Image courtesy James Bible, YouTube
Jesse Hagopian, Progressive Education Fellow and a history teacher at Garfield High School in Seattle, was speaking on the phone with his mother when he was pepper sprayed by a Seattle police officer without provocation.
The incident transpired on Martin Luther King Day last year. Police officer Sandra Delafuente who pepper-sprayed Hagopian and others was part of a line of officers who were attempting to block a peaceful demonstration against police brutality. Hagopian was not part of the demonstration, and was merely leaving a rally celebrating MLK day where he had given a speech.
A video of the incident demonstrates that neither Hagopian, nor others sprayed by the officer, were displaying any hostility towards the police. Delafuente began screaming at passers-by before blasting a stream of pepper spray across a broad swath of the sidewalk.
Hagopian reached a $100,000 settlement with the city over the incident. He decided to use the bulk of the award to support anti-racist work in Seattle and to found the “Black Education Matters Activist Scholar Award.”
The scholar’s award, distributed annually, helps support Seattle area students who “have demonstrated the power of activism in pursuit of racial and social justice in their school and broader community.” So far three students, Ifrah Abshir, Ahlaam Ibraahim, and Marcelas Owens have each received the $1,000 award.
Hagopian has also donated funds to the community organizations Africa Town and Families of Color Seattle, totalling $1,000.
Delafuente received an oral reprimand for the incident but has not been otherwise disciplined. She has since been deployed to monitor other racial justice demonstrations. Hagopian and the Seattle area chapter of the NAACP believe that discipline for the officer is the most important next step to restore trust between the Seattle Police and the community.
"If our citizens who have definitive proof of police misconduct on video can't get justice, then who can?" asked Hagopian.
Tanner Jean-Louis is an editorial assistant at The Progressive. He grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, and graduated from the University of Arizona. He will be studying law at Georgetown University in the fall.