Building bridges… Community, law enforcement come together to celebrate

Smiles, hugs and laughter blended with tears and bittersweet memories on March 31, when the Puyallup Tribe hosted a celebratory luncheon to honor the passage of Initiative 940 and HB 3003. The event served to capstone more than two years of consistent and determined work to address police use of deadly force in Washington State, work that paid off in historic fashion when the state legislature enacted Initiative 940 and HB 3003 at the close of the session.

“Building Bridges” was the theme of the day, and given the makeup of the lunch guests it was clear that’s exactly what the Puyallup Tribe, De-Escalate Washington, Not This Time and countless individuals have accomplished through their work to secure reforms to state law concerning police use of deadly force. Together that day in the EQC Showroom united by the same desire to heal relationships between communities and law enforcement were members of the Puyallup Tribal Council, state legislators, surviving families of those killed by police, law enforcement officers and members of police organizations like the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC), Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs (WACOPS) and the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), all of whom helped to make the passage of I-940 and ESHB 3003 a reality.

Of course, Puyallup tribal member Jacqueline Salyers was on everyone’s mind that day, as she is among those slain by police and her spirit a driving force behind the Puyallup Tribe’s commitment to doing something about how communities and police relate to one another. Puyallup Chairman Bill Sterud spoke Jacqueline’s name in his opening remarks at the luncheon.

“To me, this whole thing is in honor of Jackie Salyers,” he said. “It hit our Tribe really hard, and it still hurts. We needed to do something to prevent this ever happening again, and for people not to experience the hell that sometimes people have to go through. We decided to get involved.

“This legislation will build a bridge between law enforcement and our communities,” the Chairman continued. “By coming together during this legislative session and having tough conversations, we created the first steps to more unity. This agreement ensures that law enforcement in underrepresented communities will sit at the same table and talk about where we’re at today. Noting but good can come out of that.”

Serving as the luncheon master of ceremonies, Jackie’s cousin Chester Earl said that this first-in-the-nation success in changing state law regarding police shootings couldn’t have been done without having the hard conversations.

“We had a tragedy in our community – Jackie Salyers was a tribal member we lost,” he told the crowd. “Our tribal leadership took a stance and said we don’t want this to happen in our community anymore and we don’t want it to happen in any other community. As far as that goes, we don’t want it to happen anywhere. We don’t want our everyday citizens being ambushed; we don’t want our law enforcement being ambushed. We need to work together and that’s what we’re doing here today – we’re building that bridge to bring our communities and law enforcement together as one voice to tell this nation that the state of Washington is going to fix this issue.”

Puyallup Tribal Councilman James Rideout, Jackie Salyers’ uncle, said he made a promise to his sister, Jackie’s mom Lisa Earl, that he would not let Jackie’s death be in vain. As he told the luncheon guests, “Today is the day we bring it from legislation in our state capital and we unveil it to our communities so that we can show our children that preservation of life is most important.”

He also mentioned the respect that he, Jackie’s family and the Tribe has for the hard job that police are required to perform every day. “We’ve always had compassion for law enforcement,” he said. “My sister has said that from the very beginning – it’s for all of us. This is an historic moment in time. This has never been done anywhere in the United States.”

Lisa Earl was overcome with emotions at what had been accomplished in her daughter’s name and the names of all those who have died in police shootings like Jackie did.

“It fills my heart with so much love to see us all here today,” she said. “I didn’t expect this to happen so soon, but I knew we weren’t going to give up – that we would keep fighting until we found common ground where we could build that bridge the way it’s supposed to be. I want to thank each and every one who put all their time – the signers, the petitioners – and our great people here who had the ears to hear, the heart to feel, and that love, and that compassion. I love you law enforcement and I want you to know that. You are in the position to redirect lives – to give people hope.”

“We do this work to being healing to the families,” Chester Earl said. “We do this work to bring healing for our law enforcement. We do this work for all communities. In our culture, when we come together and eat together, we become family. And with that, I’m going to ask for a moment of silence for our fallen loved ones and our fallen, dedicated law enforcement.”

Among the families of police shooting victims present at the luncheon were loved ones of Charleena Lyles, who was shot by police seven times on June 18, 2017 and who, like Jackie Salyers, was pregnant at the time.

“None of this could have been done without the families,” said Charleena’s cousin Katrina Johnson. “We were grieving and fighting for change at the same time while we were trying to grasp what had happened to our loves ones. If it had not been for each and every family member who stood up in the midst of their pain for this change, we would not be here right now. There was so much blood spilled on the streets of Washington State in 2017 that change had to come. We salute you and your loved one’s death was not in vain.”

Marilyn Covarrubias, who son Daniel was shot and killed by police on April 21, 2015 in Lakewood, also expressed her support for the good police officers that are needed to keep communities safe.

“Some police officers are really good people – they’re sincere. They really want us to come together,” she said. “After my son was killed, a police officer from Tacoma came to our home to say he was sorry and I really appreciated that.” She thanked the Puyallup Tribe, Not This Time, Latino Civic Alliance and all those who have supported her. “If it weren’t for all these people, I would probably have had a breakdown but because these people held me up, it gave me a voice and that’s what I needed.”

Puyallup Tribal Councilman Tim Reynon has been in the thick of efforts to reform state policing laws ever since Jackie lost her life. Tirelessly, he worked day and night to achieve real change and received much applause at the luncheon for his dedication and selflessness in the fight.

“It’s very humbling to see our communities, our families, our law enforcement officers all together,” he said to the lunch gathering, as he looked back on how it all happened. “We sat down for many long days. We came together and in the last week of the legislative session we hammered out language that improved, strengthened and clarified the language of the initiative. It also addressed issues that law enforcement had concerns about. It was a rollercoaster ride for a lot of us but because of efforts of every single one of you here today, we were able to put aside our differences, focus on common ground and common values, and come up with a policy and legislation that is stronger and clearer today than it was when it was proposed by only one side of the community policing equation.

“I raise my hands to each and every one of you, thank you for all that you’ve done. This model can be used across the nation. It’s a monumental achievement that will reduce violent interactions between communities and police, result in fewer injuries and deaths, improve relationships between our communities and our law enforcement officers, increase safety for all of us and ultimately save lives for our community members and our law enforcement officers.”

Puyallup Councilwoman Sylvia Miller told of what a nail-biter it was at the last minutes of the legislative session when it still wasn’t clear whether I-940 would be passed. “At the beginning of this there were many tears, and at the end of this there were many, many tears,” she said. “When Chester called me to ask me to come and witness the votes on this, my heart beat so hard and so fast – I didn’t think we were going to make it. So I raise my hands to all of you for making this happen.”

Governor Jay Inslee’s Chief of Staff David Postman reflected on those same memories. “Even to the final day it was touch and go. That night when the bill was signed, a bunch of folks who are here today come into the governor’s conference room to thank each other and take a moment to appreciate what had happened. It was one of the most moving few minutes that we’ve had in our office in more than five years in office.”

Councilman Reynon told of how it was Rep. Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland), chair of the House Public Safety Committee, and Sen. David Frockt (D-Seattle) that were key in facilitating the initiative organizers and law enforcement interests to come to the same table. Rep. Goodman explained why he did not want I-940 to go on a statewide ballot.

“If this goes to the ballot, that will further erode relationships between communities and the police,” he said. “It would have been an adversarial campaign and I said that’s not good enough. We have to do it here in the legislature.”

Rep. Goodman and Sen. Frockt both called for empathy on both sides when it comes to communities and law enforcement understanding where each is coming from.

“We need to build more empathy, build more trust so we can understand how difficult the job of law enforcement is and we understand how grieved communities feel,” Rep. Goodman said. “What matters is the relationships we have built, and by the moment, by the day they’re getting stronger and stronger and nothing can take that away from us.”

“The main thing I can take away from having been involved in this issue for the last couple of years is that we needed to have empathy for the position of each other, for those who interact with law enforcement and want to make sure they can come home to their families and also for our law enforcement who want to make sure that they can come home to their families at night,” said Sen. Frockt. “We had to have empathy for their positions. Hopefully, with the passage of this initiative we can stop building walls and start building bridges.”

Craig Bulkley, president of the Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs (WACOPS), perhaps put it best when he said, “It’s tough to dislike somebody you actually get to know, and that’s something we need to work on in the law enforcement community. We need to change some things – we’ve done some things the same for a very long time. We are open to making some changes to that.”

Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC) Executive Director Steve Strachn said that meeting face to face made a big difference in how one perceived the other when it came to hammering out the details of what ultimate became ESHB 3003. “Everybody began to understand that this was not about us versus them. That’s what brings us here today. We are all in this together. On behalf of the state’s chiefs and sheriffs, we are just so honored to have played a small part in something that it think is going to keep people safer – not just the community but also law enforcement.

James Schrimpsher, legislative chairman of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), pledged that the Order will continue to carry forth all the good that has come out of the I-940 efforts.

“The FOP is committed to ensuring this bridge that we started building together continues to be built,” he said. “It is our hope that once this bridge is built, it will be a model for the rest of the nation on how we can set things aside and groups come together to build a future we all want to be part of.”

After everyone enjoyed a delicious lunch, giveaways ensued in true Puyallup tradition and lunch guests departed feeling a sense of hope that was built that day on the Puyallup Indian reservation.