Garfield High School teacher and social justice activist, Jesse Hagopian, announced at a press conference on January 28th that he is filing a lawsuit against the City of Seattle and the Seattle Police Department (SPD) after being pepper sprayed as he walked down the street. The incident, which was captured on video, occurred after the Martin Luther King Day rally just minutes after Hagopian gave a speech about the Black Lives Matter movement. I joined him at a recent press conference at City Hall. See below for video and text of my speech:
Thank you all for being here in support of Jesse Hagopian.
As some of the speakers have outlined, this is a pattern of excessive use of force by the police. I was just reading this report from Ansel Herz in the SLOG this morning – an innocent black man, an Air Force veteran, and a retired Metro bus driver was arrested in the summer of last year, simply because he used a golf club as walking stick. In other words, reading between the lines, he was arrested for walking while black. He had to spend a night in jail, and the SPD officer who wrongfully arrested simply received what was called counseling, and was not held to account.
Here we are again, with the pepper spraying of Jesse.
As others have said, Jessie is a teacher. He’s an activist. He has inspired countless young people to enter the political arena and demand social justice.
And what happened to Jessie happened right after ten thousand Seattleites gathered in remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of our national heroes. The rally and march, organized by the MLK Celebration Committee was a inspiring event, especially for the young people who are starting to speak out and get politically involved.
Powerful young people, like Nikkita and Aretha. And many of the young people here have just come from the King County meeting, where they tried to hold the elected officials to account on the question of the youth jail.
And rather than facilitate engagement in social justice causes, what do the police do? They create a chilling and intimidating atmosphere by indiscriminate use of pepper spray, physical force, and unwanted surveillance, which is an invasion of privacy.
I am here because I believe that as an elected official I have to use my position to uphold the basic democratic rights of all people. This is happening at the same time that I have asked the SPD leadership to explain why such force and intimidation has been used so consistently against peaceful activists in the Black Lives Matter movement.
Why aren’t the police using their resources to instead address the rampant wage theft and bring the corporate criminals to book, why are they not preoccupied with investigating the rise in hate crimes against the LGBTQ community, why aren’t they responding to working families for their real needs.
We need to work together to demand a community formed, democratically controlled oversight body with full powers that can hold the police department accountable for their actions.
I wish Jesse and all his supporters the very best of luck, and let’s continue building the movement together.