The Seattle NAACP is going after the Seattle Police Department and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer after, the NAACP says, a group of young black teenagers was stopped and frisked by police simply to provide the PI with a good story and photo op.
The article, which ran in the PI on Monday, features two Seattle officers—Adley Shepherd and Jake Briskey—known for their work with gangs in the south end:
Shepherd and Briskey have put themselves on the front lines of Seattle's gang problem and they see firsthand a street culture that results in a deadly cycle of violence. Top department officials have praised them. Suspected gang members […] know their names, too.
According to statements written by two of the boys—who asked not to be named—the group of teens had gotten out of a screening of Taken at a Columbia City movie theater at about 9:30 pm and were waiting for a ride from one boy's grandfather.
As the boys stood outside the theater, a black police cruiser pulled out of a nearby alley, and Officer Shepherd rolled down his window and asked the boys where they were from.
According to the boys' written statements, the group told Shepherd they were from the Central District. “You must be in a gang because you’re out so late,” Shepherd shot back before asking one of the boys why he was "wearing so much gray." Statements say Shepherd also asked one boy if he had a street name. When the boy said no, the statement says, Shepherd laughed and asked him “What, you don’t have any street cred?”
Officer Shepherd brought two of the boys back to the car, the statements say, and patted them down while a PI photographer snapped pics. One of the teens says Officer Shepherd walked around the car “making superhero-looking poses." Another written statement says “it seemed as though it was a photo shoot because officer Shepherd was posing for the camera." None of the boys were arrested.
According to the PI article, officers told reporters it was a slow night.
"They were trying to liven up an article," says Yolanda Bell, the mother of two of the boys. "This officer picked four of the squarest kids."
Bell says when her sons came home from the movie and told her they'd been the victims of police harassment, "I laughed and said ‘go to bed.’ I kind of made an excuse for the officers. It’s tough times out there.”
On Monday, Bell saw the article and hit the roof. “How can they come to the conclusion that my son is a gang member? I work hard to keep my son out of gangs," she says.“They were profiling my son.”
Bell contacted the PI about getting her son's photo removed from the site but says she was hung up on by an editor, although she admits she was fairly agitated during the phone call. Bell then contacted the NAACP for help.
In October, Seattle NAACP President James Bible held a press conference about complaints of a rise in racial profiling by SPD. This incident, Bible says, is another example of how police unfairly target African-Americans.
"We would be deeply concerned if this was a photo op for law enforcement to further perpetuate the myth that African-Americans are dangerous in our community," Bible says, adding that the NAACP wants to set up a meeting with the PI. "We hope first to develop an understanding of why the picture was taken. An apology is, I think, a first step."
Bell says one of the photos of her son was taken down, but there are several others still up on the PI's website.
The author of the article, PI reporter Casey McNerthney, says he hasn't heard from the families. "Personally, I haven’t received any negative calls from readers about the article," McNerthney says. "One of the first messages I did get was from Officer Shepherd who liked the article and said it was fair. Both [photographer Mike Kane] and I discussed the story with editors and we will continue to pass feedback on to them."
SPD spokesman Jeff Kappel says he also has not received any complaints about the article.