Five police officers at the University of Washington in Seattle have filed a lawsuit alleging a racist work environment. The Black officers say the University of Washington Police Department encouraged a racist work environment that was “unbearable,” The New York Times reports. Their claims of damage total $8 million.
Officer Russell Ellis told the Times he has had difficulty sleeping at night, and was filled with anxiety about going to work because of the egregious racial bullying and humiliation he faced. One example Ellis shared is that when he declined a watermelon flavored energy drink his supervisor offered, the supervisor laughed and mocked him saying, “I thought all you guys like watermelon and Popeye's chicken.”
According to local station KOMO, other officers allege similar, unacceptable treatment. In the damage claim, one officer, Damien Taylor said a white supervisor referred to him as “(his) own negro” during a call and said he was laughed at when he confronted him over it. Another officer, Karinn Young said in the claim, "a banana was put in front of my locker with a note reading, 'Here's your lunch, you ******* monkey.' "
The officers say University of Washington Police Chief John Vinson, a Black man, faced continual criticism by the white officers on staff claiming that he hired too many Black people.
“Racism in every form must be addressed and eliminated, both in policing and from our community, so all of us can live without fear of discrimination,” says a statement on the University of Washington Police Department’s website. “We will not just be by-standers. It starts with internal discussions, community meetings, further educating ourselves and making active and open stands against racism.”
Officials with the university said that administrators were unaware of the allegations in the lawsuit’s claims and that an investigation would be moving forward.
“Any one of the incidents described here would prompt an immediate investigation and appropriate disciplinary action based on the investigation’s findings,” Victor Balta, a U-W spokesperson said in a statement.
The officers involved were required to file their claims as a legal step before an actual lawsuit was filed.