Police reforms now in the hands of the legislature

Carrying boxes of signed petitions to the Secretary of State’s office, I-940 supporters marched through the streets to make their presence known. If the legislature fails to take action with the initiative in the next 60 days, it will be on the November ballot for a vote of the people. Photo courtesy of Tim Reynon

The week between Christmas and the New Year marked an historic occasion for helping to create police reforms in the state of Washington. Ending 2017 with a true mission accomplished, on Dec. 28 Puyallup tribal members joined volunteers with De-Escalate Washington to deliver 358,000 signatures for Initiative 940 to the Secretary of State’s office.

The spirit of Jackie Salyers was everywhere that day, as seen on banners during the march. Photo courtesy of Tim Reynon

To qualify I-940 for consideration during the 2018 state legislative session, De-Escalate Washington was charged with submitting 259,622 valid signatures. Thanks to the efforts of determined signature gathers, more than 98,000 signatures above the required number were collected. If the legislature does not pass I-940, the measure will go on to the November 2018 general election ballot.

Initiative 940 puts a high priority on de-escalation as a strategy to reduce deadly force interactions between police and citizens. I-940:

Boxes of signed petitions all stacked and ready for delivery. Photo courtesy of Tim Reynon

Requires training for violence de-escalation, mental health, and first aid.

Provides that police should render first aid at the scene.

Applies a good faith standard for use of deadly force and removes the de facto immunity.

Requires completely independent investigations of use of deadly force when there is injury or death.

Brings diverse community stakeholders to the table for the development of standards and curriculum.

Includes Tribal governments in investigations where a tribal person was injured or killed.

“While we cannot predict with complete certainty, we expect it to be on the November ballot, and we expect it to pass,” said De-Escalate Washington Policy Director Leslie Cushman. “We have received great support from across the state. The effort now is to educate and to build our volunteer base, to talk to legislators and make sure the public understands what the initiative will achieve.”

The Puyallup Tribal Council immediately recognized the importance of I-940 and was quick to support it from the get-go.

“The Puyallup Tribe’s leadership on this issue has been essential,” according to Nina Martinez, chair of the Latino Civic Alliance and member of the De-Escalate Washington leadership team. Martinez points to the hard work and many long hours from Tribal members and elected leaders, and the generous donation of funds. “In particular, the De-Escalate Washington campaign is grateful for the Tribe’s contribution of $100,000 in August. This allowed us to get the signature gathering effort underway.”

Among those in the Puyallup tribal community most visible collecting signatures was Puyallup Tribal Councilmember Tim Reynon, who is also vice chair of the I-940 leadership team. Throughout the signature-gathering months, he could be seen constantly at events, carrying petitions and educating tribal members on what’s at stake with I-940. He described Dec. 28 as an emotional, bittersweet day.

“It was bitter because all of those there were impacted in one way or another by police use of deadly force. Nothing we did today will bring back the loved ones killed at the hands of police officers,” he said. “At the same time, it was so very sweet to see the culmination of all the hard work of so many people as box after box filled with the signatures of so many supporters were delivered to the Secretary of State. Seeing so many people gathered from so many different walks of life unified behind one purpose was so inspiring. Together, we accomplished something that many people said could never happen. It was just so rewarding to successfully complete this phase of the campaign.”

Reynon’s words were echoed by Councilmember Annette Bryan. “When we put our minds and hearts together there is nothing we can’t do! I lift my hands to you, and each and every one that played a part in making this goal a reality,” she said. “Every contribution made a difference in getting this across the finish line.”

The signature turn-in day attracted participation from many families impacted by police use of deadly force, including Katrina Johnson, cousin of Charleena Lyles; Marilyn Covarrubias, mother of Daniel Covarrubias; and Annalesa Thomas, the mother of Leonard Thomas, who was killed by police in 2013.

“Action on this issue is long overdue, and I give my heartfelt thanks to the hundreds of thousands of Washington voters who have sought action by signing petitions for I-940,” said Annalesa Thomas. “Their engagement is providing healing and empowerment to the family members of loved ones whose lives were lost due to police violence.”

Front and center were family members of Puyallup tribal member Jacqueline Salyers, gunned down by police on Jan. 28, 2016 – her mom Lisa Earl; Puyallup Tribal Councilmember Jim Rideout, her uncle; and cousin Chester Earl. Coincidentally, the day the signatures were turned in – Dec. 28, 2017 – was the 23rd month to the day of Salyer’s death. In an interview after the signatures were turned in, Earl sincerely thanked all the people who signed the petition.

“Without them, we couldn’t be where we are today,” she said. “I’m so proud of my Tribe and Tribal Council because they stepped up to the plate for something that so desperately needs to get done. It’s so important that we get this accomplished and to come this far in that amount of time I feel is awesome. We need to build those relationships with our law enforcement and provide them with the tools they need for their trade – the assessment and evaluations and resources that could be provided to them to help them be successful in building relationships with communities again. I feel that they need better policies and procedures – more training and resources.”

This is how Earl and I-940 supporters talk about the initiative – not as a punitive action toward police but as a way to help police do their jobs better and be proud of what they do.

“As it stands, they have lost their own respect for themselves, a lot of them have I will say. That’s my idea – that they’ve lost respect for their own job,” Earl said. “They were given free rein and some of them, I feel, took advantage of it so I’m hoping we can keep going and moving further to get this initiative passed. It’s not going to bring my daughter back, but we have to think of our future and our children.”

Earl said it was hard that day to relive the loss of her daughter, as it no doubt was for other families who attended the signature delivery that day. But what helped the most was that so many Washington citizens came forward to help get the initiative the signatures it needed.

“The people that showed their love and support and compassion – they stepped up and tried to take a lot of that pressure off the families and that meant so, so much to all of us – that they cared enough to step up,” Earl said, looking back on how families shared their deeply personal stories that day before the petitions were delivered to the Secretary of State. “Listening to all the other victims – I’ll just say they’re victims because they’ve had loved ones taken from them wrongfully – I sat back and listened to each one of them tell their stories and it touched my heart so much.”

Reynon said he too was touched by what he heard. “As I heard the drummers singing the ‘Love of the People’ song, I could no longer hold back my emotions and started bawling like a baby. I am just so grateful for all those that played a role in making that day possible – the families who lost a loved one, our staff, leadership team, Tribal Council and all the tribes throughout the state who supported this initiative, and all the hundreds of volunteers who worked so hard to gather signatures. I raise my hands in love and gratitude for all you did to make this campaign a success. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!”

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