By Aaron Allen, The Seattle Medium
Black Lives Matter Seattle King County (BLMSKC) continues to push the issue of equality under the law. But instead of the streets where protests are normally held, they are bringing their fight for equity under law and police accountability directly to the front door of state lawmakers.
During a virtual townhall meeting, members of the organization expressed their desire to begin to change policies and laws, and are making their case to decision makers in Olympia.
Working with legislators on policies such as a police officer’s ability to intervene when there is wrong doing by a fellow officer, and transparency when it comes to deadly force investigations BLMSKC is turning street protest into tangible actions for reform.
“We are not asking for a seat at the table,” says DeAunte Damper, a member of the BLM Alliance, a statewide coalition who’s aim is to bring about criminal justice and police reform. “We are looking to build our own table.”
The meeting was comprised of local leaders, legal minds and the people’s representatives, including Rep. Jesse Johnson (30th Dist.), Sen. Manka Dhingra (45th Dist.), and Sen. Jamie Pedersen (43rd Dist.). Livio De La Cruz, a law student at Seattle University, who works on Governor Jay Inslee’s Task Force on Independent Investigations of Police Use of Force also participated on the panel.
Many of the legislators in attendance talked about bills that they will propose in the upcoming legislative session that addressed different pathways to hold law enforcement accountable including both policing and prosecution.
Sen. Dhingra will introduce a bill, SB 5066, that outlines framework for peace officers to intervene when they see officers doing something wrong, and policies like prosecutor’s impeachment disclosure, which is designed to hold prosecutors accountable in applying fair and equitable justice for all citizens.
“The bills are empowering the law enforcement officers who are doing the right things and hold them up to a higher ethical standard, allowing these officers to be able to intervene and report fellow officers who are not holding themselves to that same higher ethical standard,” says Dhingra.
According to Dhingra, the role prosecutors play in justice reform through the impeachment disclosure bill is that this bill will provide full disclosure from the prosecutor’s office in holding officers accountable even though traditionally prosecutors have had a biased relationship with police departments.
“[This is] a technical bill where prosecutors have an ethical responsibility to disclose any evidence they have of any ferocity issues about their witnesses, especially law enforcement officers. So, requiring disclosures to go the prosecutor’s office is key because their Bar license is at stake if they do not disclose information,” says Dhingra.
“These bills work together to make sure that no one is slipping through the cracks,” she added.
Many people took to the streets in protest in 2020, and many policymakers saw the need to address many of the issues related to Black and Brown people and policing. Sen. Pedersen says that he has seen a shift in focus since he began his legislative career 14 years ago, and is working with BLMSKC and the community at-large to address the issues of police violence particularly against Black Americans.
“We’ve had an unprecedented level of cooperation and collaboration between House and Senate Democrats and the governor’s office over the last six or seven months getting ready for the next session,” says Sen. Pedersen. “[We’re] Preparing a large number of bills, that together I think are going to work as a package to make a real difference in terms of accountability.”
Despite what appears to be some success at moving the needle, advocates say that what is really important is addressing the standards, transparency and accountability within a culture riffed with systemic racism.
“I want to begin by saying that the vast majority of officers do their job with honor and respect to the profession, says Rep. Jesse Johnson. “But we know that racism exists across all of our institutions including law enforcement.”
“And right now, we want to make sure that we are addressing the standards and accountability so that we don’t have issues of police violence that make the entire profession look bad,” said Johnson.