Jeremy Peterson of Occupy Tri-Cities asked the Pasco City Council this week what it is doing to address police brutality in the wake of last month’s shooting death of Antonio Zambrano-Montes.
“We’re looking for a break from business as usual,” said Peterson of Kennewick at a Monday council meeting.
Mayor Matt Watkins responded that the city will have to wait until an investigation into Zambrano-Montes’ death is complete to know if any action needs to be taken. The Tri-City Special Investigations Unit, a 15-member team primarily comprised of officers from four departments in Benton and Franklin counties, is investigating the shooting.
“I think your supposition that there is police brutality is a presumption,” Watkins said.
Peterson pointed out other people have been killed by police or died in jail. Zambrano-Montes, 35, was the fourth person killed in a shooting involving a police officer in Pasco in a little over six months. Zambrano-Montes was shot to death Feb. 10 during a confrontation with three Pasco police officers across from Fiesta Foods.
“As a community, we don’t want to see people being killed in any form or fashion,” he said.
Peterson then asked how the city and community can proactively seek to prevent murder.
“I think you have a very loaded question and I’m not going to respond to it,” Watkins said, also declining to answer a follow-up question about what the city is doing to address community health, bilingual challenges and homelessness. “You seem to be wanting to trap the city.”
Occupy and other groups are looking for support and empathy, Peterson said.
“We have to make sure that we’re safe as a community, that we can look to our police and our officials and know that we’re on the same page,” he said. “Right now, there feels like a disconnect.”
Other council members did address Peterson’s question.
Councilman Al Yenney told the group of about 10 Zambrano-Montes supporters that Pasco is already being proactive on health. He said he attended a ribbon-cutting last week for a low-income community health clinic.
“We have quite an issue here with drugs and meth and gangs,” Yenney said. “Along with being proactive on this issue, maybe you need to look at being proactive in some of those areas.”
The city also worked with Habitat for Humanity and used Community Development Block Grant dollars on improving low-income housing, said Mayor Pro Tem Rebecca Francik. She also said she testified before the state Legislature years ago, asking that civil service exams give extra points to bilingual job applicants.
“We are aware that our city needs to reflect who our population is,” she said.
Another person in the audience asked about the city creating a community review board to look into unresolved complaints against police. Watkins said the council would consider that.
Working out the issues in Pasco likely will take months, Watkins said.
“We’ll keep listening,” he said.
Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom