In the wake of two more deaths of black men at the hands of police and the Dallas sniper attack, a Seattle writer and an attorney, both African Americans, denounce further violence against law enforcement and urge the public to engage in political action with the goal of meaningful police reform.
In the wake of the bloodshed, two black activists in Seattle on Friday separately denounced further violence against police, while calling for political action in pursuit of meaningful police reform that ensures equal protections for blacks and other minorities.
“We’re all shaken, we’re all traumatized,” said Ijeoma Oluo, a 35-year-old writer and activist in Shoreline whose articles and social-media posts that urged citizens to demand police reforms through political channels went viral in recent days. She used tweets and Facebook posts to offer step-by-step advice.
“I think we have to take a minute and ask ourselves, ‘Do black lives still matter to you?’ It’s not if you believe in the Black Lives Matter movement, but just on a personal level. Do black lives really matter to you? And if the answer is yes, you must use what power you have to make sure that black lives matter to the system.”
To Oluo, that means engaging in local politics by first understanding what your own city’s police practices and procedures are, then demanding that city politicians improve them.
“I think people all around are asking, ‘What can we do?’?” she said. “And my response is, start by looking at what your local law-enforcement rules look like, then start asking your city council representative about them. They court your votes, so make this an issue. Ask the question: How do we make sure this doesn’t happen again? And if they don’t listen, hold them accountable.”
“We don’t have to wait until the bodies drop to start asking how we can prevent this from happening in our own town or our city.”
Oluo said she has been physically and emotionally drained from the week’s events, starting with the videotaped deaths of black men at the hands of police officers in Baton Rouge and outside St. Paul, Minn., through the Thursday night shooting that left five officers dead and seven wounded in Dallas.
On social media, before Dallas, she asked for help in starting “The Accountability Project,” a grass-roots campaign to spur police reforms town by town.
“And I got over 300 volunteers to join the cause,” she said.
After Dallas, Oluo pounded out an essay for The Guardian, expressing why the Black Lives Matter movement needs to forge ahead despite that bloodshed.
“What happened in Dallas is devastating, and I think it endangers our movement,” Oluo said. “But it doesn’t actually change the fundamental truth that black lives matter and deserve the same protections under the law.”
Just before the sniper attack, Seattle lawyer and activist Teri Rogers Kemp’s nonprofit had helped organize a vigil for Alton Sterling — the man killed by Baton Rouge police this week — as part of a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest downtown.
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“I think the public equally grieves with me for these police officers who gave their lives,” said Rogers Kemp, a criminal defense attorney. “I am equally convinced that the majority of the public in our country similarly values the lives of black and brown people. This is everyone’s fight.”
To that end, Rogers Kemp advises citizens to channel fears and frustrations that have mounted during the past week toward constructive action.
“It’s so important to be responsive as opposed to reactive,” Rogers Kemp said. “We all get angry, but we cannot act in an angry way without pause and consideration. I grieve for the loss of these officers. I grieve for the loss of these men, too. But we can’t bring them back. What we can and must do now is change policy and to advocate for a system that protects all lives.”
Part of Not This Time’s mission is to change the state law that holds a police officer “shall not be held criminally liable for using deadly force without malice and with a good faith belief that such act is justifiable … ” A Seattle Times investigationfound Washington has the nation’s most restrictive law on holding officers accountable for unjustified use of deadly force.
After two officers said they feared for their lives when they shot Che Taylor, the Seattle Police Department ruled the shooting was within policy.
Not This Time and other police-reform advocates are now trying to gather about 250,000 signatures by December to place Initiative 873, a measure seeking to reform the law, on the statewide ballot.
“My advice to people is to start locally,” Rogers Kemp said. “Get active, read, research and know the law. Sign Initiative 873 and demand our legislators change this law. It’s not as sexy as taking to the streets and pumping your fist in the air, but we can channel our anger into making policy change that matters.”