As I am still waiting for a response from Suzette Cooke regarding the open letter I sent her, I thought the voting public of Kent would like to hear from some of its disenfranchised youth. I find it interesting that it is almost unanimous among the homeless youth that Kent police officers declare that it is by order of the Mayor, Suzette Cooke, that they are trespassing homeless youth out of public parks. All of this of course, was enforced heavily right before the Kent Cornucopia Days event. There are those in the community who are speculating that the only reason the Mayor attended last year’s One Night Count was so that police would know which areas to target when sweeping the city of homeless youth.
When I asked several homeless youth if anyone from the city of Kent, including the police department, even offered to help them find services, put them in contact with agencies that could help or downright act like they know what compassion means, I got an overwhelming “No!” Private agencies and churches are doing what they can but they acknowledge there aren’t enough housing options available to these youth. The city of Kent isn’t providing any alternative options either. According to some of the community leaders I’ve been speaking to regarding their dealings with the Kent city council, it has become apparent that there is a history of failing to deal with diversity issues and in case you didn’t know it, diversity doesn’t just encompass the color of your skin.
To the voters of Kent I’d like to say this, you are responsible for holding your elected officials accountable for failures within your community. Where are you in asking your leaders for a better response than using the local police to round up homeless kids simply because they’re an eyesore that might make the city look bad? Where is the diversity training for police officers when dealing with homeless youth? How educated are you on the issues of homelessness? When you see kids on the street begging for spare change for food or bus fare, do you ask them how they became homeless? Are you sponsoring community initiatives to get these kids into safer environments? Are you actively involved in making your community a better place for everyone?
I watch you walk past these kids with looks of disdain. I’ve heard your comments about how all homeless kids are responsible for where they are because they just don’t want to “follow the rules” or “they must be on drugs”. The kids I talked to told me that they “spange” so they can have money to buy food or ride the buses all night in the winter as that is the only safe way they can sleep. It’s one of the ways they have learned how to avoid police harassment and as one kid put it “What else can we do? Where are we supposed to go? It’s illegal to be homeless in Kent.” One of the reasons they are saying its “illegal” to be homeless in Kent is because they have been put in a jail cell when they had nowhere else to go.
“Matt” told me that he rode his bike 20 feet without a bike helmet (he doesn’t own one) and a police officer gave him a $90.00 ticket. “Matt” asked this officer how he was supposed to pay it since he’s homeless and can’t get a job? If he doesn’t pay it, he will go to jail. “Matt” shrugged his shoulders and said “How are they going to serve me? I have no address.” When “Matt” brought this up to the officers they shrugged it off and told him they didn’t care, it wasn’t their problem. Police officers, whether you like it or not, you are often the first contact for these kids and your behavior represents the city you are sworn to protect and serve. Callous attitudes translate into a negative image in the minds of all you come into contact with.
Police Chief Ken Thomas, what kind of diversity training are officers under your command engaged in, not only on the homelessness issue but on racial profiling as well? Citizens of Kent I’d like to tell you about an incident I had with one of Kent’s finest at Morrill Meadows Park about two and half, maybe three years ago. At the time, I was working two jobs while living out of a 1981 Minnie Winnebago. My eldest daughter was in school and my youngest was at my babysitter’s. I was on my way to pick them up but had to pull over and Morrill Meadows Park was the closest place I could do it. The left side of my face went numb and my left arm was going numb as well. I started shaking uncontrollably and was slumped over my steering wheel. I thought I was having a stroke. A police car pulled up behind my RV and a female officer tapped on the driver’s side window. I managed to roll down the window and turn my head towards her. This officer asked me what I was doing at the park. I managed to turn my head towards her and my speech was slurred when I asked her what the probable cause was for approaching my vehicle. I also asked if she was in the habit of targeting people of color, people in RV’s or people of color that happen to be living out of RV’s as I noticed she said absolutely nothing to the white couple across the parking lot who were in their RV as well. Not once did the officer bother to notice that something was wrong with me. She just stared at me, then turned and walked away. She got in her squad car and drove off. Chief Thomas, what does the law say about an officer who fails to offer assistance to a civilian who requires it? I never saw this officer call over the radio that she was stopping a vehicle since I was already parked and I’m willing to bet a report was never filed on it. Not once did this officer bother to even ask if I was alright. Needless to say, I have already sought legal counsel against the Kent Police department……..By the way, I saw this same officer the other day in the parking lot of Starbucks near the golf course.
Enjoy the video…..