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Spokane city leaders release joint statement on George Floyd

UPDATED: Sat., May 30, 2020

Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward gives her first State of the City address during a Greater Spokane Incorporated meeting on Friday, Feb. 7, 2020, at the Spokane Convention Center in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward gives her first State of the City address during a Greater Spokane Incorporated meeting on Friday, Feb. 7, 2020, at the Spokane Convention Center in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
From staff reports

Three Spokane leaders released a statement late Saturday, saying they grieve for the loss of George Floyd, the man who died in the custody of Minneapolis police on Monday.

Mayor Nadine Woodward, City Council President Breean Beggs and City Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson also said “we have to expect and do better as a nation.”

“Spokane is a community that supports each other when we are hurting and today is no exception. Although most of us cannot begin to understand the depths of anguish and anger caused by the inexcusable actions in Minneapolis, members of the African American community and others in Spokane are not alone,” the statement said. “We stand with you in support of those across our city and country in saying we have to expect and do better as a nation. Our hearts are with the friends and loved ones of George Floyd, and we grieve with them the painful loss of a son, father, family member, and friend.”

Beggs, a civil rights attorney, also released a separate and more detailed letter. He has been one of the main leaders in Spokane pushing for police reform since the death of Otto Zehm, who died in Spokane police custody in 2006. The main officer involved in that case, Karl Thompson, was found guilty of violating Zehm’s civil rights and spent more than three years in prison. Largely as a result of that case, Spokane created a police ombudsman system, and its officers began wearing body cameras.

Beggs’ statement noted that many in law enforcement and numerous elected officials have condemned the action of the Minneapolis police. But he added “that is little comfort for George Floyd’s friends and family left behind, or the thousands of people who live in fear that the next victim of systemic violence will be them or their loved ones.”

Here is the rest of Beggs’ statement: “I have been calling for real reform of our criminal justice and policing systems in Spokane since 2006 when I had the privilege of representing the family of Otto Zehm who died under similar circumstances. And while there has been some progress, we are still much closer to the beginning of needed changes than the end. George Floyd was killed in another state, but it could have been in Spokane, and I believe our community members want to hear that each elected official and person with influence within the justice system will commit themselves even more deeply to the hard work ahead to create a safer community for all people – uniformed and non-uniformed alike. This murder lends itself to individual blame, but I remain convinced that much of the violence between law enforcement and community members is rooted in a systemic breakdown that is the responsibility of all of us to repair. I will continue to advocate for changes in Spokane’s use of force policies, strengthening of our Office of Police Ombudsman, transparency of investigations and discipline, hiring of a more diverse workforce and more advanced training and tactics that lead to de-escalation of conflict for the protection of community members and law enforcement officers. And while we work for justice, to quote the Reverend Nathaniel Baxter, ‘As we act, let us not become the evil that we deplore.’ ”

Occupy Spokane and other groups have called for a “peaceful protest” to start at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Red Wagon in Riverfront Park.

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