A Walla Walla, Washington, City Council work session Monday laid the groundwork for a town hall meeting on law enforcement, its practices and the employment of a police officer whose tattoo has led to a call for his resignation.
The session included discussion on the potential format and schedule to be officially decided at Wednesday's virtual City Council meeting, where a protest outside of the Walla Walla Police Department is scheduled to take place.
The hourlong protest is a prelude leading right up to Wednesday's 6:30 p.m. Council meeting as a message over the double lightning bolt "SS" tattoo on officer Nat Small, a former Marine whose "Scout Sniper" memorial tattoo uses the same symbolism for Nazi white supremacy.
The protest was the recommendation of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. The federal organization became involved after being contacted by a local resident when attempts to reach the Walla Walla Police Department multiple times for a response to their concerns and efforts reportedly did not receive a response.
On June 10, the foundation, a national civil rights organization, reportedly sent an email to Walla Walla Police Chief Scott Bieber, Mayor Tom Scribner and Walla Walla City Attorney Tim Donaldson, threatening a suit against the city if one of three things doesn't happen: removal of the tattoo, alteration of the tattoo, or removal of the officer from duty.
Mikey Weinstein, founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said late last week a response had not been provided.
Weinstein's organization in 2012 called for then-Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos to order an investigation of a photo that showed a group of Marines posed with their sniper rifles in front of a blue flag with white Nazi "SS" runes, according to Reuters news organization.
The picture had been taken in 2010 in Afghanistan and the photo's description said the "SS" flag had been "adopted and used by the Marines in reference to scout sniper."
The symbol was denounced by the Marine Corps, in part due to efforts from Weinstein's organization.
After the Military Religious Freedom Foundation received concerns from several Walla Walla residents about Small's tattoo, it was sparked to action again.
Bieber did not respond for comment by press time.
Scribner said he met with City Manager Nabiel Shawa, Bieber and Mayor Pro Tem Steve Moss last week to discuss the virtual town hall meeting, a concept that was brought up at the last City Council meeting. The purpose will be to allow Bieber to respond to many questions and issues raised to law enforcement after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and the tattoo worn by the local officer.
Action is expected at the regular Council meeting Wednesday on how, when and where the town hall will take place, Scribner said.
"We (the Council and city leadership) take seriously the issue of police policy and behavior, public safety and freedom of expression," he said. "We listen to citizen comment and input and will try to respond to that as appropriate and legal."
"People are, of course, free to peacefully speak, assemble and protest," Scribner said. "Heck, they can even raise their voices, maybe even a fist."
Weinstein said the organization is working with locals, its Council, and the state of Washington, mapping out a lawsuit strategy.
"We're not going to leave it to the City Council, the mayor, or the chief of police," Weinstein said. "At this point, we believe the chief of police should probably be fired because he's allowed this to go on. It's pretty obvious what the tattoo stands for. America is not accepting hate anywhere, particularly in the military, nor does our Constitution allow that and particularly among the law enforcement personnel."
He said his organization is not anti-police and maintains a close relationship with its local law enforcement.
"This has to do with a member of law enforcement having on his arm, the second most recognizable symbol in the world of Nazis and that is the "SS," he said.
Small, a decorated veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, said he got the tattoo in 2010, before it was denounced, as a tribute to his fallen friend.
This article was written by Chloe LeValley from Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, Wash. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.