Members on Task Force on the Use of Deadly Force in Community Policing say community voices face uphill battle

Alia Marsha August 23, 2016 0
A Seattle Police car on patrol near 2nd Ave downtown. • Photo by Matthew Zalewski

A Seattle Police car on patrol near 2nd Ave downtown. • Photo by Matthew Zalewski

On July 20, Washington State Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs (CAAPA) held an informational meeting on the Joint Legislative Task Force on Deadly Force in Community Policing to amend RCW 9A.16.040, which is one of the most restrictive laws on prosecuting police misconduct.

The meeting was led by Toshiko Hasegawa, who provided a recap of the first task force meeting in June. Hasegawa is one of 26 members of the task force that will review and make recommendations regarding laws, practices, and training programs on deadly force in law enforcement in Washington state. Earlier this year, the Washington state Legislature approved and Governor Inslee signed into law House Bill 2908 creating the task force. The task force has until December 1 to submit a report to Governor Inslee and the appropriate committees of the Legislature. Between June to December, the task force will have met four times.

Shankar Narayan from ACLU Washington, Leslie Cushman from the Olympia Coalition for Reform of Deadly Force Laws, and Rev. Paul Benz from the Faith Action Network attended the July 20 meeting.

The informational meeting was held not long after the deaths of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Philando Castile near St. Paul, Minnesota, who were killed by police.

The law in question is Washington RCW 9A.16.040: Justifiable homicide or use of deadly force by public officer, peace officer, or person aiding. According to this law, “A public officer or peace officer shall not be held criminally liable for using deadly force without malice and with a good faith belief that such act is justifiable pursuant to this section.” The language in the law, Hasegawa said, makes it virtually impossible for a law enforcement officer to be prosecuted for using excessive use of force.

“What we’re looking for is common sense when abuse has occurred,” Hasegawa said in her introduction.

Hasegawa is one of the members of the task force that are considered “community representatives.” Other members include De’seann Quinn of the Washington State Commission on African-American Affairs and Jorge L. Baron of Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. In an email sent to community partners, Hasegawa wrote that community representatives are seeking “commonsense measures” of accountability in the law by striking the word “malice” and replacing “perceived threat” with “imminent threat.”

“An officer perceiving a someone as threat is not an acceptable standard to justify the killing of a member of the community,” Hasegawa said. “There must exist an imminent threat in order to justify taking a life.”

Hasegawa said she was surprised by the way the first task force meeting was run. She said that often, community representatives were cut off by law enforcement representatives at the table.

After a recap and a presentation of HB 2907, which addresses the use of deadly force by a public officer or peace officer, and HB 2908, which establishes the joint legislative task force on the use of deadly force in community policing, the meeting turned into a community input session where attendees voiced their recommendations to improve future task force meetings.

Rev. Paul Benz suggested that the next task force meetings be held in a “community space.” The first one was held in Olympia, and the second was held at the Criminal Justice Training Center in Burien. The third is scheduled at the same venue.

OCA—Greater Seattle president Jacqueline Wu, who said she has worked a lot with youth, suggested that the youth be included in the conversation.

In an email sent before the informational meeting, Hasegawa wrote that based upon the history of the formation of the task force, the composition of the task force, and the way the meeting was run, community voices clearly have an uphill battle for their recommendations to be taken.

“The fear is that a recommendation on policy accountability is going to come from the police,” said Hasegawa.

Shankar Narayan from ACLU Washington said that the conversation around police misconduct should not stop after the task force is over and the law amended. Along with reasonable ground to hold police officers accountable for their use of deadly force, or after abuse has occurred, Narayan mentioned reform of police practices such as crises prevention and police-community trust building as necessary.

“It’s one piece of the problem,” said Narayan.

The third meeting of the Joint Legislative Task Force on the Use of Deadly Force in Community Policing is scheduled for September 13 in Olympia to allow for an all day meeting, including time for public comment.

In preparation for the next meeting, there will be a brief update meeting organized by Toshiko Hasegawa on Thursday, August 25 from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Keiro NW Garden Room, (1601 E. Yesler Way, Seattle). Following the update, there will be an opportunity for Q&A, and to organize an advocacy strategy building up to the next task force meeting. Food and beverages will be provided. RSVP to toshikograce@gmail.com.

For more information on the Task Force on the Use of Deadly Force in Community Policing, click here.

Editor’s note (8/24/2016 at 6:06 p.m.): The September 13 Task Force meeting has been moved from Burien to Olympia to allow for an all day meeting, including time for public comment.

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