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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Crime/Public Safety

‘It must stop’: Spokane officials acknowledge need for change following guilty verdict in trial of ex-cop who murdered George Floyd

UPDATED: Tue., April 20, 2021

Crowds of protesters walk across the Monroe Street Bridge and up the hill to the Spokane County Courthouse May 31, 2020 during a protest to express anger over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.   (JESSE TINSLEY)
Crowds of protesters walk across the Monroe Street Bridge and up the hill to the Spokane County Courthouse May 31, 2020 during a protest to express anger over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.  (JESSE TINSLEY)

The work of improving relations between police and the community, particularly communities of color, didn’t end with Derek Chauvin being found guilty of killing George Floyd in Minnesota, local officials said.

Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs said that despite the relief Tuesday’s verdict provides to many, “there’s still such a divide between the culture of policing and the culture of those policed.”

“We’re probably closer to the beginning of healing that relationship than the end, but I think we’re moving ahead and farther ahead than we were a year ago,” Beggs said.

Beggs’ colleagues at City Hall said in statements that Floyd’s murder should be a catalyst for continued change, while honoring the memory of the man who died.

“Every day we wake up and worry about the safety of our family and friends at the hands of law enforcement,” Spokane City Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson said. “The ones who are supposed to ‘protect and serve,’ we beg you to stop killing us. Intentionally or unintentionally, the deaths of unarmed Black and Brown people by the hands of officers is grossly out of proportion and it must stop.”

Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward, Police Chief Craig Meidl and City Councilwoman Lori Kinnear said in a joint statement after the verdict they heard the pain of the city’s community of color and were committed to improving relations.

“There are no winners even with today’s guilty verdict. Mr. Floyd’s loved ones still suffer and our community still feels a sense of trauma that comes with loss,” the city statement reads. “We hear that, recognize the anger, and are committed to working together on reforms that will improve equitable outcomes and enhance the safety of our community, particularly for our neighbors of color.”

Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich declined to comment on the verdict Tuesday.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said the verdict should not overshadow the fact that more needs to be done.

“Today is a day for all to recommit themselves to a more perfect union, in their communities and in our nation,” Inslee said. “Let this be the beginning of progress rather than the end of one trial. Today’s sense of relief for some is fleeting. They know more must be done to prevent this from happening again and again. Too many live with this uncertainty. We must end systemic racism.”

Floyd’s death, and the subsequent criminal charges filed against Chauvin, were followed by protests in the streets of Spokane last summer.

On one weekend, police used tear gas and rubber bullets on a crowd that remained downtown after curfews were announced. Later protests and marches called for reforms within Spokane’s own police department, including calls for more independent oversight of the agency prompted by the killing of Otto Zehm in 2006. The Spokane City Council voted down a version of a contract with the Spokane Police Guild based on concerns the agreement limited the authority of an independent civilian ombudsman, before approving a new version last month negotiated with the involvement of Beggs.

Beggs, who represented Zehm’s family in its lawsuit against the city, noted that Chauvin’s verdict was an anomaly. It’s rare for a police officer to be criminally charged, let alone convicted, he said.

“There’s a lot of people who aren’t going to feel any safer and people will continue to be killed and assaulted, especially people of color,” Beggs said.

The mayor, police chief and Kinnear, in their statement, urged citizens to exercise their right to call for reform, but to keep those activities peaceful.

“On this raw day, many will have an understandable emotional response,” the statement said. “Please make your voice heard peacefully and respectfully and know that as elected and law enforcement leaders we support your right to do so without putting anyone’s lives or livelihoods at risk.”

National Democratic elected officials called upon their colleagues to take additional legislative steps following the verdict.

“George Floyd should be with us today. And so should too many other Black men, women, and children,” U.S. Sen. Patty Murray tweeted Tuesday. “We need justice in every single trial and an America where justice and equality are a reality for all of us. That’s what I’ll keep fighting for.”

Sen. Maria Cantwell, along with several other national lawmakers, called on the Senate to consider a bill passed by the House of Representatives bearing Floyd’s name. The bill would address several requests of criminal justice reform advocates, including the creation of a national database of reports of police misconduct and restricting federal funds for departments that do not ban the use of certain types of holds used by officers detaining suspects, and “no-knock warrants.” Such a warrant was served prior to the killing of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky.

“George Floyd and his family deserve justice. Today, a jury deliberated, and we took one step closer towards justice,” Cantwell said. “Congress should now pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act and ensure equal treatment under law.”

The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021 passed the House of Representatives along strict party lines last month. It has yet to come up for a vote in the Senate.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle, also called on the upper chamber to take up the bill.

“This is a day of reckoning,” Jayapal wrote. “But we can’t rest here.”

Staff writer Adam Shanks contributed to this report.

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