This week we’re talking about police accountability: how do we make sure that law enforcement is protecting the public, not putting people at risk by abusing power, and address the problems of our unjust and racist criminal justice system?
It’s difficult to overstate the impact that the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin had on our country and our politics over the past year. While we’ve had countless examples of law enforcement killing Black people and people of color for decades, across the country and here in Washington, the killing of Floyd lit a fire under the police accountability movement and drove a summer of protests and conversation.
To be clear, and to restate a core belief of the Washington State Democratic Party, Black lives matter. It’s abhorrent what we allow to happen in our criminal justice system. We have to change and reform the culture and structures of policing in our country, our state, and our counties and cities.
Chauvin is on trial currently for the killing of Floyd – while it can be tough to watch, it’s important for us to keep our eyes on it and grapple with the racism and injustice of our criminal justice system. These are times of pain and anger, but they can also be moving times of love and grief and mourning. Trauma and wounds are real and they hurt, but they can bring healing and reconciliation. What it takes is for us to be willing to commit to listening, come together to support and stand with our BIPOC friends, family, and neighbors, and focus on the work of justice and change in our hearts and in our laws.
Here in Washington, our legislative Democrats are taking real action towards police accountability by passing serious and meaningful reforms. Washington isn’t immune from violent and unjust law enforcement overreach by any means; people like Tommy Le, Manuel Ellis, and Charleena Lyles have been the victims. While we continue the conversation and work to end systemic and institutionalized racism and violence in our criminal justice system, we want to recognize our legislators’ commitment to changing these broken institutions. Some of the bills that have passed in the legislature and are headed to the governor’s desk to become law include:
HB 1054 from Rep. Jesse Johnson (LD 30), which bans dangerous and unacceptable police tactics that lead to loss of life likeno-knock warrants, chokeholds, neck restraints and certain military equipment. It also establishes restrictions on tear gas, vehicular pursuits, and shooting at moving vehicles.
SB 5051 from Sen. Jamie Pedersen (LD 43), which provides timely and effective enforcement of state standards for peace and corrections officers and allows the Criminal Justice Training Commission to discipline officers who abuse the privilege of carrying a badge and a gun. This bill adds “teeth” to existing law enforcement reforms by making sure that bad and abusive police can be held accountable.
HB 1088 from Rep. John Lovick (LD 44), which toughens state law on police officer impeachment disclosures (often referred to as ‘Brady lists’ of officers who’ve engaged in misconduct that affects their credibility as a witness in court) and requires that law enforcement agencies must inquire about past impeachment disclosures before hiring an officer.
SB 5259 from Sen. T’wina Nobles (LD 28), which mandates the collection of data on police uses of force so that the state can study the trends and make systemic change, adding more transparency to Washington’s policing.
HB 1089 from Rep. Bill Ramos (LD 5) would provide meaningful transparency about the investigations and charging decisions made after deadly force is used by police.
SB 5066 from Sen. Manka Dhingra (LD 45) requires officers to intervene if they observe a fellow officer using excessive force and, if force is used, to render aid to the victim at the first safe opportunity. In addition to the duty to intervene, the bill also creates a duty to report excessive force to their superiors.
Obviously, there’s still so much to do, but I’m so glad that Washington Democrats are taking this challenge seriously. Preserving and protecting human life must be law enforcement’s highest values. To build trust in communities, we must set expectations that honor those values and build systems of accountability and transparency. These bills are a step forward towards justice and racial equity that’s sorely needed.
Something to read: We loved this article in the Harvard Divinity Bulletin by Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia about mass incarceration. It’s long but worth the time, so set aside a few moments this weekend to read it and think hard about what it has to say. Titled ‘Let My People Go,’ it’s a deep examination of our carceral state and the human impacts of the racism and injustice thereof. As Warnock writes, “That we are a nation that comprises 5 percent of the world’s population and warehouses nearly 25 percent of the world’s prison population is a scandal and a scar on the soul of America.” This issue is tentacled throughout our society. Incarceration impacts so many other aspects of American life and it’s a challenge we must all grapple with, no matter how long it takes and even when it makes us uncomfortable.
Something to do: This is a bit of a change in subject, but it’s something that we really wanted to share. We’re assembling digital art assets for local parties to use in their social media and we wanted to start sharing them now. Our online drive holding them is here and you should be able to download graphics for use in your own social media campaigns on big issues like the American Rescue Plan, building the party, and spreading the word about COVID vaccination. As time goes on we’ll fill out this drive with more resources and assets on more different subjects and topics, but in the meantime feel free to get started!
Something to watch: You’ve probably heard about the PRO Act in Congress to strengthen labor unions and support worker organizing, but what specifically does the bill actually do? Our friends at the IUPAT union put together this great video on the PRO Act that’s really worth a watch!