A Chance to Save Lives in Washington State and Help Reform the Use of Lethal Force By Police

By Kristina Roth, Senior Program Officer, Criminal Justice Program

Police officers have difficult jobs that are often dangerous. At the same time, they are responsible for upholding the law, as well as respecting and protecting the rights of all members of society. According to the Washington Post, this year Washington State has had 32 fatal shootings by police officers. That is over twice as many as in New Jersey, a state with a slightly larger population People of color were overrepresented as victims of these killing by police.

The residents of Washington State are not taking these killings sitting down, and Amnesty International USA along with a collation of over 100 organizations, tribes, and labor unions, is supporting the De-Escalate Washington I-940 campaign to make police reform a reality and save lives in the state. I-940 is an initiative to the legislature on law enforcement training and community safety that would require police officers to receive training in violence de-escalation, mental health, and first aid so that officers will have greater skills to resolve conflict without the use of physical or deadly force. I-940 also importantly requires independent investigations of use of deadly force where there is injury or death, including Tribal governments in investigations where a tribal member was injured or killed.

I-940 would amend the standard for justifiable use of deadly force by law enforcement by requiring the officer to meet both an objective and subjective “good faith” legal standard. This holds officers to a higher standard by removing the de facto immunity within the current law which requires the officer to act with “malice” in order to be found criminally liable for the use of lethal force. This change in language may seem minor, but would be a step towards restricting the use of deadly force and ensuring accountability for unlawful killings by Washington police.

It would also move Washington State closer to the international human rights restriction on when police can use deadly force: only in self-defense or the defense of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury, when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life. Washington State, like all other US states, falls short of this standard, as documented in Amnesty International’s report Deadly Force. The campaign to get I-940 to the November 2018 ballot has less than a month left. By December 29, 2017, the I-940 campaign must collect 90,000 more signatures from Washington State registered voters to reach its goal. Help us pass this innovative police reform legislation to make everyone safer in the state of Washington. If you’re in Washington State, contact us to sign the petition and volunteer to help collect signatures.

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