Why We're Supporting De-Escalate Washington's I-940

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

As progressives, we pride ourselves on fighting against the Trump administration's Muslim ban and winning on health care reform. Yet we cannot claim the mantle of progressive leadership while remaining silent on injustices that directly impact communities of color in Washington.

Twenty eight people have already been killed by law enforcement this year in our state. We can and we must do better.

De-Escalate Washington is a coalition advocating for Initiative 940 to create a safer and more inclusive state for all of us. I-940 gives us the opportunity to upgrade Washington's police accountability laws, which according to The Seattle Times are "the nation's most restrictive law on holding officers accountable for the unjustified use of deadly force."

The time to act is now
Over the past three decades, hundreds of people in our state have been victimized by police brutality. From 2006 to 2014 alone, 213 people were killed by police. Yet, in all this time, only one officer was charged with a crime and brought before a judge. Even then, he was subsequently acquitted - meaning no police officer in our state has ever been convicted of a wrongful death.

In Washington, no one is above the law - except when there is a lethal loophole that allows law enforcement personnel to get away with the unjustified killing of brown people.

From the day an officer swears an oath "to protect and serve," we as a community expect them to honor their commitment and practice good judgement in all matters concerning public safety. Because the law only evaluates an officer on their perceptions rather than the facts at the time of a police shooting, Washington policy legalizes the application of personal biases and racial prejudices in the evaluation of a threat. The racial identity of a suspect should never impact an officer's ability to judge a situation and act in the interest of public safety.

The path forward: what is Initiative 940?
The De-Escalate Washington Coalition, a group of individuals and organizations who believe that police should use deadly force only when unavoidable and as a last resort, organized Initiative 940. The initiative aims to improve public safety in the following ways:

  1. Modernizing the legal code: Initiative 940 would update the use of deadly force laws and remove the "malice" provision that provides near-immunity for all law enforcement personnel. By introducing objective and subjective measures by which a judge and jury can evaluate use of deadly force, I-940 would enable the public to hold negligent officers accountable for their actions.
  2. Better equipping law enforcement officers: I-940 recommends increasing training for violence de-escalation, mental health, and first aid to reduce the number of violent encounters between officers and impacted community members.
  3. Reducing loss of life: It comes down to saving the lives of neighbors and friends. I-940 proposes that law enforcement officers provide first aid to injured persons after deploying their weapon.
  4. Building bridges: Reviving the broken trust between communities and the police requires transparency in all facets of the process. Initiative 940 would require truly independent investigations of use of force encounters that result in serious injury or death. True justice requires the impartial determination of facts that removes outside influences, addresses conflict of interests, and accounts for biases.
  5. Increasing transparency and public accountability: Tribal members are killed at higher rates than any other population, yet their community leaders are often excluded from investigations and left without answers. Initiative 940 proposes including tribal governments in the investigations when a tribal member is injured or killed.

As the tragic death of Charleena Lyles continues to haunt the headlines, we must have the moral courage to build a new path forward that closes lethal legal loopholes and rebuilds trust in law enforcement.Successful campaigns to raise the minimum wage and improve gun safety have shown that transformative change happens when people come together around a shared vision of the kind of state in which we want to live, work, and raise a family.

Silence on the matter of police brutality only affirms the rhetoric of the Trump administration and the acceptance of white supremacy in our criminal justice system. We must act before the growing epidemic of police-related violence spreading across our country like a virus gains an entrenched foothold in Washington. Help us bring accountability on all levels of government, including our police departments, by supporting I-940. You can sign up to collect signatures here.