First Person, Last Word

Sarah Leyrer Showed Us How to Live

My friend was a joyful advocate for justice.

By Kristen Millares Young December 7, 2020 Published in the Winter 2020 issue of Seattle Met

I got caught short with Sarah Leyrer. At the end of summer, a police car killed her as its driver had a stroke. He, too, passed. I heard Sarah’s husband, Mike, wrote a beautiful letter to the officer’s family. I wish I could take back the fact that Sarah and I saw each other less these past years. I thought we’d be friends until we were old.

We met a dozen years ago while dancing in the street during a pig roast, a party that my husband and I throw for our anniversary. Sarah did not judge my femme self-representation, though she wore only clothes fit for cycling*. It was my honor to see Mike and Sarah get married on Beacon Hill. Her smile, like always, was shining. 

Early on, we shared adventures that became harder once I had children. In the Before Times, we hiked to hot springs and camped on ridges. We packed our food and our trash. Sarah took care of every environment she joined.

As an advocate for the rights of migrant workers, as a lawyer who labored to restore wages to those who’ve been deprived of their due, Sarah dedicated her life to justice as a way of being in relation with the earth and other people. She volunteered to record recurrent accounts of neglect within the Northwest ICE Processing Center, a private immigration prison in Tacoma. La Resistencia Northwest** recently worked with the City of Tacoma, sharing some of those stories. Her efforts mattered, though much remains to be done. The city council passed a resolution calling for “the systematic release of all detainees under parole and bond” due to the ongoing health threats of Covid-19, medical neglect, and exploitative working conditions.

More than a hundred social justice advocates attended her Georgetown vigil in September. On the fringes, a line of cyclists with blinking lights stood as sentinels against traffic. La Resistencia founder Maru Mora-Villalpando passed the mic, wiping it down with disinfectant between turns as people shared grief and praise for the light that Sarah brought into the world, steadily doing what needed to be done.

Twilight had yielded to night by the time I requested to speak. In Sarah’s memory, I asked them—and you who read these words—to commit your joyful hours to communities which need our efforts. This cruel year is almost over, but our work is not yet finished. She gave us her wholehearted example. Now we must live by it.

*As part of the Seattle Bike Brigade, Sarah tried to shield Black Lives Matter protesters from police brutality.

** The organization honors her memory with its continued fight to end immigration detention and deportation in Washington state.

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