“It was time for something to transpire and change” — Two divided sides come together for historic change to state’s deadly force law
Joined by dozens of legislators, law enforcement officials and community leaders, Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill today that changes the law for use of deadly force by police officers and requires officers to take additional de-escalation trainings.
The new law (Substitute House Bill 1064) makes changes to Initiative 940, which voters approved last November. The bill results from a multi-year effort that brought community advocates and law enforcement together in an unprecedented collaboration on this issue.
“This is a model for how the country can work through emotional and divisive issues,” Inslee said. “This bill — which passed unanimously out of both chambers — doesn’t fix everything. Far from it. But it’s a start. It’s a sign that we can have this conversation, and that something good can come of it. It’s a sign that we can indeed begin to dismantle and redefine our understanding of justice for all in America.”
This is the first bill Inslee signed from the 2019 legislative session.
The changes stem from concerns about use of deadly force in situations between police officers and the public. The bill modifies the standard for use of deadly force by law enforcement officers. The real value in the bill comes from the now-required violence de-escalation and mental health trainings, said Lynnette Buffington, executive director of the Washington State Fraternal Order of Police.
“Opposing sides heard each other out,” Buffington said. “This is an achievement we can apply to any political divide — if people are willing to hear each other out for an expended period of time, we might come to a place where we agree.”
Steve Strachan said the signed bill represents one of the most ‘extraordinarily’ collaborative efforts between community advocates and law enforcement groups that he has experienced in his 34-year career in law enforcement.
“Frankly, I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Strachan, the executive director of Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.
Strachan, who represented law enforcement, was among those who sat at the table for intense discussions about the proposed bill. Andre Taylor, who lost his brother in a deadly force incident in 2016, brought a community advocate voice to the group. So did Tim Reynon, a member of the Puyallup Tribal Council whose tribe lost Jacqueline Salyers the same year. Legislators, police officers and other voices from community organizations such as De-Escalate Washington were also involved in the discussions.
The meetings often lasted anywhere from four to 12 hours. In the beginning, you could feel tension between the two groups, Reynon said.
Many attendees felt an emotional ‘us versus them’ mentality, according to Teresa Taylor, executive director from Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs. Although that mentality quickly decreased, she said law enforcement approached those initial meetings with an expectation to listen.
“It showed we respected the work they had done, the issues they brought forward, and that we really wanted to better understand their position,” Teresa Taylor said. “That was pretty powerful. It wasn’t just law enforcement coming to the table and demanding for something to be different.”
Over time, small victories for both sides started to emerge. Taylor said one of the turning points came during an extra-long meeting. Law enforcement members asked community members to leave the room so law enforcement members could find common ground around a certain issue before moving forward.
“They were out of the room for hours — hours — and they never left the building,” she said. “They stayed. There was never a moment when they said, ‘We’re leaving for the day until you figure it out.’ That’s powerful because it showed they saw the process as a holistic event and saw the important part of being available.”
Teresa Taylor said whatever difficulties happened before January 2018 eventually left. Soon, a new reality appeared.
“We trusted each other,” she said. “We tested each other. We had frank and difficult conversations. And, we built these incredible bonds of respect.”
Reynon said some felt skeptical they could get this done. He said progress happened when people listened to each other.
“I’m kind of a naïve Pollyanna person,” Reynon said. “So, I came in feeling hopeful and I’m a firm believer in collaboration and checking your ego at the door.”
As both groups listened to each other, Reynon said they learned law enforcement and community members shared the same goal: they both wanted to go home at night.
But what makes him the most proud — and emotional, in his words — was that both groups stuck to their word. Reynon said each group gave their word to work together in January 2019, no matter what happened at the November 2018 ballot.
“They gave us their word,” he said, choking up. “But we had won. So, we could have said, ‘We’re done, we got our victory’. That was one of the most significant things that came out of this: each of us stuck to our word and showed we were serious about working together.”
After meetings, it wasn’t uncommon for people to shake hands, offer hugs and extend well wishes — even if the meeting ended with heavy emotion.
Teresa Taylor even remembers sharing tears. At one point, a mix of community members and law enforcement representatives stood together to watch House Bill 3003 hit the floor for action last session — a bill legislators hoped could take the place of Initiative 940. The bill hit a snag that day and the group felt crushed, not knowing if it would pass.
She said the pressure of the day, the roller coaster of trying to get the initiative across the finish line, and the sincerity of the conversations around her in that moment made her choke up. Others did, too.
“I don’t even know the people and I’m crying because I’m feeling like this is so important,” she said. “We have to fix this. It was emotional for everybody. They’re hugging me and I’m hugging them. That was just one moment. Everyone who was part of this has their moment. It’s what makes it so remarkable and different.”
“It really is a story about the importance of having authentic conversations, the power of grassroots movements, and hearing from voices that are impacted — the table belongs to them.”
— Leslie Cushman
Andre Taylor brings many moments to this process — some heavier than others.
His younger brother, Che, was fatally shot by police officers in 2016. Today, Andre Taylor is the executive director of Not This Time!, a nonprofit that works to decrease fatal police shootings. He and Reynon both said the outcomes for Che Taylor and Salyers could have been different if today’s law for de-escalation training and rendering first aid was in place during 2016.
Andre Taylor said people around the state knew the law needed to be changed — and the moment was now.
“I’ve often said this before, that you can have the brightest minds in a room and if it’s not time for it to manifest, it won’t,” Andre Taylor said. “I believe it was time for something to transpire and change.”
Andre Taylor said the number of collected signatures for Initiative 940 created a space where law enforcement felt it was important to be involved. He said the signatures showed an overall community attitude about what needed to change.
“I’ve often said this before, that you can have the brightest minds in a room and if it’s not time for it to manifest, it won’t. I believe it was time for something to transpire and change.”
— Andre Taylor
When Andre Taylor went into this conversation, he said he assumed ‘they’re with us’ until they prove otherwise. Offering that benefit of the doubt built trust with other people at the table.
“The hugs weren’t rare, so to speak,” Andre Taylor said. “We wanted to celebrate with them for combined efforts. It was really beautiful.”
Buffington said people validated each other’s perspective and gave expert insight into the other group.
“We’ve become allies of each other,” Buffington said. “So we stand in a really healthy, healthy spot. People spent time being vulnerable in front of each other and, as a result, we built trust.”
Law and order is a complicated topic, said Leslie Cushman, attorney and citizen sponsor at De-Escalate Washington. So is race. And economic differences. So, although the relationship between the two groups feels healthy today, it felt adversarial before.
“The community had to take the bull by the horns and do the initiative and form these coalitions,” Cushman said.
Negotiations were interesting, she said.
“We said no but we didn’t withhold our yes’s either.” Cushman said. “The legislation on the governor’s desk is supported by both law enforcement and the community because it’s reasonable. We’re working together very well.”
Cushman gives credit to legislators at the table — including Sen. David Frockt, former Rep. Dave Hayes and Reps. Brad Klippert and Roger Goodman — who worked hard to bring it together. Today’s new bill matters for two reasons, she said. One, the bill makes important clarifications. And two, it’s good for relationships.
“It really is a story about the importance of having authentic conversations, the power of grassroots movements, and hearing from voices that are impacted — the table belongs to them,” Cushman said.
James Schrimpsher, vice president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said the groups quickly found common ground. Even when there was tension, he said good people on both sides kept the two groups at the table.
“Even to this day, I feel very comfortable reaching out to the community groups and working with them on issues,” Schrimpsher said. “That would not have happened without the leadership of Sen. David Frockt and Rep. Roger Goodman.”
“The legislation on the governor’s desk is supported by both law enforcement and the community because it’s reasonable. We’re working together very well.”
— Leslie Cushman
Strachan said an important element in this process was a willingness to listen. When law enforcement talked about split-second decision making on the job, Strachan said you could see the community advocates listening and trying to understand the perspective. When community advocates shared perspectives from communities of color and from people who don’t have a high level of trust in law enforcement, he said the other side listened back.
“It’s one of the things we talk about all the time but I’m not sure we listen,” Strachan said. “The stars aligned in this instance that we had people willing to do that, and try to understand the perspectives of each other.”
Another important element from this process was strong leadership, Strachan said. When law enforcement approached De-Escalate and legislators to sit down and figure out how to make this work better, they didn’t say it was too late.
“To their tremendous credit they said, ‘Yeah, let’s do that,’” Strachan said. “It would have been easier for everybody to stay in their corners,” Strachan said. “But it’s an amazing example of people showing a willingness to come together and do the hard work.”