On the evening of Jan. 12 EWU Black Student Union, NAACP of Spokane, Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane (PJALS) and members of the Spokane community came together for an act of solidarity in response to the decision not to indict the police officer in training who shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice.
Officer-in-training Timothy Loehmann, who was being trained by officer Frank Garmback at the time, shot Rice on Nov. 22, 2014, at a park in Cleveland, Ohio. Neither Loehmann nor Garmback are facing criminal charges.
NAACP of Spokane, PJALS, Black Student Union of EWU and the community held signs on the intersection of Division and Main to call for a Department of Justice investigation. The signs read sayings such as “Black Lives Matter” and “Stop the killing.” Occupy Spokane also created a projection light on a nearby building reading “#BlackLivesMatter.” Many cars driving by honked in support of the cause.
Around 6 p.m. the group gathered in the Spokane Community Building for a few presentations and a discussion. The first presenter was professor of Africana Studies at EWU Okera Nsombi, Ph.D. “Do not ever stop struggling for our injustices and leave it into the hands of the institutions which rarely have worked in our behalf. We would not be here if we did not struggle,” Nsombi said.
The second speaker was NAACP president Naima Quarles-Burnley. Quarles-Burnley said for her, black lives matter is more than a slogan, it’s a movement, an affirmation and a recognition. “Black lives matter; my life matters,” she said.
Quarles-Burnley shared some statistics with the group, revealing that in 2015 alone, 987 people were shot by police officers. She said black men make up 6 percent of the U.S. population, but accounted for 40 percent of the unarmed people shot in 2015.
Quarles-Burnley also revealed a fourth of the people who were killed showed signs of mental illness, accounting for a total 253 out of 987 people who were killed. “To me, this points to a need for the police department to have greater awareness and understanding of interacting with people who have mental illness,” she said, and continued to refer to mental illness as a silent killer. “It’s something we don’t talk about,” she said.
“We have to change the laws,” Quarles-Burnley said. She ended with the statement, “There are things we can do to protect ourselves and protect those that we love.”
Director of PJALS Liz Moore was the final speaker of the night. She said one of the main goals is to stand in support, particularly with the people in Cleveland who are addressing the Cleveland Police Department and calling for a Department of Justice investigation. She said another main goal is to be together, have some discussions and move toward action.
Moore said for people driving by, one of the main things she wanted them to take from this is recognition that people are speaking their values and standing up for what they believe in and, hopefully, are inspired to do the same. Moore also noted in other communities, particularly white communities, it is easy to think, “That’s different, that’s over there [or] that’s them, that’s not something that concerns me,” when in fact it is right here in Spokane.
“When we think about racism, when we think about what has to happen for racism to be dismantled in this country, one of the really critical ingredients is white people taking responsibility for being part of dismantling that system and taking action in ways that are in partnership or in accountability to people who are directly affected, people of color,” Moore said.
For those wanting to get involved, Moore said there will be a Community Forum on Police Leadership on Jan. 21 from 6:30-8:00 p.m. in the Community Building Lobby located at 35 W. Main in Spokane. Mayor Condon’s Police Leadership Advisory Committee (PLAC) is seeking input from the community in order to prepare for hiring the next police chief. This event is designed for community members and organizations to speak out and name the expectations, as well as the type of leader the community wants to lead the Spokane Police Department. After a short presentation from PLAC, 10 organizations will have the opportunity to give a direct testimony. Participants will then get into small groups with PLAC members to give verbal and written input that will be used by PLAC to develop their report to Condon. According to PLAC, Condon has assured them he will consider the recommendations.
This event will be sponsored by PJALS, Spokane Police Accountability and Reform Coalition, Greater Spokane Progress, Smart Justice Spokane, Center for Justice, and Spokane NAACP.
Moore expressed her gratitude to students at Eastern who have spoken up over the last couple of years. “I love that we can work with EWU and community groups hand in hand. I think it’s tremendously powerful,” she said. “We should do it more and really welcome other groups at Eastern to get in touch with us if they want to do community projects any kind of collaboration together is really powerful and great.”