On Tuesday, the state task force on the use of deadly force by police will finally begin examining the controversial Washington law that makes it virtually impossible to prosecute police who unjustly kill.
"We've been putting off this highly contentious issue," acknowledged Rep. Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland), who co-chairs the task force, in an interview today. "But we're taking it on next week... I hear clearly the calls for justice."
The task force was created to examine killings by police in Washington state, after another lawmaker attempted to change the state law—RCW 9A.16.040—last year. The statute sets an extraordinarily high bar to prosecuting police officers compared to other states, requiring proof of "malice," or evil intent, and a lack of "good faith" on the part of the officer.
As we reported, the task force has held seven hours worth of meetings so far this year without discussing the law, enraging civil liberties and minority leaders. In a statement, Governor Jay Inslee said he was "disappointed" the commission wasn't living up to its mandate.
Now, the task force agenda for Tuesday includes presentations by police, prosecutors, and the ACLU about the deadly force statute. The meeting will be held for nine hours, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., in House Hearing Room A inside the O’Brien Building at the Olympia capitol.
Goodman is circulating reading materials for task force members, including 132 pages of memos written by local prosecutors explaining their decisions not to charge police officers for the killings of John T. Williams in Seattle, Antonio Zambrano-Montes in Pasco, and others individuals around Washington state.
But Goodman said he's faced "resistance" from law enforcement to even broaching the issue of the deadly force law. Police officers have all but threatened to engage in de-policing.
"If the statute were changed, no police officer would ever get out of his car," he quoted them as saying. "No one would ever want to be a police officer."
The Washington chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, a national police union, is opposed to any change in the statute. But activists are gathering signatures for a statewide initiative (I-873) to remove "malice" and "good faith" from the law if the legislature doesn't.
Gerald Hankerson, the president of the Seattle-King County NAACP, is calling on members of the public who are outraged about police killings to attend the next meeting. He blasted the task force as a "dog and pony show."
"We've yet to talk about what we're there for," he said. "The agenda is driven by the police, not the people.... I want people to come and take it over. I want them to come and make demands... The ones that are doing all the talking are the ones doing the killing."
Public comment is scheduled for the tail end of the meeting. "The community has yet to get one word at these things," Hankerson said. "They should be the first ones to speak, not the last."