A colleague of mine recently quipped that in 2020, we have been living simultaneously through 1918, 1932, and 1968. It has indeed been an unsettled and unsettling year, causing me to reflect on the profound challenges we face and inspiring me to make change.
Dismantling Racism in Policing
Like many in our community, I’ve been heartsick over the senseless killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Manuel Ellis, and a long list of other Black people at the hands of police. It is painful to admit our failure to recognize and actively oppose the oppression of our neighbors. And yet I am filled with hope as I see people open their hearts and minds to listen and learn about the effects of centuries of systemic racism. I am one of those people.
I watched with grave disappointment how officers from the Seattle Police Department have responded to what have largely been peaceful protests near my home on Capitol Hill and elsewhere in Seattle. I am deeply troubled by the aggressive and militarized response to these protests, and by the contrast between the police response to these protesters and the largely white and armed crowds of protesters that oppose the public health measures our government has taken during the pandemic.
I am sorry that it has taken me so long to appreciate the scale of this problem. As chair of the Senate Law & Justice Committee, I am committed to doing my best to addressing it. The Legislature adjourned for the year on March 12 and is not scheduled to reconvene until January 2021. But in the interim, I have asked my committee staff to work on ideas for potential legislation in a special session later this summer, if we convene, or in the 2021 session, including the following:
- Prohibiting the use of chokeholds.
- Prohibiting law enforcement agencies in our state from accepting surplus military equipment.
- Requiring the use of body cameras statewide.
- Prohibiting law enforcement officers from covering their badge numbers while on duty.
- Requiring state collection of data on police use of force.
- Strengthening de-escalation and anti-bias training for law enforcement officers.
- Strengthening the decertification process so that law enforcement officers who are found to have used excessive force lose the ability to work in law enforcement.
I am also using this time to listen to communities of color, constituents, and other stakeholders and to their suggestions for change in our law enforcement culture and doing my best to advance all worthy ideas for change. Earlier this week, Gov. Inslee announced a task force to provide recommendations for legislation on independent investigations involving police use of force. I look forward to working closely with this group and with my colleagues in the House to pass new laws to ensure that every member of our community is treated with dignity and respect. You can read more about my thoughts on police accountability in this piece in the Stranger.
June is officially LGBTQ Month in Washington, thanks to a bill passed by the Legislature last year. In the last two decades, we’ve made incredible progress establishing and protecting the rights of LGBTQ people. Just last week, we celebrated another victory when the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that workplace civil-rights protections extend to gay and transgender people. I was happy to offer my perspective to the Seattle Times on the historic decision.
Masks save lives
I’ve been proud to see most of my neighbors and friends on Capitol Hill, First Hill, and downtown wearing masks. Unfortunately, the practice is most effective at stopping the spread of the virus if nearly everyone participates. To that end, this week Governor Inslee announced that masks will be mandatory in public to help address the increase in cases in our state. People with health conditions are exempt and people outside who can maintain a distance of at least six feet from others are not required to wear masks. But thank you to everyone who is willing to endure this inconvenience to protect more vulnerable members of our community.
The profound disruption in our lives and routines that 2020 has brought can be overwhelming, but I continue to believe in government’s ability to respond to the needs of people. I recently had a chance to speak with Washington State Wire about tax reform, our state’s budget shortfall, and the real opportunity for positive change in our state.
Over the next several weeks, I’ll be sharing updates on other issues the Legislature addressed this year that have been overlooked in the crush of news about the pandemic, the economic collapse, and the movement for racial justice.
Stay safe and healthy and please don’t hesitate to reach out to me with any questions or concerns. We will make it through this together.