EVERETT — With the country reeling from a week of seemingly pointless violence that saw black men and police officers dying on both sides of guns, local black activists and elected officials called for action during a vigil in Everett Sunday.
“We’re really beyond the point of just needing to talk,” said Janice Greene, president of the Snohomish County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
It’s time for action, she told roughly 100 people gathered outside the county courthouse.
Seven deaths last week prompted the vigil. Two were familiar scenes in America: black men killed by police officers under circumstances that have raised questions. Social media broadcast their deaths across the country.
Those deaths were followed by a black Army veteran ambushing five Dallas police officers at what began as a peaceful protest Thursday. He wounded another seven officers and two demonstrators before being killed himself.
People need to take action across the country, Greene said.
Speakers at Sunday’s vigil called for people to support reform legislation, including a police accountability bill at the state level and a new federal voting rights bill.
“If you’re not registered to vote, you don’t have much to say,” she said.
She called on news media to not vilify people who die at the hands of police. “If you’re walking down the street, and you’re a black child, you don’t deserve a bullet,” she said.
Elected officials echoed her remarks, while working in other issues, such as gun control.
“There should be justice and liberty for all, and that does not seem to be the case” in America today, Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers said.
“We need to be able to say ‘black lives matter,’ without somebody being offended,” he said. “For many years in this country, black lives haven’t mattered as much.”
“All lives matter” is a common retort by opponents of Black Lives Matter, a social movement that targets police violence against black people and racial inequalities in the criminal justice system.
That reply frustrates Will Rivera.
“We’re not saying other lives don’t matter,” the Marysville resident said. “It’s like running a race for cancer. All diseases suck, but today, we’re running a race to cure cancer.”
Black Americans died at twice the rate of the next closest racial group in police shootings in 2015, an investigation by The Guardian found. The newspaper maintains a comprehensive database of fatal shootings by law enforcement officers in America.
Speakers at Sunday’s event praised the Everett Police Department for its efforts to try new policing strategies. Two major initiatives include putting social workers with patrol officers, and requiring officers to take 40 hours of training in de-escalating tense situations that could turn violent. By comparison, the state requires police officers to take 8 hours of training.
The training mandate is new this year and will take time to fully implement, Everett Police Chief Dan Templeman said.
In most places those people — many homeless and living with mental illness and substance abuse problems — are arrested, work through the system and end up back on the street to be arrested again.
That simply takes police away from addressing more serious crimes, and it does not help the individuals being put through the repeat cycle of arrest, jail and release, Templeman said. “We have to start thinking outside the box and taking new approaches.”