Just over eight years ago, two police officers were shot at the corner of 29th and Union in Seattle. One officer, Timothy Brenton, died at the scene. The other officer, Britt Sweeney, had minor injuries.
People began leaving flowers and cards and candles there on the corner where the officers had been sitting in their patrol car. I used to go on long walks a lot, and one of my favorite places to walk was to Leschi, the neighborhood where it happened, so a couple of days after the shooting I walked over to that corner, to visit it and honor the dead and the injured.
I remember using some of the candles to relight others that had gone out, straightening the wicks so they burned brighter, things like that. I probably rearranged the notes on the flowers so they could be read, and propped up the cards that had fallen over.
At some point, as I was standing there, an African-American man walked up. Now, I’d been trying to figure out what kind of vibe I gave off, that makes me seem approachable. I figured it must be that my face stays open and relaxed, I don’t shrink in on myself, I stand where I am, I look open and… welcoming? I don’t clutch my purse to me or do the equivalent of lock my car doors.
Anyhow, the man said “Hey,” or “Hello,” something like that. And he asked me what happened. I told him what I knew, that one officer had died and one had been injured and was expected to recover.
The man asked me did they know who had done it.
And I replied – I don’t even know how to describe my tone of voice, but I guess I was resigned to the truth I was going to tell, and embarrassed for my race.
I said that the police didn’t know who had done it, but given the neighborhood, and it was Seattle and the police force was (and is) mostly white, they assumed a young, African American man in a gang.
I guess I said that while being fully aware that that’s the kind of thing people would assume.
I think the man understood what I wasn’t saying. That I didn’t automatically assume it was a young African-American gang member.
The man and I chatted a bit more, then one of us, I don’t remember who, said goodby and departed.
The thing is, it did turn out to be an African American man who’d shot the officers. His name was Christopher Monfort. He wasn’t in a gang, and he wasn’t “young,” but he did say he wanted to kill police officers. But no one knew that at the time, except Christopher Monfort himself, of course.
So there I was, a white woman, talking to an African-American man, in the Leschi neighborhood of Seattle, about the shooting of two white police officers, and how the police figured that the suspect must be an African American kid in a gang.
And somehow, I looked approachable enough that an African-American man could ask me what had happened.
Photo credit: © 2009 Alex Crick.