Black Lives Matter. This should not be controversial.
Saying “Black lives matter” should be the bare minimum of what we say in this country.
Black lives helped build our nation, much of the time with little or no reward. Black lives have fought for American freedom and for the freedom of people around the world. Black scientists and engineers have contributed to the world’s knowledge of science. Black entertainers enrich lives through their writing, music, and film. Many of us spend hours watching Black athletes compete in college and professional sports and cheering them on them while they are playing. Black medical workers care for our country’s sick and help those of us who are healthy to stay that way. Black educators prepare the next generation to lead our nation. Black lives are important. Black lives are vital. Black lives are precious.
I am heartsick at the senseless killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Manuel Ellis of Tacoma who yelled, “I can’t breathe,” and so many others. It is long past time for our nation to stand up and say “No More!”
There is some comfort in the work we’ve done in the last few years; it shows we’ve already started to address racial issues in Washington. I hoped the passage of Initiative 940 in 2018 (which increased our ability to prosecute police in misconduct cases) and a bipartisan bill in the 2019 session to make broadly agreed on changes to the initiative (https://apnews.com/fed93021fe1e4c27adc87f80b855b4cb) would make these events less likely to happen here. The Legislature voted to establish a new Office of Equity in 2020 so we can increase efforts to address equality and racism in our state.
We have more work to do. The Seattle Police Department’s violent reaction to largely peaceful protests on Capitol Hill and elsewhere in Seattle is disturbing and unacceptable. Their aggressive and militarized response to these protests – including liberal use of tear gas and flash bombs, as well as the use of pepper spray on a young child – is not how our law enforcement should interact with civilians exercising their First Amendment rights.
Over the next few months, I will listen to communities of color and to their suggestions for change in our law enforcement culture and to eliminate systemic racism within our state. I will advance their ideas for change.
Some of the feedback I’ve already received includes:
- Prohibiting the use of chokeholds.
- Demilitarizing the police and prohibiting law enforcement agencies in our state from accepting surplus military equipment.
- Requiring the use of body cameras statewide.
- Prohibiting law enforcement officers from covering their badge numbers while on duty.
- Requiring state collection of data on police use of force.
- Strengthening de-escalation and anti-bias training for law enforcement officers.
- Supporting creation of civilian review boards.
- Requiring more training of law enforcement officials.
- Elimination of the death penalty.
- Revising qualified immunity laws.
This list is not exhaustive. I am committed to achieving real changes that will protect the lives of our black and indigenous community members who have all too often been the victims of systemic and institutional racism in our culture.
Finally, I believe we need more voices of color in our democracy. Their perspective is too often missing from the discussion. I have endorsed and encourage you to vote for Carolina Mejia for Thurston County Commissioner and Sharonda D. Amamilo for Thurston County Superior Court. They are eminently qualified candidates and will help strengthen our community here in Thurston County. If the black and brown voices are to be heard, they must be part of our leadership structure, now more than ever.