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Police reform advocates gather in downtown Spokane to protest policing legislation

UPDATED: Sun., Feb. 20, 2022

Spokane Community Against Racism and other organizations held a rally to protest what they consider to be a proposed rolling back of police reform in the legislature and to protest Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Haskell on Sunday in Riverfront Park.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVI)
Spokane Community Against Racism and other organizations held a rally to protest what they consider to be a proposed rolling back of police reform in the legislature and to protest Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Haskell on Sunday in Riverfront Park. (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVI)

The names of only some of the people killed by police in Washington rang out in Riverfront Park as about 150 people gathered to protest recent legislative action they say would roll back some of the police reform bills passed in 2021.

Spokane Community Against Racism held a rally in Riverfront Park on Sunday afternoon, including speakers to discuss the long-term effects of losing a loved one to law enforcement as well as what they said was positive impacts from recently passed police reform legislation.

The Washington Legislature is reexamining some of the police reform laws it approved last year. While some officials say the moves mostly are about clarifying the language, others argue the changes would amount to rolling back the reform.

Jac Archer, SCAR Steering Committee member, said attempts to rescind police reform legislation, some of which limited excessive force and vehicular pursuits by law enforcement, would minimize the progress that had a direct effect on lowering the amount of people who are killed by police.

“There’s an unnecessary rollback of effective police accountability laws in the state of Washington, and we deem that unacceptable,” Archer said. “There are other people who’ve been a part of this system who’ve been spreading misinformation about these laws and we find that unacceptable.”

Some of that misinformation comes from interpretation of a recent law that told police they must have probable cause to arrest someone, as opposed to the lower legal standard of reasonable suspicion, Archer said.

Archer said some law enforcement have tried to use this new standard to say they cannot show up to calls or make legal arrests.

“If they have any reason to believe a crime has been committed, they’ve got probable cause,” Archer said. “Saying that they are unable to do their jobs, because they simply need to reasonably believe a crime has been committed, is nothing short of abdication of their duty and fear-mongering.”

Other speakers called for the resignation of Larry Haskell, the Spokane County prosecuting attorney whose wife’s social media activity includes racist slurs and white nationalist rhetoric.

Anwar Peace with the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability said he did not feel comfortable having a person in Haskell’s position who could possibly be affected by biases.

“This white nationalist fan club online could do harm to somebody due to this new uptick of escalated behavior, and since there has not been a true united front by all of our Spokane government leaders to fully rebuke white nationalism, and its new efforts to try to plant a flag here in Spokane,” Peace said.

Haskell, while acknowledging that some of his wife’s comments on social media are racist, has stood by his running of the prosecutor’s office.

Families of people killed by police said new police reform laws have led to decline in police killings. According to data from Next Steps Washington, 2021 had the lowest number of police killings since 2015. People killed by police overall went down by around 60%, according to this data.

Deborah Novak lost her son after Spokane Police Officer Brandon Rankin shot him. Haskell declined to file charges against Rankin, saying in 2019 at a news conference the officer had “reasonable belief based on information known at the time that Mr. Novak was a threat to officers.” Neighbors across the street had called 911 to report that Rankin was shooting at them. When police arrived on scene they reported hearing gunshots, but the sound they heard turned out to be Novak hitting a car with a baseball bat, according to police records.

“These new laws will prevent that from happening,” Novak told the crowd on Sunday. “We have constitutional rights. The police are supposed to have probable cause before they shoot and kill somebody or before they pursue someone. They’re also supposed to be accountable for their actions.”

SCAR will host an event with Martina Norris, a University of Washington sociology and statistics professor, 6 p.m. Tuesday via Zoom to discuss what recent data shows about crime in the last year in the state. Other links regarding the police reform legislation can be found on the SCAR website.

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