community members: “Love for one another, respect for our police officers and support for those who are in need of mental health care.” In this regard she noted that Snohomish County is second from the bottom in its ranking of funds made available to treat and care for each mental health patient in state care.
Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers described feeling “heartsick” at the news of the shootings and feeling “a punch in the gut at the first shooting. It was stunning.”
To applause he stated, “It’s OK to say the words, ‘Black lives matter.’” This is a process of “truth – and reconciliation.”
Second District Congressman Rick Larsen said he was “horrified” as he watched news of Alton Sterling’s killing turn to that of Philando Castile and then to the sniper attacks on the Dallas police officers.
Answering the question that brought the vigil together — what can we do — Larsen stated, “We can do a lot about this violence: Listen more; put ourselves in the shoes of our police officers; make it clear that every American has a stake in equality and justice; and reforming our criminal justice system. I know we can find answers to the problems we are facing.”
State Rep. June Robinson (38th District) spoke of her biracial family and through tears admitted to feeling overwhelmed upon hearing her 22-year old son admit that he had no hope after this week’s tragedies.
Coming in from a vacation in the San Juan Islands to attend the vigil, Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson acknowledged, “I’m worried; I’m heartsick.” He then went on to express his pride in the Everett Police force and in Everett Police Chief Dan Templeman.
Stephanson noted that Snohomish County is comprised of 30 percent minority residents, stating that he would like to see a higher ratio of minority applicants for city positions.
He also pointed to Everett’s efforts to end homelessness, stating that attitudes that thwart efforts to solve the problems that lead to homelessness are “wrong. We are not allowing those attitudes in Everett. Additionally, we have got to help the mentally ill. I think we can do this together.”
Following the mayor’s remarks, Templeman explained to those gathered that state law requires an officer participate in eight hours of de-escalation training. He noted that Everett police officers are required to complete 40 hours of such training.
Mel Sheldon Jr, chairman of the Tulalip Tribes, drew the only laughter of the afternoon in introducing himself, stating “Some of you may have been a guest of our little bed and breakfast up the road,” referring to the Tulalip tribal casino complex that overshadows I-5. Sheldon remarked, “It hasn’t been easy for my people. If we continue to sit with each other, talking to each other; things will get better. We are going to row this canoe together.”
In his remarks to the crowd, Snohomish County Councilmember Brian Sullivan referenced Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech. “Dr. King stated ‘I have a dream,'” Sullivan said. “We have no alternative but to carry the intention of that message forward.”
— Story and photos by Emily Hill