The Palouse in Solidarity with Black Lives Matter, a group of local residents who organized Black Lives Matter marches in Pullman, alleges that a memo from Pullman Police Department Chief Gary Jenkins spread fear about a June 12 protest and weakened the organization’s credibility.
Hundreds of people attended the PSBLM event on June 12, during which protesters marched from Martin Stadium to the Pullman Police Department.
The organization received assistance from Pullman police officers, who blocked off part of Main Street to allow the marchers to cross. No counter-protesters arrived and there were no incidents with law enforcement.
However, the organization says in a letter sent Thursday to the Daily News and city officials, that a memo Jenkins wrote to city staff and local businesses the day before the march “created unfounded fear in the general public, discouraged many peaceful protesters from attending the event, and weakened our credibility.”
In the memo, which the PSBLM shared with the Daily News, Jenkins wrote: “Initially, protest leadership was working with us to facilitate a peaceful event. However, due to some volatility in the makeup of the group, the initial leader has stepped down. We are still hopeful for a peaceful protest, but we are preparing to have enough law enforcement resources to protect City Hall and the Police Department and, if needed, downtown. I recommend that all staff working in City Hall plan to leave the area by 5 pm Friday.”
According to PSBLM, its leadership did not change as the memo states. In its letter, PSBLM wrote that the group is composed of several co-organizers with equal roles of leadership. It decided to allow Jason Kennedy, a Black man, to take on public duties such as being the point of contact for the police and the public. Kennedy replaced Samantha Fulgham, a white woman, in this regard.
The letter states this was a cooperative decision by the co-organizers and relations within the group are “amicable.”
“Furthermore, the implication that the makeup became volatile in direct correlation with the heightened visibility of a Black male among its organizers is offensive, intolerable, and reflective of unconscious bias on the part of the Pullman Police Department,” the PSBLM wrote.
PSBLM also stated the memo implied the public should avoid the area because it has great potential to be dangerous. The organization says this language created an “us” versus “them” mentality for the police department and the people reading the memo.
“Additionally, we know that the intent of the memo was to alert City Hall employees that they may want their cars out of the parking lot prior to 5:00 PM,” the PSBLM letter states. “However, what was written vilified the very community that they are sworn to serve and protect.”
PSBLM emphasized that the organization wants the Pullman Police Department to consider the language it uses in memos to the public.
“In conclusion, it is our collective intention as the organizers of PSBLM to bring to the attention of the public and the police the importance of language in sustaining peaceful relationships,” it stated.
In a statement to the Daily News, Jenkins responded to the letter and said police are required “to be prepared for well-intentioned plans to go awry, and not just best-case scenario.”
“We need to be prepared for what might happen, not because of those organizing the protest, but because of what might happen in spite of their best efforts for a peaceful event,” he wrote.
Jenkins wrote that at least one of the organizers knew the police received information that a group of counter-protesters planned to come to Pullman while armed.
PSBLM informed the Daily News that Fulgham told the Police Department there were concerning comments made on Facebook, but she didn’t say anything about a group of people.
“They may have seen comments on the Facebook event page from one person who threatened to open carry,” Fulgham stated. “Another said they were going to send our info to the ‘local 3%’ which is possibly a counter protest group.”
Jenkins wrote that he only knew the race of one of the organizers until after the protest when he congratulated three of them on the peaceful event.
“We are all glad the event was completely peaceful,” he said. “However, the good result is not proof that precautions should not be taken, any more than wearing your seatbelt and not getting into a collision means you don’t need to wear your seatbelt anymore. I am responsible for the safety of those in our community and for the protection of property, and I take that responsibility seriously.”
Pullman Mayor Glenn Johnson also wrote a statement in response to the PSBLM letter.
“I can understand how words can be interpreted in a variety of ways and could be construed as negative, though that was certainly not the intention,” he wrote. “And thank you for bringing that important lesson to all of us.”
He wrote the city government is grateful for the PSBLM leadership in coordinating the protest and “for vocalizing the importance of Black Lives Matter on the Palouse and around the world.”
Johnson said the police were doing its duty to protect the community members at the event and working in the area of the march.
On Saturday, Jenkins attended a PSBLM event held at Pine Street Plaza. He addressed the crowd and said the department stands with them against police brutality.
“I want to work with the community,” he said Saturday. “We want to do what’s right and I say that Black lives matter.”
You can reach reporter Anthony Kuipers at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Complete text of the letter from Palouse in Solidarity with Black Lives Matter can be found with this story at dnews.com.