The Washington Black Lives Matter Alliance has filed ethics complaints against three Republican state lawmakers, claiming their questioning in public hearings was “discriminatory,” and offensive toward people of color.
The alliance, a statewide advocacy coalition for racial equity that recently released its legislative agenda, filed its complaints against Rep. Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick, Rep. Jenny Graham, R-Spokane, and Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, with the state Legislative Ethics Board this week.
“This is a real-time demonstration of why we are here in Olympia,” said Sakara Remmu, the lead strategist for Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County. “These representatives — who attempted to marginalize and discredit Black people by forcing them to litigate their testimony — are revealing the inherent bias that allows oppression to flourish.”
Remmu said that since the first hearing of the session, “it was very clear that this was going to become a problem, and it has only escalated since then.”
The alleged conduct comes mainly from the three lawmakers during testimony on legislation concerning police accountability.
The alliance’s complaints say the Republican representatives made “offensively inappropriate comments” unbecoming of elected officials toward Black people and people of color offering testimonies.
The representatives asked questions that tried to “marginalize and discredit public testimony” from people of color while giving law enforcement representatives slack, according to the alliance.
The alliance also says the lawmakers repeatedly provided their “own de facto testimony to refute Black and people of color who are testifying, and uphold the claims and positions of law enforcement.”
At a police accountability hearing in January, Klippert questioned Sonia Joseph, a woman of color whose son was killed by Kent police during a traffic stop.
“Sonia, you, if I recall correctly, you said my son would not be stopped if he were white,” Klippert said at a hearing for House Bill 1054. “I’m just wondering if you have any evidence to support that statement. It’s a very powerful statement and if there’s evidence I’d just like to hear what that evidence is.”
Joseph then answered Klippert’s question with national data, to which Klippert responded, “Then no specific evidence to support that your son specifically would not have been stopped if he was white?”
The alliance referenced 10 other statements from Klippert that it sees as in violation of state ethics law.
In its complaint against Graham, the alliance used 12 separate remarks as evidence. In one public hearing on open carry, Graham questioned Lyn Idahosa-Berry, from the Federal Way Black Collective.
“I’m asking you if you feel the same way regarding people that feel threatened when there is groups of people carrying Molotov cocktails and they’re carrying pipes and they’re carrying sticks or frozen bottles of water that are … you’ve mentioned that you’re talking about people being in fear at protests but you’re only specifically talking about one group of people and you’re not referring to the other actual violence that we’ve seen,” Graham said.
Graham came under fire last summer for offensive language used against a Spokane reporter from the Inlander in a voicemail.
The complaint also flagged eight remarks from Walsh as problematic, including a question the alliance says insulted Rabbi Daniel Weiner.
Weiner, testifying in support of a bill banning group open carry, said he is concerned about a rise in domestic paramilitary groups that intend to intimidate political opposition and vulnerable groups.
“Rabbi, you are simply reading a lot of subjective inference into the proposed legislation which does not include the language that you’re inferring that it does. Don’t you see that your inference of the language in this proposed legislation is itself an undermining of the practical effect of this bill?” Walsh asked at the January hearing.
In 2016, Walsh allegedly violated campaign finance and political advertising requirements by not reporting campaign expenses and not including sponsor identification on political advertising. The case was resolved with a written warning.
The lawmakers, who will not receive a copy of the allegations unless the ethics board decides to move forward with the complaint, have not provided comment on the complaints.
The alliance claims the remarks, taking place over the span of a month, violate the Legislative Code of Conduct that expects legislators to treat others with respect, dignity and civility, and refrain from behaviors that may amount to discrimination, harassment or bullying.
“Lawmakers in this state and this country need to understand that their behavior, their words, their conduct, holds sway over people,” Remmu said. “Washington Black Lives Matter Alliance shows up to these hearings having received threats and told not to testify.”
Though many ethics complaints get filed, they rarely result in action. The Legislative Ethics Board would have to investigate whether the complaint is within its jurisdiction and if there is “reasonable cause” to believe there has been an ethical violation. The board can either dismiss it or move forward and hold a public hearing.