Part 1: PJALS Policy Priorities

PJALS’ policy priorities were developed responsively to the priorities our PJALS community shared in the biennial member survey, and with insight from partner organizations, directly impacted individuals, and local leaders of color.

Our policy agenda is organized into 3 spheres: Local, Statewide, and National/International. PJALS works on issues at all levels, and I find it helpful to think of our work in terms of concentric circles. The smallest circle is drawn around Spokane County–indicating the work done by the Spokane City and County governments and agencies. A larger circle is drawn around Washington State–indicating the laws and policies passed in Olympia by our legislature and statewide agencies. Finally, an even larger circle is drawn around the whole United States. That final circle doesn’t just represent federal policy, but also the military, economic, and social power the United States exercises around the world.

Locally, we’re focusing on city and county policies concerning police accountability, housing, and homelessness, and bringing light to the systemic racism perpetuated by the Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office under Larry Haskell. This focus aligns with the PJALS priority of “ending…systemic racism in our city-county carceral system.”

Spokane Immigrant Rights Coalition–of which PJALS is a member–is working to secure interpreters for police calls (whereas police have previously engaged in the illegal practice of using ICE officers, and after receiving push-back, turned to the unethical practice of using children and family members). PJALS will amplify this work at every opportunity.

At the state and national levels, priorities are divided into two tiers. Tier 1 is for issues we care deeply about, and will devote staff time and resources to creating original opportunities for people to get involved.

Tier 2 is for issues we care deeply about, and believe our time and resources are best spent amplifying the ongoing work of others. Examples of amplifying existing work include:

  • Joining sign-on letters as an organization
  • Sharing petitions and similar opportunities with the PJALS membership
  • Sharing social media and email communications from other organizations when their approach aligns with our values

During the legislative session we followed the lead of the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability and the Washington Low Income Housing Consortium to determine our Tier 1 priorities. Ultimately we focused on a handful of rollback bills that threatened to undo the progress made for police accountability in 2021. Remaining policies from these organizations made up our Tier 2.

Nationally our Tier 1 priorities included support for the repeal of the Authorization for Use of Force in Iraq (AUMF), promoting a War Powers Resolution Act to end US support of the Saudi led war in Yemen, and peaceful solidarity with Ukraine.

National Tier 2 priorities are policies that align with our local and state goals, with a special emphasis on voting rights.

Part 2: Legislative Session

Washington’s Legislative session ends March 10, and it’s been a tough one. In the wake of the George Floyd Uprising—which included nationwide protests including several major cities in Washington—Governor Inslee signed a suite of twelve police accountability bills into law. The backlash was immediate, as representatives of law enforcement and other public officials knowingly or unknowingly spread misinformation about how police accountability laws impact the ability of law enforcement to do their job.

During this year’s short session (only sixty days long), several “clarification bills” were introduced in the House and Senate. Some of them helped clarify the intent of the laws passed in 2021, and provided needed guidance to both law enforcement and elected officials. Two of them, however, amounted to rollbacks of lifesaving measures that in a single year appeared to drop the number of people killed by police by 60% statewide. Sadly, 2037 and 5919 were passed by the State House and State Senate, and if signed by Governor Inslee, they will become law.

Each bill is harmful in its own way: 2037 lowers the standard for when a police officer can use physical force to “reasonable suspicion.” This dangerous standard requires that an officer have little more than a hunch that someone is involved in a crime, and is historically linked to the disproportionate harm communities of color and people with disabilities experience at the hands of police.

5919 creates looser restrictions around the use of police vehicle pursuits at the state level. Police vehicle pursuits—commonly known police car chases—are extremely dangerous for everyone involved, including the pursuing officer, the suspect, and bystanders. In fact, bystanders make up half of the people killed in vehicle pursuits, leading many urban jurisdictions pass laws that severely limit their use. 5919 lowered the standards for engaging in vehicle pursuits at the state level. This lower standard will likely become the default standard for more rural communities, unincorporated areas, and on state highways.

The passage of 2037 and 5919 are now the whole story of legislative session, however.

PJALS members joined thousands of concerned Washington residents in voicing their opposition to these rollbacks. 62 members signed up for 3 separate Legislative Action Hours where we called and emailed our state representatives. On Feb. 20, PJALS members and Peacekeepers also participated in a Rally Against Rollbacks and Racists—led by Spokane Community Against Racism—where approximately150 people spent two hours listening to speakers and lining up to share their opposition to 2037 and 5919 with the State Legislature online by signing in “CON.”

PJALS was part of a robust movement that included the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability, the ACLU of Washington, Spokane Community Against Racism, and many other organizations across the state to protect the police reform measures won last year. We should be proud of what we’ve accomplished. The path to transforming our community isn’t linear, and despite the setbacks of this last session, the good work continues.