Above: As Governor Jay Inslee waits to speak, Dr. Karen Johnson, chair of the Black Alliance of Thurston County, speaks at Monday's Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration in Olympia. Nat Jackson, far left, a member of the Black Alliance of Thurston County, was the master of ceremonies. The Black Alliance of Thurston County has spearheaded the writing of state legislation that would change the law governing excessive use of deadly force by law enforcement in Washington State.
Just before Dr. Karen Johnson was to speak in the Rotunda, the voice of Governor Inslee came over the public address system. Inslee was apparently giving a speech elsewhere in the building and the mechanical systems became crossed. After at least 15 minutes of interruption to the celebration and unsuccessful attempts to mute Inslee and restore the microphone in the Rotunda, the crowd started chanting, “Black Lives Matter! Black Lives Matter!”
In an extraordinary turn of events, Reverend Vera Diggins, who had earlier lead the group in the Black National Anthem, lead the crowd in singing several verses of “We Shall Overcome!” The emotional tenor of the crowd changed and the public address system was somehow fixed, allowing Johnson to speak. Then, Governor Inslee, who arrived and was scheduled to speak, began his speech by saying, “The mission of equality cannot be drowned out!” to cheers from the crowd.
By Janine Gates
Proposed legislation written and spearheaded by members of the Black Alliance of Thurston County that would change excessive use of deadly force by law enforcement in Washington State has garnered a prime sponsor.
Washington State Representative Cindy Ryu, D-32, has agreed to sponsor the legislation. The bill, which does not have a number yet and is in the process of some last minute refining, would amend RCW 9A.16.040.
The South Sound area was jammed packed with celebrations and service events honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Monday. Dr. Karen Johnson, chair of the Black Alliance of Thurston County, announced the proposed legislation at a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration held at the Washington State Capitol Building.
“We should all feel proud that we are one step closer to having a use of deadly force law that attacks our egregious state law, not the noble law enforcement officers who maintain the public safety of all Washingtonians,” said Johnson.
“There’s widespread recognition that our justifiable homicide statute is broken because it sets a higher bar than any other state in prosecuting officers who use deadly force without justification. Amnesty International calls Washington State’s law regarding use of deadly force as the “most egregious” in the nation.
“The Black Alliance of Thurston County, in coalition and partnership with others…want to start the conversation around this issue….It is the right thing to do at the right time….We can pass a bill that is good for the people, the police, and the prosecutors of Washington State who seek public safety and accountability for all,” said Johnson.
Only Washington State law provides a defense against prosecution when a police officer acts “without malice and with a good faith belief that such act is justifiable.” Malice is defined in law as “evil intent.”
The proposed bill removes a subsection which contains the phrase “without malice and with a good faith belief,” an aspect which makes Washington's statute so unique.
To put Washington State law in line with the recommendations of a June 2015 Amnesty International report, “Deadly Force: Police Use of Lethal Force in the United States,” the bill also clarifies language regarding use of deadly force against fleeing felons so it is clear that the risk to the officer has to be imminent.
The legislation is expected to be introduced on Tuesday or early this week.
The bill's sponsor, Senator Cindy Ryu, represents Northwest Seattle, Shoreline, South Edmonds, Woodway, west Mountlake Terrace and Lynnwood. While serving as a Shoreline City Councilmember, Ryu was elected mayor in 2008, becoming the first female Korean-American mayor in the United States. Serving her third House term in the Washington State Legislature, Ryu is a Deputy Whip and co-chairs the Members of Color Caucus.
The Black Alliance of Thurston County hopes to have the bill passed and signed by Governor Jay Inslee during this short legislative session.
Above: Andre Thompson, middle, wearing hat, and his brother Bryson Chaplin, who was not in attendance at Monday's celebration, and their family was acknowledged and prayed for by Bishop Charlotte Petty of Risen Faith Fellowship. Thompson and Chaplin were shot by an Olympia police officer in May 2015. The officer who shot the brothers was not charged by the Thurston County prosecutor, who used the “without malice and with a good faith belief.....” defense for the officer, indicating that the shooting was justifiable.
Amnesty's Deadly Force Report
The Amnesty International report is primarily based on a state-by-state legislative survey of use of lethal force statutes within the United States.
According to Amnesty International, the United States has failed to track how many people are killed by law enforcement officers. No one knows exactly how many people are killed each year but estimates range from 400 to over 1,000.
Among its other findings:
African Americans are disproportionately impacted by police killings, according to the limited data available.
The United States has failed to respect and protect the right to life by failing to ensure that domestic legislation meets international human rights law and standards on the use of lethal force by law enforcement officers.
All 50 states and Washington, D.C. fail to comply with international law and standards on the use of lethal force by law enforcement officers.
None of the state statutes require that the use of lethal force may only be used as a last resort with non-violent and less harmful means to be tried first.
No state limits the use of lethal force to only those situations where there is an imminent threat to life or serious injury to the officer or to others.
Nine states, including Washington, allow for the use of lethal force to be used to suppress a riot.
Twenty two states, including Washington, allow for law enforcement officers to kill someone trying to escape from a prison or jail.
Only eight states, including Washington, require that a warning be given, when feasible, before lethal force is used.
Twenty states, including Washington, allow for private citizens to use lethal force if they carry out law enforcement activities.
For more information about the Black Alliance of Thurston County, Karen Johnson, the City of Olympia’s Ad Hoc Committee on Police and Community Relations, Andre Thompson and Bryson Chaplin, and local groups working for racial justice, go to Little Hollywood, www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com, and type key words into the search button.
For more information about Amnesty International’s report “Deadly Force: Police Use of Lethal Force in the United States,” go to: www.amnestyusa.org/deadlyforce
Above: Names of Black loved ones lost to police violence are written in chalk outside the Washington State Capitol Building in Olympia.