On Sunday, July 9, about 100 people marched a winding route through Seattle in memory of Philando Castile, a Black man gunned down by a police officer in Minnesota in what should have been a routine traffic stop.
Castile’s family settled with the city of St. Anthony, Minnesota, for $3 million in June. Though they were able to extract a sum through the courts, the judicial system ultimately failed to deliver the justice they craved — Officer Jeronimo Yanez, the man who killed Castile, was acquitted just 10 days earlier.
Sunday’s march would mark the second time in three days that Seattleites gathered in the name of a Black person shot by police in this country. The first, on July 6, was a press conference for De-Escalate Washington, an initiative launched in the wake of the shooting of 30-year-old Charleena Lyles by Seattle police officers. Lyles was shot in her apartment while her children were in another room.
Lyles had called the police to report a burglary. The officers knew that she had mental health challenges. One had received a 40-hour crisis intervention training. Neither officer had a taser.
Still, despite the multiple fail-safes built into the system to protect her, Lyles was shot seven times and didn’t receive medical attention until a second wave of officers arrived.
“None of it makes sense to us,” said Katrina Johnson, Lyles’ cousin, at the press conference for the initiative.
De-Escalate Washington — also known as initiative 940 — represents another attempt to do through the ballot box what government has so far proven unable or unwilling to accomplish on its own: curbing police violence by regulating officers.
The initiative would require that police be trained in de-escalation techniques, mental health interventions and mandate that a civilian injured by a police officer receive first aid immediately. The exact specifications of the trainings would be left up to the community and police to craft together.
Of greater consequence, however, would be the change that lowers the legal bar to find officers guilty after an officer-involved death. The current standard requires the court to find that an officer harbored “malice,” a near-impossible benchmark. The initiative would instead require that an officer acted “in good faith.”
Furthermore, the determination of whether or not the officer acted “in good faith” would be determined by an independent investigation.
In this, the initiative is similar to a 2016 measure backed by Washington 4 Good Policing that aimed to remove the “malice” standard. That initiative, championed by Andre Taylor, whose brother Che Taylor was killed by the Seattle Police Department, failed to get the requisite number of signatures to get onto the ballot.
Initiative 940 will be different, Taylor said at the press conference.
“It’s balanced and the amount of support around it and the professionals that we used for language this year makes a big difference,” Taylor said. “And sometimes the first time around teaches you for the second time around.”
The initiative needs 259,000 signatures to get on the November 2018 ballot. The campaign is aiming for 340,000. Signature gatherers have until the end of the year to get the requisite number of signatures. Roughly half of the team will be paid, and the other half will be volunteers.
Real Change photography intern Monica Westlake contributed to this report.
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Twitter @AshleyA_RC
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