At this point, the facts are scant. We know that Kevin Peterson Jr., a 21-year-old Black man, was fatally shot last week by Clark County sheriff’s deputies in Hazel Dell, that a young son and father is dead and that our community has questions about that death.
Beyond that, however, any information surrounding the shooting is conjecture, and conjecture calls for calm, reason and patience — even in the most painful and volatile of circumstances. It also calls for answers about the events surrounding the shooting of Peterson, which took place in the parking lot of a closed bank.
During a year in which protests of police brutality have engulfed the nation, adding to the tumult caused by a pandemic and a contentious presidential election, Vancouver has been added to the cities directly touched by the issue.
A vigil was held the night after the shooting, followed by conflicts between protesters and counterprotesters. Why anybody would feel the need to appear as a counterprotester at a vigil for a dead man defies logic and common decency. It is a shameful act of callous cowardice, designed to do little more than stir up trouble.
Those mourning the death of Peterson then marched to downtown Vancouver. The Columbian reported: “Once there, the group of about 300 faced off with law enforcement and counterprotesters, lit dumpster fires, damaged windows and tagged several buildings with graffiti.” Six people were arrested.
NAACP Vancouver released a statement reading, in part: “To the people involved in organizing the protest, we appreciate those of you who peacefully demonstrated. To those who committed damage, please do not assume that anarchy in any way, historically or now, defines or serves the needs or desires of the NAACP or Black citizens in Vancouver.”
It is a powerful and reasoned statement, demonstrating the kind of leadership that is necessary during troubled times.
On Friday, the day following the shooting, Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins said: “As the community grieves, I call for there to be a respectful and dignified observance of the loss of life in this matter. There is always the potential for misinformation, doubt and confusion — and there may be those who wish to sow seeds of doubt. I insist that we will ALL learn in time what was lawful and/or unlawful, what was proper and/or improper and what we as an agency and community can learn from this matter.”
Atkins stressed that he did not have all the necessary information and that under state law an independent investigation will take place outside his agency. But he also said, “The information I have is that upon entering the parking lot of a bank, the man reportedly fired his weapon at the deputies.” Information released Friday night said only that Peterson had displayed a weapon, not that he fired it. Atkins should restrain from sharing incomplete information that is not yet confirmed.
For those touched by the death of Peterson and by ongoing concerns about police violence, restraint can be difficult — particularly when groups such as Patriot Prayer insist on fanning the flames of discord. But restraint is necessary.
An investigation into the shooting will take place, led in this case by Cowlitz County law enforcement. In 2018, 60 percent of Washington voters approved Initiative 940, including a provision designed to improve the transparency of investigations into deadly force incidents; additional facts will come forth.
Until those facts arrive, we all must avoid jumping to conclusions.