EVERETT — Dozens of public defenders hit the streets Monday to protest the death of George Floyd and urge the Snohomish County Council to redistribute half of the county Sheriff’s Department budget into housing, counseling and other social services.
Participants issued their call for partial defunding of the sheriff’s $75 million budget after a march through downtown and rally outside the county courthouse.
“I felt that we as public defenders really needed to take a stance and say the bold thing, which is to defund the police, and push the call to action,” said Snohomish County public defender Erika Bleyl who organized the event.
It was one of roughly 60 events around the country Monday in which public defenders added their voices to the nationwide movement protesting the death of Floyd, an African American man who was killed May 25 while in police custody in Minnesota.
Increasingly, those calling for racial and economic justice, are also pushing for defunding of law enforcement agencies, and using the money to bolster social services. Research shows that approach could lower crime rates, Bleyl said.
“I think it is public safety to put our tax dollars toward those things,” she said.
The group called into a meeting of the County Council’s Law and Justice Committee Monday afternoon to push for consideration of their defunding request.
Councilman Jared Mead, the committee chairman, said he’s open to looking into other options when it comes to funding the department — but he can’t speak for other members of the council.
Conversations about next year’s budget are starting in the next couple of months, he said following the afternoon meeting.
“I think everything has to be on the table at this point,” Mead said. “If anything has been shown in the last week or two, it’s that the system has not been working for everyone, and it’s not working for anyone at that point.”
In Olympia, Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday called for a statewide restriction on use of chokeholds by police, creation of a panel to investigate officer-involved killings and enactment of legally-binding obligations for police to report misconduct by fellow officers.
“We have to rethink policing in Washington state,” Inslee said at an afternoon news conference.
The governor said he will convene a work group to craft reform proposals for consideration in the 2021 legislative session – or sooner, in a special session, if they are ready.
Inslee did not endorse defunding law enforcement agencies.
“If there are things that can be trimmed, sure, we’ll have those debates,” he said. “But you don’t want to cut a service that if some woman is being domestically abused, they want to get that call answered pronto so there can be a police response.”
On Monday, Inslee again heaped praise on those peacefully demonstrating in communities around the state
“Thousands of people in our state have been crying out for justice,” he said. “And these footsteps in the street I think and I hope are footsteps in history. To the protesters, I want you to know this: I hear you. Black lives matter.”
At least 100 people gathered with the Snohomish County Public Defender Association to march through north Everett Monday afternoon. Their route was almost a mile long.
The rally started just before noon, outside of the Snohomish County Courthouse. They all laid on the pavement for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the length of time a police officer held his knee on Floyd’s neck.
After, the group headed downtown and stopped at main intersections, including Broadway and Everett Avenue. Public defender Nikita Parekh led the group using a megaphone.
Police officers guided traffic around the protesters as they chanted “No justice, no peace, no racist police,” and “Hands up, don’t shoot.” Drivers honked car horns as they passed, seemingly in support. Some raised a fist outside the window as they passed.
By 12:40 p.m. the group had made it back outside the courthouse. Once there, people were invited to speak.
Michael Larson helped lead a protest Saturday with organizers John Wilson and Gabe Maggio. All three met in high school, but have since graduated.
Larson, 20, joined the protest Monday to get young people involved and because he believes these kinds of demands are some of the most important when it comes to change. He lives in Everett.
Using a microphone, Larson shared his perspective.
“As a black man over these last few weeks, I’ve had to ask myself the question, ‘Am I next?’”
“So, I just want to talk to you all today about continuing to put pressure on the people in power,” he continued. “These demands will make change.”
He asked the others in attendance, and specifically white people, not to give up in a few weeks and carry on with their normal routines.
“This is my life,” he said. “This is the fear I have to constantly be living with until the day that I die. The older I get this will only get worse for me as a black man in America, unless you, and you, and you, and you, everyone here decides to do something about it.”