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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane organizations aim to debunk ‘fear-based’ perception of Washington’s new police-reform laws

More than a dozen community organizations on Thursday held a news conference aimed at debunking community perceptions of new police reform laws in Washington.

After a week of collaborating with Peace & Justice Action League of Spokane leader Liz Moore, Jac Archer of Spokane Community Against Racism felt the need to host an in-person event to address myths and concerns regarding the new police reform measures, house bills 1054 and 1310 .

“What we were hearing is all this confusion. They’re hearing the fear based on misunderstandings and disinformation around the new policies passed. We asked, ‘What do we do?’” Archer said. “We realized we needed to break out of the echo chamber of the hyper-informed and those who think like us, and make this information accessible to the community at large in a press conference atmosphere.”

For Spokane-area activists, the bills reflect the community demands for police reform for years, but local calls for change finally collided with the national outcry for police reform last year.

“The biggest thing is being able to capitalize on the spotlight that all these issues have now that’s been impacting communities of color all this time,” said Kurtis Robinson , who spoke to the need for police reform as the executive director of I Did The Time, a member of Washington’s Coalition for Police Accountability and the vice president of Spokane’s NAACP chapter.

David Carlson, the advocacy director of Disability Rights Washington, summarized what these changes mean for police departments and their interactions with citizens.

HB 1054 limits officers’ ability to use weapons and tactics by banning the use of chokeholds, neck restraints and no-knock warrants. Military equipment, tear gas, canines and vehicular pursuits are also restricted with this bill. HB 1310 establishes a standard for reasonable care in situations, stating that all officers must de-escalate situations before using physical force. By July 1, the Attorney General must create and publish model policies on use of force and de-escalation.

Washington law enforcement agencies have until Dec. 1, 2022, to implement these new policies into their training and departments.

Jermaine Williams’ speech took a more personal tone.

Williams is the director of the Freedom Project East. Incarcerated himself for 25 years, his son is now in prison. He recalled the effects mass incarceration has had on his family.

“It’s clear in use of force data, traffic stop data and police killings, people of color are disproportionately harmed by law enforcement,” Williams said. “Living in a city where Black people are more than five times more likely to get arrested… I know that the numbers aren’t on my side.”

Moore read a statement from an anonymous survivor of domestic violence that said the Spokane Police Department’s social media posts against the new bills were “fear-based, false rhetoric regarding the new police reform laws and how the law enforcement would be unable to respond to most domestic violence calls brought back the worst night of my life.”

The statement detailed the survivor being hysterical that night, which led to a warning of her being arrested if authorities were called again.

“The deputy believed my abuser’s version, that I was mentally ill and had threatened to kill him and myself and stated that if they came out again, I would be going to jail,” the statement read. “In that moment, I lost all hope of anyone ever helping me out of that situation.”

Debbie Novak also took the lectern to support the new bills.

On Jan. 9, 2019, her son David was killed by a Spokane police officer. David was unarmed and turned away from the officer. The officer did not face any charges.

“I want to applaud our (Washington) senators and representatives and our Spokane City Council for their tireless work to attempt to restore the public’s trust and faith in our law enforcement,” said Novak, a former Spokane police dispatcher.

City Council President Breann Beggs took a break from chemotherapy to attend the event.

He recalled the compromise in implementing HB 1310 and encouraged Spokane residents to be patient as the police departments change. City Council member Betsy Wilkerson and Marcus Riccelli, who represents Spokane’s district in the Washington House of Representatives, were also in attendance.

“We as a city need to provide full support in getting all the training done,” Beggs said, “and give a little a grace for people while people adjust from training that they’ve had to do for years that’s now going to be different.”