By Jaclyn Archer, YALPista
On August 12 and 13 community organizers from Spokane, Portland, Seattle, Olympia, and other Washington cities came together to discuss police accountability in the Northwest. The first annual Northwest Community Coalition on Police Accountability was held at Portland State University, and hosted by the Portland NAACP in cooperation with the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane (PJALS). The conference arose from the realization of community leaders in Spokane, Portland, and Seattle, that all three cities had been audited by the Department of Justice (DoJ), and according to Portland NAACP President, Jo Ann Hardesty, “all three [cities] got something slightly different out of it.”
The conference kicked off on Friday night with a vigil for Keaton Otis at the site where he was shot twenty-three times during a random stop by Portland police officers. Pockmarks from the bullets can still be seen in the brick of the building that stood behind him where he died. At the vigil, mothers of police shooting victims spoke to the gathered crowd of the need for reform and police accountability. Several in attendance held signs, while another local activist chalked the names of police shooting victims in the sidewalk.
After the vigil, the mood was lightened with a series of hip-hop performances led by local Portland youth recruited by Hardesty as part of her emphasis on youth involvement.
Saturday brought a day of sessions hosted by Showing up for Racial Justice (SURJ), Brandon Lee of Train for Transformation—a company that seeks to improve the culture of police departments through training and community building, and grassroots organizers, lawyers, and activists from Spokane, Seattle, and Portland.
The sessions were well attended, covering a range of issues form the legislative side of police reform, to the legalities of fundraising to make change.
Most notably, however, was the opportunity these sessions presented for networking across the Northwest. “We are a community here in the Northwest,” said Liz Moore, director of PJALS. The sense of community was definitely felt as many attendees from the conference expressed a sense of connectedness, encouragement, and the hope of future collaboration.
The value of the conference was not only in the information that was shared, or the momentary connection of a weekend, but in the relationships that will persist into the future as organizers, activists, lawyers, and public servants across the Northwest fight to promote peace and justice throughout our region.