Angry crowd puts SPD on defense during accountability forum

Angry crowd puts SPD on defense during accountability forum »Play Video
James Bible, president of the Seattle chapter of the NAACP, voices anger and concern during police accountability forum in Seattle, Feb. 3, 2011.
SEATTLE -- An angry crowd put Seattle's police department on the defensive Thursday night as the city's top cop faced tough questions and demands for his resignation.

The meeting turned into a shouting match at times as Seattle Police Chief John Diaz tried to engage the audience.

The goal of the public forum on police accountability was to open a dialogue between Seattle police and some minority communities. A panel of officers and civic and city leaders joined to discuss the growing distrust between Seattle police and those communities. But common ground proved hard to come by.

"The time has come for the police department to engage our community, and that's the bottom line," said Pamela Masterman-Stearns of Seattle Native American Employees.

Several high-profile incidents have antagonized the relationship. One flash-point is the shooting death of Native American woodcarver John T. Williams by officer Ian Birk. There's more criticism over the way an undercover officer kicked a teen-age robbery suspect, and for the head-stomping and racial slurs used when police detained a Hispanic man.

Critics say it reflects a pattern of brutality by Seattle officers.

"If you're asking me do I see a pattern of this involving minorities, the answer is no," Diaz said to immediate shouts.

It was answers the audience wouldn't accept, and there were more outbursts and heckling during the meeting.

But for all the disruptions, the forum did bring all sides together to begin discussing the distrust some have for their city police department.

"It's very concerning to see these repeated incidents of people of color ending up on the ground with a police officer over them," said Jennifer Shaw of the ACLU.

Diaz pointed to changes in his department, from new racial sensitivity training to body cameras for officers so their contacts with the public are recorded. And bit by bit, police hope to regain the public's trust.

"I think anytime there is a perception, regardless of whether it's based in reality or not, you need to address it," said Rich O'Neill with the Seattle Police Officers' Guild.