George Floyd’s death has shocked the conscience of our nation – rightfully causing heartbreak and protest, anger and outrage. Even during a time when we seemingly face a new crisis every day, this injustice stands as a singular focus, accompanied by the killings of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, and made even worse by a President who emboldens white nationalism and calls those who challenge it ‘thugs.’
But make no mistake – this is not a new problem. Tragedies caused by police violence and white supremacy disrupt and dismantle Black families in every community in America, including here in Washington.
In May of 2015, Andre Thompson and Bryson Chaplin, two unarmed young Black men in Olympia, were shot by a police officer and seriously injured. Leaders in our community came together to address Washington’s perverse “malice” standards that prevented any meaningful prosecution of police violence and asked that I sponsor a bill in my first session addressing the issue.
I did, introducing what became HB 1000. I didn’t do it to make new friends in the legislature, but because we had to change the law to allow families and victims of disproportionate and racial bias to seek justice, and promote positive reforms for law enforcement that increased training, de-escalations and other tools that stop violence before it starts.
Through the efforts of a coalition of activists came Initiative 940, and through their incredible persistence, it passed overwhelmingly at the ballot box. This change was long overdue and the deaths of John T. Williams in Seattle, Otto Zehm in Spokane, Antonio Zambrano-Montes in Pasco, Daniel Covarrubias in Lakewood, Tommy Le in Burien, the serious injuries of Andre Thompson and Bryson Chaplin in Olympia, the death of Puyallup Tribal member Jackie Salyers in Tacoma, the killing of Charleena Lyles in front of her children in Seattle, and countless other people, demanded action.
While I-940 continues to be implemented, we must keep up reform efforts locally and take action nationally to pass policies implementing implicit bias training, community policing, civilian oversight, demilitarization, centralized collection and reporting of police shootings and killings, actual accountability for murder, police brutality, and so much more. These are deep, systemic issues of racial inequality that must be dealt with as such.
These tragedies must end. And it’s people like me – not just people in elected office, but all white Americans – who must step up, demand justice, demand accountability, demand overhauling our broken system, and denounce racism and nationalism in all its forms.
Black lives matter. And it’s time we come together, organize, and demand action and justice.