Commentary: Denouncing racism a good start, but action needed

In terms of health care and justice, we must better serve the needs of our communities of color.

By Megan Dunn / For The Herald

On June 3, the Snohomish County Council passed Resolution 20-013 in response to the wrongful death of George Floyd and others, condemning racism, and supporting peaceful protests in Snohomish County.

Denouncing racism is an important start, but they are only words on a page unless followed by action. We each have a role in making change and I will honor my commitment to actively implement meaningful change.

With this resolution: The council mourns the death of George Floyd and joins the call for justice; supports those who wish to protest peacefully without fear of intimidation; does not support returning hate with hate or violence with violence; condemns acts of violence and damage to public and private property; commits to finding actionable ways to make our system more just for everyone; stands proudly for racial equality; and condemns any and all hate-based organizations that are counter to this mission.

Equal justice under the law is not a reality for all Americans and families in this county. As a majority-white-led council and county, we must acknowledge and understand this as a truth that some in our community experience. We are overdue to change structural problems and remove barriers. People are protesting and risking their lives to bring attention to inadequate policies and lack of police accountability. We have historically continued to fail to value the lives of all people in this county and country.

Based on bookings of all inmates during May 2020, 9.2 percent of the inmates booked into the Snohomish County jail identify as African American, but the latest census data estimates only 5 percent of the population in the county identifies as African American. In 2019, the county had a total of three investigations regarding use of force. For 2020, we’ve already had two use-of-force investigations to date (snohomishcountywa.gov/4008/SMART-Investigations). It’s time to come together to have tough conversations on how we can change those numbers.

According to Front and Centered and their Black Lives Matter Statement, “(COVID-19) has ravaged our communities in a way that largely mirrors the existing inequities and structural racism inherent in our health care systems.” Demographic data provided by Snohomish County’s Health District shows that people who identify as Hispanic or Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander have over 200 cases per 100,000 in population, and people who identify as African American have 157 cases per 100,000 in population. These numbers are compared to 85 cases per 100,000 for people who identify as Caucasian. Not only are our communities of color disproportionately experiencing negative health outcomes from this pandemic, they are also disproportionately targeted by our justice system. These disparities are a result of historic structural systemic inequities and it is time that we acknowledge these inequities and repair these cracks in our community’s foundation.

Voting in favor of this Resolution was one of my first steps in my role as a council member to address systemic inequities and historic structural racism in our county. I have also asked council member Jared Mead as the Law and Justice Committee chairman to consider a Community Review Board as a subcommittee of the Regional Law and Justice Commission under RCW 72.09.300. I plan to host an online forum to hear directly from community members and officers. I will be meeting with community advocates to hear more about their experiences and am forming a Community Advisory Committee to recommend next steps. I will also be reaching out to law enforcement and welcome their involvement.

Additionally, I am committed to elevating the voices of our communities of color, and I support the Snohomish County NAACP’s request to adopt the following:

• Create a community oversight and an accountability task force that reviews complaints of excessive force or misconduct by law enforcement;

• Install dash and body cams and require their use;

• Release and investigate community complaints about law enforcement; and

• Provide training that addresses how to recognize and manage systemic discrimination, biases, and to deescalate situations.

It is time to take responsibility and change our policies, acknowledge the need to improve and make positive change that is embedded in the leadership of impacted frontline communities and responsible officers who are ready to have tough conversations.

Megan Dunn represents District 2 on the Snohomish County Council.

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