News Release:Wednesday, November 10, 2021
VANCOUVER, Wash. — Citing a pattern of deadly force, disparate policing, and favoritism toward known white supremacist extremist groups, NAACP Vancouver Branch 1139, the ACLU of Washington, and several other organizations have formally requested the United States Department of Justice to investigate the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) and Clark County Sherriff’s Office (CCSO).
In a letter signed by several organizations and sent to the DOJ on Wednesday, the organizations assert that VPD and CCSO have engaged in a pattern and practice of violating civil rights by using unnecessary and excessive force against Vancouver and Clark County residents of color, residents experiencing homelessness, and those with a mental health disability, and engaging in discriminatory policing harmful to communities of color while showing favoritism to known white supremacist extremist groups such as the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer.
The request comes after officers in Vancouver and Clark County killed eight people over a two-and-a-half-year period from February 2019 through October 2021. Five of the victims were men of color, including three Black men and two men of Pacific Islander heritage – in a county where those groups together account for about 3% of the population. The remaining three victims were men experiencing homelessness as well as a mental health crisis.
The letter also provides statistics demonstrating Clark County law enforcement’s disproportionate use of force against residents of color compared to their white neighbors, and details both agencies’ discriminatory policing and favoritism toward known white supremacist extremist groups. Correspondence and emails suggest both departments treated Black demonstrators who protest police violence as threats, while viewing white supremacist demonstrators as simply exercising First Amendment rights, despite a well-documented pattern of inciting and committing violence locally and nationally.
In an October 2020 incident, for example, community members gathered for a peaceful vigil to honor Kevin Peterson Jr. — one of the victims of police brutality mentioned in the letter — a day after Clark County sheriff’s deputies killed him. A hostile group of white supremacists drove trucks through the vigil and physically assaulted members of Peterson’s family and supporters with bear mace, paintballs, and other threats of violence. Law enforcement failed to respond, allowing members of Patriot Prayer, the Proud Boys, and other extremist organizations to terrorize peaceful mourners. Many of those gatherers required medical assistance after the attack.
“We come together to mourn, and we’re attacked by extremists. We come together to protest inequality and we’re attacked, and the police look the other way,” said Nickeia Hunter, whose brother Carlos Hunter was shot and killed by Vancouver police in 2019. “The stress and anxiety caused by knowing there’s nowhere to go and no way to stay safe wears on you.”
The organizations are asking the DOJ to investigate excessive force and discriminatory policing allegations under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994.
“VPD and CCSO have sustained one of the highest rates of police killings in Washington for years. Their continued pattern of lethal force and victim blaming, particularly when engaging with Black and Brown people or those in crisis, shows these departments are not taking responsibility or changing on their own,” said Enoka Herat, police practices and immigration counsel at the ACLU of Washington. “Federal intervention is necessary for all residents in Clark County to receive equal and fair treatment, constitutional policing, and to feel safe in their communities.”