The police presence on Capitol Hill on June 7, 2020, which was a very bad night.
The police presence on Capitol Hill on June 7, 2020, which was not their finest hour. Jamie Pedersen and Joe Nguyen are Democratic state senators. Photo by Tristan Fairchok

Our community is reeling with anger and frustration following the killing of yet another unarmed, non-threatening black man by police officers, this time in Minneapolis. We are heartsick at the senseless killings of George Floyd, Manuel Ellis, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery and the sense that we have made so little progress as a country in combatting centuries of systemic racism.

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Peaceful protests in all 50 states have highlighted the need for structural change to our policing system across America, especially as the response to numerous demonstrations with aggression has illustrated and underscored this glaring need for reform.

President Obama aptly called out that “…elected officials who matter most in reforming police departments and the criminal justice system work at the state and local levels.”

Even as Washington has enacted increased police accountability measures in the last few years with the passage of Initiative 940, there are still issues that need to be addressed. As state lawmakers, we have heard the cries and watched our communities fight for change and know that it is our responsibility to respond with action.

While the Legislature adjourned the 2020 regular session in March, we have already begun conversations about legislation to introduce during the next session.

We need sweeping and comprehensive policy reform that will prevent further tragedies from happening in Washington. The initial list includes:

• Prohibiting the use of chokeholds.

• Prohibiting law enforcement agencies in our state from accepting surplus military equipment.

• Requiring the use of body cameras statewide.

• Prohibiting law enforcement officers from covering their badge numbers while on duty.

• Requiring state collection of data on police use of force.

• Strengthening de-escalation and anti-bias training for law enforcement officers.

• Strengthening the decertification process so that law enforcement officers who are found to have used excessive force cannot work in law enforcement.

Inappropriate and unprofessional reactions from law enforcement here and from around the nation continue to expose a deep cancer on the culture of policing in America. The unjustified use of aggressive force and chemical weapons on unarmed and unthreatening demonstrators, escalating otherwise peaceful protests, can no longer be tolerated. We should all be deeply troubled by the aggressive and militarized response to many of these protests, including the wanton use of tear gas and flash bombs and the pepper-spraying of a young child.

We recognize that systemic racism is a disease that has been hundreds of years in the making and cannot be cured overnight. But we also know that by improving our policies one by one, we can start to make a difference and offer hope to a community in need of healing and desperate for real change.

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Our police are civil servants and guardians, not warriors preparing for battle against our own people. It is our responsibility to hold them to that high standard.

Jamie Pedersen is a Democratic state senator representing the 43rd Legislative District. He chairs the Senate Law & Justice Committee.

Joe Nguyen of White Center is a Democratic state senator representing the 34th Legislative District. He is vice chair of the Senate Human Services, Reentry & Rehabilitation Committee.

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