The most dangerous injustice is the kind you see so frequently that it doesn't seem abnormal anymore. That is precisely where we are at, as a nation with policing shootings. They happen every day. Most don't make the news beyond the local paper. We've seen too many brutal police shootings to notice the brutality anymore. We have become very numb.
In the U.S. people fall in one of two camps on the issue of police shootings. Those who think it would never happen to them, and those who are terrified every day someone they love will be a victim. Unfortunately, those two groups are sharply divided along racial lines. Color matters more than any white person can ever understand. Melanin is a risk factor for mortality in our country.
They say you don't know what you don't know. That was certainly the case in Washington State when it came to police officer accountability in deadly force incidents. A statute that has been on our books for thirty years that only recently became a lightning rod for controversy in our state.
Washington State has the single most regressive law in the nation regarding accountability in deadly force incidents. We are dead last in the entire U.S. in the category of justice.
This, in a state, so jam packed full of progressive liberals that we often the brunt of jokes about granola eating hippies and tree-hugging environmentalists.
Washington has a uniquely written law that provides a state of mind loophole for an officer who kills. Legislators, prosecutors and the like, try to make it complicated. It's not.
In our state, in order for an officer to be prosecuted, you have to be able to prove an officer was thinking evil thoughts when he or she took a life.
Let that sink in for a minute.
No amount of video footage or eyewitness testimony can ever show what someone was thinking. This goes beyond proving intent. You have to be able to determine thoughts, and unless you're a mind reader, you can't. Law enforcement in Washington is quite literally shielded by the law.
And for the record, they have used that shield, on many occasions.
Several months ago, after a failed attempt at changing the statute on the legislative level, out of desperation, we decided to file an initiative.
Working on this project, I have learned two things I believe most people, or at least most white people, don't know.
#1. There is some very real and tangible connection between policing and racism.
Now let me be very clear. I am not saying all police are racists. I do believe some police are racist. Let's face it, a certain percentage of people, in general, are racist. Police are no exception.
However, the racism I'm talking about here isn't about racist cops. It's about racist people. As I talk to people about the campaign, I am often asked who our biggest opposition is. One would think it would be the police unions who would be opposed to losing their get out of jail free statute. That would be an incorrect assumption.
Our biggest, most vocal opposition has been racists, straight up.
When there is a police shooting, racists crawl out of the woodwork to "defend" and "protect" the police. Where I live in Olympia, Washington, racist, white supremacist whack jobs stood vigil in front of the police department for weeks after a white officer shot two unarmed black young men. Recently, a self-proclaimed white supremacist stabbed a black man and ranted about doing a favor for the cops because he knew they wanted to do that, but couldn't.
Our Facebook page is swarmed with racist rants and death threats. Most racists hide in the dark. However, when it comes to policing issues racists are emboldened to take the streets and get very public with their rhetoric.
What the connection is between policing and racism, I cannot and will not speculate. However, as a white woman, working on this campaign, I was and still am shocked at how prevalent it is. It's a very real thing that defies the moral compass of most. White people need to understand it's real and has a very real impact.
People of color have always known it. It's the air they breathe every day. Racism and policing are uniquely bound. You don't have to understand it to accept it's true. Racists love themselves some cops.
#2. The price tag of political change is higher than anyone wants to recognize.
Here is the reality. Legislators don't like to take on controversial issues that don't appeal to the mainstream. It's risky. Politicians stand to lose a lot, including their careers and reputations for championing issues that affect the disenfranchised. The system is not set up to protect the underrepresented.
So, beyond getting laws passed and changed through legislation, the only other option in most states is an initiative.
In Washington State, we need approximately 250,000 signatures on an initiative. That my friend, is a lot of signatures.
Everyone loves a grassroots effort. However, the system is set up to make sure grassroots efforts fail. The requirements are simply too high for even the most motivated volunteer army.
The bottom line is initiative campaigns are expensive. You have to pay people to gather signatures because states set the requirements so high. We are potentially talking about millions of dollars just to get an initiative on the ballot.
It's hard to get people to invest in issues that affect minority populations. Why? Because the majority of people aren't affected by the same problems. When it comes to writing big checks, or even little ones, people tend to donate to issues they feel. They like it personal.
Most people certainly don't want to donate when it's controversial. Kids and education are an easy ask. Parks almost always get funded. Those types of things have good optics. Policing issues and deep-rooted social justice causes, not so much. The optics there aren't as shiny. Let's face it, things like racism and police brutality are hard to talk about.
Mainstream politics funds itself. However, when you're dealing with issues that aren't that neatly packaged, money is harder to find and change is difficult to fund.
This is the primary reason the oppressed stay oppressed. There is a very high price tag for equality and the oppressed rarely have deep pockets.
We are at the half-way mark in our campaign. We have a volunteer army working themselves nearly to death to gather signatures. That isn't an exaggeration. In the last week, we had two key volunteers in the hospital and many others suffering serious symptoms of burnout.
What we are doing here matters, a lot. Not just in Washington, but for the entire county. A lot of people have their eyes on Washington State because we are the first country in the nation to put policing laws in the hands of the people. We are laying down a roadmap for other states to follow.
The risk in our task that is becoming obvious is this: money doesn't solve every problem, but the lack of money maintains the status quo, and the status quo right now is a real, life and death kind of problem for a lot of people.
Without big money, racism wins. Equality and justice are not free. They are very, very expensive.