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Lawsuits & Litigation

Black University of Washington Police Officers Sue Over “Unbearable” Racism

— June 23, 2021

Several of the officers said that racism became worse over time.

A group of Black police officers employed by the University of Washington in Seattle have filed a lawsuit against the school, claiming they were subjected to unbearable racism on the job.

Collectively, the officers are seeking millions of dollars in damages.

Russell Ellis, one of the five officers behind the suit, said that racial harassment was part of everyday life.

“Beginning in 2017, and becoming worse over time, white officers in the UWPD have insulted, demeaned, and mistreated me on the basis of race because I am African-American,” Ellis wrote.

Ellis said that White officers routinely referenced racial stereotypes and made race-based jokes.

In one incident, Ellis claims that a White supervisor told him, “I thought all you guys like watermelon and Popeye’s chicken.”

A second Black officer, notes The New York Times, described a near-identical encounter with the same supervisor two years earlier.

Image of a Police Officer
Police Officer; image courtesy of cocoparisienne via Pixabay,

Officer Hamani Nowlen further alleged that a different White supervisor hit him with a long, stick-like object before saying, “You people should be used to being hit with these.”

In another incident, Officer Damien Taylor says he overheard his White colleagues talking about the murder of George Floyd, which had happened the year before his.

“His Black ass got what he deserved,” the officers said.

Another Black officer, says, purportedly found a banana in front of her locker. An attached note said, “Here’s your lunch you [fucking] monkey.”

“It has made my job unbearable,” the officer wrote in the lawsuit.

Altogether, the New York Times says that the officers described a culture of “entrenched racism” in the University of Washington’s police department.

“I can’t sleep sometimes,” Ellis said in an interview with the Times. “This has affected me in ways I couldn’t have imagined.”

However, officials from the University of Washington say they are “stunned” by the allegations—and further claimed that none of the incidents had been reported.

“Any one of the incidents described here would prompt an immediate investigation and appropriate disciplinary action based on the investigation’s findings,” university spokeswoman Victoria Balta said in a statement.

Some of the officers named in the suit said they did not come forward with allegations because they either felt uncomfortable or were not established enough to lodge an official complaint. Officer Gabriel Golden, for instance, recalls one incident wherein he offered to retrieve a White supervisor’s bag.

“You kind of have to,” the supervisor said, “because I own you, don’t I?”

Golden said he did not report the incident, both because he did not know anyone at the department well enough to speak out, and because he was still in his probationary period and was afraid he could lose his job if he did.

Golden says that his experiences with racism at the department only got worse with time.

“It progressively got worse and worse,” Golden told the Times. “I went from loving my job, loving going to work every day, to starting to dread going into work because I didn’t know what would happen next.”

While the university has pledged to launch its own investigation, Golden said he believes that local law enforcement have long known of the rampant racism—yet chose to do nothing. Hopes that the lawsuit will be a catalyst for change.

“I really hope this can bring about the change that is needed,” he said in an interview with the New York Times. “There is so much that needs to be changed. I want people to be able to come here and not have to worry about these things.”


Black Campus Police Officers Say They Suffered ‘Unbearable’ Racism

Black UW police officers claim racism is rampant in their department

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