For six months, hundreds of volunteers have been on the streets—on the University of Washington campus, downtown, in neighborhoods—gathering signatures for Initiative 940, a ballot measure that would allow police to be prosecuted for unjustified use of deadly force. Now the volunteers are delivering the ballot measure to the state with more than enough public support.
I-940, known as De-Escalate Washington, received 355,000 signatures and counting—well over the 259,622 signatures the campaign needed to qualify for consideration. De-Escalate Washington's campaign volunteers will deliver the signatures to the Washington Secretary of State in Olympia Thursday afternoon, following a march with family members of those killed by police.
State legislators can approve the measure, turning it into law in the 2018 legislative session; they can also propose an amended version, which is far less likely in the short session. It'll likely go through the House Public Safety Committee and the Senate Law and Justice Committee. If lawmakers don't approve the initiative, it'll go to the voters in the November 2018 general election.
“Action on this issue is long overdue, and I give my heartfelt thanks to the hundreds of thousands of Washington voters who have sought action by signing petitions for I-940,” said Annalesa Thomas in a released statement. She's the mother of Leonard Thomas, a 30-year-old unarmed black man who was killed by a SWAT sniper in Fife in 2013. “Their engagement is providing healing and empowerment to the family members of loved ones whose lives were lost due to police violence.”
Thomas's death led to a $15 million settlement for the family earlier this year after a federal jury supported family members on every count, including excessive force and emotional distress.
I-940 would prevent officers from claiming the defense of no “malice” in use of deadly force; require an independent investigation when force resulted in death or significant bodily harm; and create an objective “good faith” standard not determined by police. Essentially, it makes it a lot easier for police to be prosecuted for unjustified deadly force.
State senator David Frockt, a Seattle Democrat, earlier this year proposed a bill on deadly force. The legislation stalled largely because of its language to remove the police defense of no "malice" involved, which is nearly impossible to prove and has always been a sticking point in negotiations with law enforcement.
A total of 32 current state legislators have supported the initiative, some of whom were at its launch—including state senator Bob Hasegawa and newly appointed state representative Javier Valdez.
The number of signatures on I-940 "indicates the extent of the public support," said Leslie Cushman, an attorney helping the I-940 campaign. "It's very practical, very thoughtful."
Police reform advocates announced the initiative on the steps of Seattle City Hall in July, shortly after 30-year-old pregnant black mother Charleena Lyles was fatally shot by police. A force review board investigating the case found that the death was within departmental policy in November, The Seattle Times reported.
Family members of Lyles, Tommy Le, Jackie Salyers, and Daniel Covarrubias—all people of color killed by law enforcement—will speak before I-940 campaign supporters begin marching from United Churches of Olympia at 11:30am on Thursday.