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In Tacoma, protestors gather in response to police vehicular assault

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After a Tacoma police officer drove into a group of pedestrians on Saturday, Jan. 23, running over at least one, demonstrators gathered in Downtown Tacoma the following night in response to the vehicular assault that made national headlines. 

The officer has since been placed on administrative leave as the Pierce County Force Investigation Team investigates the incident. The News Tribune reports that two individuals were taken to hospitals with non-life threatening injuries as a result of the incident. One of the injured individuals has now been released. 

A TPD (Tacoma Police Department) press release reports police were responding to a blockade of an intersection. Police and videos from bystanders show a crowd of about 100 that had gathered to watch street racing maneuvers. 

At a Community Police Advisory Committee meeting on Monday night, TPD Chief Mike Ake confirmed that there is no body-worn camera from the officer to be collected. The police department just recently began issuing officers body-worn cameras on Jan. 4, which will not be completed until March. 

Chief Ake also clarified, when asked, that no dash camera footage is available of the incident. 

Videos in multiple angles of the impact show a group of people blocking the front of a police vehicle, with no one blocking the rear. The officer, a 58-year-old man named Khanh Phan, who has worked at TPD for nearly 30 years and is only months away from retirement, says he feared for his life as the group hit the SUV. Moments after, the vehicle is then recorded backing up, revving the engine, and then plowing directly into the group of pedestrians at high speeds. 

Angered by cases of extreme use of force by police, alongside the 2020 death of Manuel Ellis in Tacoma police custody, whose death was ruled a homicide by an autopsy, a group of about 200 demonstrators took to the streets in protest of the police use of force. The group was dressed in all black, with many wearing tactical gear.

People were seen creating blockades with trash, street signs, and fire before marching to the County-City building, breaking windows and causing other property damage. On the way, some also damaged bail bond businesses and other buildings. 

Astro Pittman | The Seattle Collegian Protestors break the windows of an open bail bond business
Astro Pittman | The Seattle Collegian Gathering at Frost Park, the group of protestors set fire to a trash bin to occupy the intersection

The group also marched to the Pierce County Jail, where protestors shook the fence and called for total abolition of police and prisons. The shadows of inmates in orange uniforms inside the jail could be seen resting against their windows as demonstrators chanted “free them all” from below. 

Astro Pittman | The Seattle Collegian An inmate at Pierce County Jail leaning against the window of their cell

Although police and protestors faced off at least two times, the crowd of demonstrators retreated each time. Large numbers of police closely mirrored the crowd, and ultimately did not rush nor make any arrests at the demonstrations. Some police officers were spotted without any form of identification, and refused to identify themselves.

One of the protestors who goes by Mase, 20, says despite efforts to be heard by protestors, cases of police brutality keep occurring. 

“I don’t want to be another Black man killed. It doesn’t matter what color I am,” said Mase, “I just don’t want to be killed by a cop and then they get away with it.”

Mase says police will have to continue responding to protests and demonstrations if they continue to use extreme and deadly uses of force. Mase says it was great to see White people show up to the demonstration and stand up for police brutality, which is heavily weighted on Black people. 

“They gonna keep dealing with this, I promise,” said Mase. “Even the White people came together with us.”

The News Tribune also reports that two arrests were made according to TPD’s public information officer, Wendy Haddow. The individuals were allegedly trying to access the rooftop of an apartment building, and were dressed in all black with tactical gear and ski masks. 

After the group moved away from a second confrontation with police, the demonstration dispersed at around 11 p.m. Police reported no known injuries related to the protest. 

On Jan. 25, Tacoma’s City Council met in a special meeting to discuss the demonstration on Sunday, the assault on Saturday, and a small responding demonstration that occurred shortly after the assault. 

The city’s Community Police Advisory Committee (CPAC), which met after, discussed the use of force incident and shared their thoughts, but most comments centered around the recognition that the event was traumatizing, shocking, and in violation of community values. 

At least three committee members also criticized the earlier city council meeting for extensively discussing street racing, instead of the vehicular assault and the actions of the police officer. 

Dana Coggon, a member of CPAC, called for the Committee to become an oversight committee, as she says was requested but denied upon its founding. 

Alexa is an avid journalist seeking an A.A. with an emphasis on Global Studies at Seattle Central College. She's interested in pursuing investigative journalism to report on social struggles like immigration, civil rights, and access to education in South and North America. She is currently working to cover budget cut reforms at Central and civil rights movements in Seattle. Alexa is also a Youth Council Member at OneAmerica, advocating for greater access to quality education for immigrants and refugees in WA. She is a first-generation American who has travelled to 13 countries to explore world cultures and politics.

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