More riots in Washington state after another police shooting, but with a twist

More riots in Washington state after another police shooting, but with a twist

Well, at least this episode of the 2020 reality series “Police Shootings and Riots” didn’t take place in Portland, though it wasn’t far away. Over the border in the southwestern corner of Washington state, police officers wound up in a deadly use-of-force encounter with a suspect in a drug investigation on Thursday night. While we’re still waiting for any possible body cam footage or other evidence to be released, initial reports indicate that the suspect drew a handgun and fired on police as they approached. Still, it took little time for the usual protests to erupt following a vigil for the suspect and they once again spiraled off into violence. The incidents were centered around a suburb of Vancouver, Washington. But something different happened this time. As fast as the BLM masses assembled, a group of counterprotesters supporting the police gathered and took a stand. (Associated Press)

Tensions boiled over into unrest late Friday following a vigil for a Black man shot and killed by law enforcement in a city near Portland, Oregon, in southwestern Washington state.

Mourners gathered in Hazel Dell, an unincorporated area of Vancouver, Washington, where family and friends say Kevin E. Peterson Jr., 21, was shot Thursday night. The city is about 12 miles (19 kilometers) north of Portland. Hundreds of people gathered for the vigil Friday evening, with some holding signs reading, “Honk for Black lives. White silence is violence” and “Scream his name.”

Nearby, tensions flared between left- and right-wing protesters. Video recorded by journalists in a parking lot showed two groups of people shouting at each other. Also, some armed demonstrators gathered near a building they told reporters they were protecting.

The deceased suspect wasn’t initially identified by officials, but his father confirmed that it was 21-year-old Kevin E. Peterson Jr.

As to the original incident, as I mentioned above, we don’t have all of the details yet and some of the reports conflict with each other. The Clark County Sheriff issued a statement saying that a joint city-county narcotics task force was conducting an investigation when the suspect fled from them into a bank parking lot. Rather than surrendering, Sheriff Chuck Atkins said the man fired a shot at the officers and a gun was recovered at the scene.

But the encounter took place in two stages. The initial confrontation where Peterson reportedly fired on law enforcement officials was with members of the task force in the parking lot of a motel. (Peterson was believed to have been selling illegal drugs there.) After he fired, the task force officers backed off a bit, whereupon he fled to the parking lot of a bank. There he encountered three Clark County deputies, whereupon he was shot. The deputies did not initially report Peterson firing on them at that time. But a second report indicated that Peterson had also fired on the deputies prompting them to return fire. That bank parking lot was where the gun was recovered.

The delay between the time Peterson fired and when he was shot by different officers would likely complicate the investigation and raise questions. But if he also fired on the second group of deputies, then this one should be a fairly open and shut case. When you shoot at the police, bad things happen. If they’ve recovered Peterson’s gun and there were multiple rounds fired, that would likely clear the officers involved. They still haven’t released the bodycam footage if such exists, but if they do, even more questions should be answered.

In reality, even if Peterson didn’t fire on the second group of officers, it’s a fairly safe assumption that all of the officers in the area were in communication. If Peterson had already fired on law enforcement once and he had a weapon in his hand when he ran into the sheriffs, it would be hard to convict them of anything.

The other interesting development from this story, as I mentioned at the top, involves how rapidly a counterprotest formed this time. As the BLM marchers approached the center of Vancouver, there were already reportedly “hundreds” of counterprotesters, many of them armed, lined up near a local federal building and the police station. They told reporters they were protecting the facilities from possible damage during a riot. There were some loud confrontations between the two groups and it could have turned very ugly if the police hadn’t swarmed the area with so many officers.

The other day I asked if we might be seeing signs of a counter-populist revolt in the making. At the time, I was speaking in the context of fed-up people pushing back against mask mandates and shutdowns in response to the pandemic. But some of those same people are also no doubt growing weary of all the riots, violence, and destruction. They wouldn’t have had that many counterprotesters on the scene in Vancouver so quickly if there weren’t local groups maintaining communications on a local level. Or perhaps this was simply a one-off coincidence of timing? We’ll have to wait and see, but as these types of situations continue, it’s starting to feel as if something is changing.

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