Lookback: 2021 Legislative Session and the Work to Make Our Communities Safer

Wednesday, December 15, 2021
By Nickeia Hunter, Member of the Washington Commission for Police Accountability
We, the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability (WCPA), provide a comprehensive approach to addressing police violence and building community trust.

WCPA is organized around families who have lost loved ones to police violence. Its mission is to develop and advocate for adoption of state-wide policies that are informed by the experiences of people who have directly experienced the consequences of police use of unnecessary, excessive, and deadly force.

Accordingly, our members’ priorities during the 2021 session were related to the injustices experienced by families whose loved ones were the victims of police violence. WCPA believes that life is sacred. We believe in the dignity and rights of all people. Our experiences point to an urgent need to fix a system that accepts the continued loss of life. We believe that by working together, we can make a difference.

The 2021 session was my first legislative session. It was intense and fast paced. There was a lot to learn and retain around the changing pieces as the bills moved through chambers. I had to create systems to keep track of the changes, color codes to know the most current versions. It was all worth it. Most days, testifying was rough to say the least. Even when it was not your family’s turn to hold the line, it was so important to keep the reasons for these bills in the faces of those who have never had the same worries, when their loved ones didn’t answer the phone, make it home on time, or make it home at all.

United, we did what has never been done before: passed transformational policing laws that addressed police tactics, use of force, independent investigations of lethal force incidents, and decertification of problem officers. Mandated by law, police departments must follow these use-of-force, de-escalation and tactic policies, no matter what corner of the state you live in.  Rearranging the playbook within law enforcement departments is our only chance at saving our children’s futures. Without these changes, the departmental playbooks are far outdated and drafted with a thousand blockers to justice for officers who break the laws they’re hired to enforce.

There is strong evidence these legislative changes to police practices are already making a difference. Police killings have declined an overwhelming 71% percent since the legislation passed.

With these changes, we’re not just fighting for justice for the those who have been in the criminal legal system, had a mental outburst in public, failed to control their temper, drove with a broken taillight, sat outside a convenience store--the list is long, very long. None of the actions on the list justifies killing these humans.

We must wake up to what is really going on in our communities. Listen to their cries for help. They will guide us away from the broken systems that have ruined our communities and have tied us together with the vines of hate. There is nothing magical in these times for the ones who truly understand the injustices experienced by BIPOC communities.

We, the community of Clark County, are fighting for our children, youth, and elders to ensure that they are provided safe, equal, and viable health care and that our children are taught, protected, and encouraged in the school system. Health care and education are essential rights that we must invest in to prevent community violence and prioritize safety.

Washington’s blind acceptance and allowance of suppression, imprisonment and under-education of the BIPOC community is over. It is the time to educate ourselves and retake our power to implement and strongly influence change. The right to move freely and occupy space has been denied to people of color, especially Black people. We must be heard when we talk about the way schools, healthcare, and the criminal legal system should work, look, and operate.

Today, I ask you to see it as our duty as Washingtonians to protect our neighbors and commit to understanding our nation’s true history. That is a necessary first step to ensure that moving forward, the battle lines are clear as to the only way to go and how we get there, mapped out through the community’s vision with the community’s involvement in the rooms, at the tables.

We still have work to do. We have to be able to hold officers and departments accountable through HB 1202. We have to move towards independent prosecutions of police officers under HB 1507. We have to change how departments discipline officers so that there are consequences to misconduct. And we have to limit officers’ ability to engage in traffic stops that do not further safety, but expose people to harm with bills like SB 5485. These changes are necessary to protect people so we can all live in our communities free from police violence.

We can make the changes needed. We demand them. No more keeping us perpetually trapped, rounded up in masses and jailed or killed. We have a greater value on this earth. The celebration for me can’t begin until we are all truly free to just live.
Thank you. 

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