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Seattle's Black clergy rally around Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best

caption: Dr. Kenneth Ransfer says "this is OUR Chief" as Carmen Best, wearing a mask, looks on at Seattle's Goodwill Baptist Church.
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Dr. Kenneth Ransfer says "this is OUR Chief" as Carmen Best, wearing a mask, looks on at Seattle's Goodwill Baptist Church.
KUOW/Amy Radil

Members of United Black Clergy gathered at Seattle’s Goodwill Baptist Church Sunday to tell Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best she has their support, even as they spoke of their anger and frustration over the killing of George Floyd and other Black people at the hands of police.

“Chokeholds have to go, knees on necks have to go, shooting and killing unarmed Black men and women has to go!” said the church’s pastor, Bishop Garry Tyson.

But at the meeting, he and others defended Best as the SPD’s first Black female police chief and one who they said has always listened and been responsive to them.

“We are standing with our Chief to bring unity in our city,” Tyson said.

They said they want Best to lead SPD through further changes.

Best has been criticized over the use of tear gas and other harsh tactics against people protesting police violence. She told her officers last week she was angry about the decision to abandon the East Precinct on Capitol Hill. The assembled clergy, as well as Andrè Taylor of Not This Time, said Best faced an impossible situation with the protests.

“Put yourself in her shoes!” Taylor said.

Victoria Beech chairs the Seattle Police Department’s African American Community Advisory Council. She condemned the protest zone that has sprung up around the East Precinct.

Dispatches from the CHAZ, Seattle's autonomous zone

“The chaos, the circus up there in front of the precinct – it is a circus – it has nothing to do with Black Lives Matter or the murder of George Floyd,” she said.

Best said she was moved by the encouragement and by watching Friday’s silent march convened by Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County, which drew tens of thousands of people.

“I hear you,” she said. “I hear those who are telling their stories of having suffered at the hands of injustice. And I hear those who are demanding change.”

Best says she wants to use her position for good and get bad officers off the force.

She said there’s no specific date for police to return to the East Precinct, but city officials are working on it.

“I haven’t been an active participant in those conversations simply because I don’t want my presence to incite anything,” Best said. “I think it’s much more important to let the ‘electeds’ and the folks chosen by the mayor continue with those negotiations and discussions.”

Bishop Tyson said his goal is not to radically “de-fund” SPD or bar the police from returning to the precinct.

“We believe that maybe we need to take some funding from our police department … maybe there needs to be some space inside that building for community activities that can work alongside the police department,” he said.

Tyson acknowledged that some younger Black Lives Matter protesters are seeking more dramatic change.

“They want to see things happen overnight,” he said. “And all of us know that’s not the realities of life. But we certainly want to work with them, and we need their voice at the table,” he said.

Taylor said Not This Time will host an event to help people learn about potential “next steps” in changes to policing, with elected officials and others in attendance. It’s scheduled for this Friday in Judkins Park. Taylor said the speakers will help educate people about “what the impediments have been to change in our city and state” and attempt to channel the momentum from recent protests.

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