by Cliff Cawthon
Washington State law allows a cop to murder you and get away with it. Yeah, I said it.
Two years ago to this day Eric Garner was killed in Staten Island. One doesn’t have to look at polls to know that racism is on the rise and the public’s sentiment around race is horrific right now. The increasing disregard for Black Lives feels dystopian and terrifying yet, Initiative 873 can begin to address a structural reality of a white supremacist America. The measure will make it easier to prosecute cops who use deadly force by removing language from current law that requires you to prove that cops did not operate “without malice and with a good faith belief.” In other words, in order to prosecute a cop you have to prove what the officer’s state of mind was at the moment, an impossibility- unless you’re a mind-reader.
Yes, this is important- right now! This initiative goes back to an effort in February with the Black Alliance of Thurston County, the families of victims of police shootings, along with a statewide coalition of community allies to pass Rep. Luis Moscoso’s (D-Mountlake Terrace) House Bill 2907 that does exactly what I-873 demands. The Democrats have a slim majority on this committee but, while in the House Public Safety Committee, the Chair, Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland), decided to acquiesce to national White discomfort with the Black Lives Matter movement and not call for a vote on the legislation. It was killed, just like countless scores of Black people. Police unions and other interests proved more valuable than Black lives and the safety of our residents.
“This is a love-gift from the families of [victims of police brutality] to the people of the state of Washington”, according to Lisa Hayes, the Campaign Manager of Washington For Good Policing. The group is currently organizing around the initiative. Passing I-873 so a vote can be forced in the legislature or it can be on the 2017 ballot if it is rejected in the peoples’ house, would make police accountable and save lives. The list of endorsers is increasing according to many campaigners.
The evidence is clear to many marginalized communities in Washington that this bill would be a deterrent to police officers acting as judge, jury and executioner. From 2005- 2013, 213 people have been killed by police officers in Washington State, with only one officer facing charges.. Nationwide, 136 Black people have been killed by police in 2016. Those from Native communities, in particular, are also disproportionately victims of police violence. In fact, Native Americans are subject to police brutality more than any other group, per capita. Overall, poor people are the main targets of police violence. Even prosecutors in the press have publicly spoken out about the need to change the law.
I-873 is one among many efforts here in Washington and nationwide to reform police departments, hold individuals accountable and change practices and structures within the criminal justice system. The citizens’ review board, for example, is a recommendations for public accountability but if we cannot indict and convict an officer for murder then the rule of law itself is at stake. The training of police officers to deescalate situations is also a great idea but the insufficient reality still stays the same.
This issue isn’t a new one. Increased attention because of social media, the reality of the fallacious and hollow promise of a post-racial America; and the new and innovative organizing of millenials has revitalized an ongoing discussion. Yes, we know what’s up. Now it’s time to act, and allies here’s your time to shine! It’s time for the unions, organizations and political parties (especially, the Washington State Democrats) who are backing I-1433 to offer their support to this initiative. I mean real support. As an ardent union person, an organizer and someone who has been Black in the aforementioned white-dominated spaces (more about that later). I know these contradictions and this uneasy feeling when it comes to ‘diversity’, but I’ve also seen things move forward. The aforementioned political forces together have the power to do justice by their members of color, and their members in general who’ve been affected by police violence. Put money into the campaign, publicly endorse this initiative; and helping collect signatures for this petition is taking a step forward towards racial equity. This saves lives in a time when people of color are increasingly facing hostility.
This is the right thing to do. To stand for Black Lives in the 21st century is to stand firmly against the dehumanization of a people whose dehumanization is as American as apple pie is standing on the right side of history. I-873 would declare to the rest of the nation that Black Lives Matter in Washington and Washington works for Everyone (Jay Inslee, see what I just did there :-))
Featured image by by Fibonacci Blue