Residents of Vancouver pressed their city council on race, policing and body-worn cameras following a Feb. 4 shooting of a Black man involving the Clark County Sheriff’s Office.
A sheriff’s deputy shot Jenoah Donald, a 30-year-old Black man and Vancouver resident, during a traffic stop in Hazel Dell Thursday evening. Donald was transported to an unnamed hospital, where his status remains unknown.
An investigation by the Southwest Washington Independent Investigative team — led by the Vancouver Police Department — is looking into why deputies initiated the stop, as well as why and how many times they shot Donald.
To open the citizen forum Monday, Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle read a statement acknowledging “the tragedy of this incident.”
“Although we don’t know for certain the condition of Mr. Donald at this time, any event similar to that nature that happens in our community is shocking and heartbreaking to all of us, and so our thoughts are with Mr. Donald and his family,” McEnerny-Ogle said.
“This incident is tragic for all involved — the gentleman and his family, and the involved officers and their families as well.”
Several Vancouver residents followed the mayor’s statement with testimony urging the city council to prioritize policies — both behavioral and financial — that promote racial justice in policing.
“While I appreciate the Black History Month proclamation being mentioned in tonight’s meeting, it is difficult and really impossible to celebrate the past while we continue to struggle with and suffer from serious threats and challenges year after year. Just being quite frank with everyone, it’s not enough anymore to superficially acknowledge the existence or the importance or the contribution of Black Americans,” said Jarret Byrd, a Vancouver resident and Black man who participated in the remote forum.
“What are we actually learning from or improving on?” Byrd continued. “In a day and age where we all have cameras on everything from our doorbells to our dashboards to our babysitters, the fact that our law enforcement doesn’t have body cams is inexcusable. I see the budget, I see the figures, I see where the money goes, and the fact that we don’t prioritize this says a lot about what we hold important as values to ourselves as a diverse community.”
A leader of S.T.R.I.V.E. Clark County, a local racial advocacy group formed in August, urged the city council to adopt “8 Can’t Wait,” a series of policing reforms championed by law enforcement activists nationwide. The list — which has also caught the attention of some state lawmakers, including Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver — includes a ban on chokeholds, more stringent de-escalation techniques and stronger reporting requirements.
S.T.R.I.VE. leader Oletha Wade-Matthews described her personal experience being Black in Vancouver to the city council.
“Every day, my husband goes on a walk, and I’m scared. It’s tragic that I’m afraid to get pulled over. I’ve never committed a crime, he’s never committed a crime,” Wade-Matthews said. “It’s scary being Black in America — but especially right here.”
Neither the Vancouver Police Department nor the Clark County Sheriff’s Office uses body-worn cameras or vehicle cameras, though leaders of both agencies have acknowledged that the technology would be beneficial in improving transparency with the public.
The main hurdle, they say, is cost — for the equipment itself, but also for the storage of thousands of hours of video footage, as well as staff to fulfill the resulting public records requests.
The Clark County Law and Justice Council was tasked with investigating the possibility of body cameras in 2019, following four officer-involved shootings. The group’s work has since been slowed by COVID-19.
Vancouver resident Curt Justice urged the group to push forward with its work despite complications caused by the pandemic. A veteran of the U.S. Air Force, he said public transparency was key to restoring trust in the military after the Vietnam War, and that the same principle applies at home.
“That starts with implementing body cams and dash cams,” Justice said. “Do something today to show that you have the honor and integrity that the United States military has. Show that you care about the American people.”