Phil Tyler's mother told him to do, rather than say. He took that advice to heart. Tyler, 49, serves on several local boards and commissions, including the Mayor's Advisory Committee on Multicultural Affairs, the Every Student Counts Alliance and the Spokane County Human Rights Task Force, to name only three. During his 16-year career as a corrections officer in the Spokane County Sheriff's Office, he became the first African American to reach the rank of lieutenant, and earlier this year he posted 22 videos, one per day, of himself doing push-ups to raise awareness of the prevalence of suicide among military members.
Last week, he was named president of the Spokane NAACP. We sat down with the ever-smiling Tyler (pictured) to talk about his vision for the future of the organization, and issues facing communities of color in Spokane.
INLANDER: What needs to happen in order for the NAACP to grow?
TYLER: I would say we need to attract more younger members. People 40 and under are underrepresented. They may not have marched in the '60s, but they've experienced police brutality and discrimination.
What are the issues facing the NAACP right now?
Collaboration with law enforcement and criminal justice reform are at the top of that list. Then there's also the disparities in our educational system, where children of color are are disproportionately expelled or suspended. Once you lose a kid to the system, it's hard to get them back.
Can you give an example of collaboration with law enforcement?
How about the lack of funding for the minority contact study? The data is there, and municipalities put money toward the issues that are important to them.
You've filed a claim against Spokane County for discrimination stemming from your time working in the jail. Tell us about that.
The matter is still pending, so I can't say much. I will say I believe I was subject to a hostile work environment, disparate treatment and discrimination. It's not unique to the jail. Things happen within the city's police department and the Sheriff's Office. Institutions like those try to maintain their status, and those within the organization surround themselves with their in-groups. If you're not, you may be subject to a different level of treatment.
You have two young sons; do you make it a point to talk to them about interacting with law enforcement?
Certainly. I tell them to respect law enforcement, and really adults outside the home, but recently I've had to recast that talk. I tell them that if they're stopped by an officer, please don't give them a reason to use deadly force. At the same time, I let them know, "If an officer stops you and asks to search your car without probable cause, you tell them no." I want to make sure they're protecting their constitutional rights, and any officer worth his or her badge will respect that.