The Seattle Police Department sure can’t catch a break. A month after the incident where an officer was caught on tape using racially charged remarks and stomping on the face of a Latino robbery suspect (who turned out to be innocent), another officer has made national news. Officer Ian P. Walsh, who is white, was caught on tape punching a 17-year-old, Angel L. Rosenthal, who is Black, during a jaywalking stop.
For us, this latest incident is reminiscent of a jaywalking stop that happened in July 2001.
On their way to visit an artist’s studio in Pioneer Square, a group of Asian American students participating in Northwest Asian Weekly Foundation’s Summer Youth Leadership Program were stopped by a police officer for jaywalking. The students claimed they were crossing the street with traffic and that they were targeted because they were Asian, as there were white people crossing the same street who weren’t stopped.
The officer lined up 14 students against a wall and angrily asked them, “Do you know how to cross the street?” and “Do you speak English? Are you foreigners?” The officer called for back-up when he perceived that one student was becoming antagonistic. However, the students claimed they were standing up for their rights. A 17-year-old girl said she was grabbed by an officer as he questioned her.
The confrontation lasted 45 minutes. In the end, only one student received a $38 ticket for jaywalking.
Attorney Yvonne Kinoshita Ward, the group’s spokesperson who worked pro bono, filed a complaint, contesting the ticket. The court eventually dismissed the ticket.
Seattle PD has been getting a lot of heat over the current jaywalking incident, some of which we think is a little unfair. Though the 2001 incident has similarities with what’s in the headlines today, there are some important differences.
In 2001, the 14 students complied with the officer’s request. They lined up, as they were told, and verbally expressed their point of view. This is in contrast with what was shown in the video of Officer Walsh and Rosenthal. Rosenthal put her hands on Walsh while he was placing her friend, Marilyn Ellen Levias, 19, under arrest. Levias was simultaneously resisting arrest.
Is it normal that a simple jaywalking stop would escalate into a physical altercation, arrests, and assault charges? No. Was it completely Walsh’s fault? We say no because police officers have a really tough and dangerous job. To keep everyone safe, citizens must comply with directions from law enforcement. If they don’t, there are consequences.
Of course, Walsh could’ve handled things better, but we should not demonize him for it. Accusations of racism on his part, we think, have been out of line. There is no clear evidence that he acted in a racist manner. Many of us should more carefully consider the ramifications of wrongly accusing someone of racism — it fosters resentment along racial and ethnic lines, which is exactly what we don’t want.
This latest incident is also a good reminder that, along with our rights as citizens, we have the responsibility to act in accordance with the law. ♦