A march for Charleena Lyles in June.
A march for Charleena Lyles in June. Nate Gowdy

Washington is ranked 8th in the U.S. in terms of states where citizens are killed by police. Thirty-four so far in 2017 as of today, including Charleena Lyles—the 16th person killed this year. Charleena was the pregnant mother of four who was killed in front of her children after she called 911 on to report a burglary.

Would Charleena Lyles be alive if the proposed Initiative 940 became law? No one can say for sure, but if those two police officers did not fire their weapons, Charleena would be alive today. It is safe to say that when dealing with someone who is going through a mental health crises, the priority should be to help them, not kill them. Her children are now without a mother, and there are way too many stories like Charleena’s.

De-Escalate Washington is a common-sense campaign for officer training and community safety. Initiative 940 would require law enforcement in our state to receive training on de-escalation, mental health, and first aid, and would also modernize our outdated use of force law.

Officers currently have access to mental health training, but it is not required though it’s increasingly necessary to avoid incidents of violence. Nearly half of all the people killed by the police have a disability.

Training works! It has been proven around the world. Police should have the skills to keep themselves and the public safe, including violence de-escalation training to reduce use of force; mental health training to provide skills to respectfully interact with and protect persons with mental illness; and first aid training with the duty to provide first aid. This will help the police to save lives, not take them.

Initiative 940 would also provide a path to justice for families who have had loved ones unjustifiably killed by law enforcement. Right now, it is virtually impossible to prosecute police officers when they use deadly force, even in the most egregious cases.

I-940 is more than 60 percent of the way to getting on the 2018 ballot. It features one of the most diverse coalitions in Washington State history and has centered communities disproportionately affected by police brutality. I-940’s leadership includes the Puyallup Tribe, SEIU, Disability Rights Washington, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Equal Rights Washington, Be the Change Network, One America, Latino Civic Alliance, Washington CAN, UFCW 21, the Washington State Association for Justice, the Vietnamese Community Leadership Institute.

The Leadership also includes families of persons killed by police including Andre Taylor, whose brother Che Taylor was killed by the Seattle Police Department, and Chester Earl, whose cousin Jackie Salyers was killed by the Tacoma Police Department. Earl has known three people in his tribal community killed by law enforcement.

I-940 has received wide support and has received endorsements from civil rights groups such as Amnesty International and Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane, numerous unions and labor organizations such as the Washington State Labor Council and Washington Education Association, eight Washington tribes and the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians as well as Latinos, African Americans, immigrants, Asian Pacific Islander communities, disability rights organizations, lawyers, the LGBTQ community, business groups, and others. Law enforcement organizations such as the Black Law Enforcement Association of Washington and the Law Enforcement Action Partnership are also supportive.

Citizens all around our state have witnessed preventable shootings, Washington can do better. For perspective, Massachusetts, the closest state to Washington in terms of population, has had four people killed by police. Again, Washington has had thirty-four.

Sign the initiative, donate to the campaign, volunteer, and help our state become a leader in de-escalation as a model for others around the country. This vital initiative will reduce violence, save lives, and rebuild trust between communities and the police. Together, we can qualify I-940!

Statement of Subject: Initiative Measure No. 940 concerns law enforcement.

This measure would require law enforcement to receive violence de-escalation, mental-health, and first-aid training, and provide first-aid; and change standards for use of deadly force, adding a “good faith” standard and independent investigation.

Should this measure be enacted into law? Yes or No

Riall Johnson is the campaign manager for De-Escalate Washington I-940.