Victoria Beach was used to tension. As the chair of the African American Community Advisory Council for the Seattle Police Department, she leads meetings every third Thursday that bring community members and top SPD brass together; things often got heated as citizens bring complaints. Beach doesn’t allow cussing or rudeness on either side. The pandemic halted meetings, and security issues around a virtual replacement kept the discussion from continuing. The silence was one of Covid’s millions of tiny effects.
Beach was downtown for one of the first George Floyd protests on May 30 when she approached a line of bicycle cops; she wanted to ask after a particular bike sergeant she knew well. But when she spoke, an officer alternately yelled at her and ignored her, his hostility stunning her. “Not only was I mad, but I was hurt,” she says.
Later that night, Beach was on Facebook and saw video of the same officer she’d approached, part of the group that pepper sprayed a young girl. “What am I doing?” she asked herself. “Am I doing the right thing by trying to bridge that gap with SPD when they are acting the way people say they do?”
SPD’s East Precinct captain, Bryan Grenon, had helped pull Beach, a former block watch captain, into the advisory committee: “He said ‘You call it like it is on both sides. And you’re fair.’” She took the chair role, hopeful despite her own family’s history—her father and nephew were beaten by the SPD, she says, and she herself has been called racial slurs. “To my friends and family, I say things are changing,” she says. “They say, you think they’ve changed and they haven’t.”
Beach, who lives a few blocks from the East Precinct, attended one of the protests staged there the following week. As she walked past the police lined up there, many of them recognized her. “It was ‘Hi Vicky, Hi Ms. Beach.” She left as all was peaceful, but a few hours later the police deployed tear gas and flash bangs. “It just seemed like mayhem,” she says. “There has to be a better way.”
The takeover of the East Precinct building—the Capitol Hill Organized Protest, or CHOP—sparked Beach back into action. Real progress, she thinks, may be bigger than a few adjustments; Beach thinks that the mayor, who’s never attended one of AAAC gatherings, must go. After months away, she planned a council meeting for late June, complete with distancing protocols.
If the past was complicated, Beach’s future is even more so. “I’m hopeful,” she says. “But I’m less hopeful than I was in the past. I haven’t cried this much in a long time. I have so many emotions my head is spinning.”