OPINION: Local officials should follow McDonnell’s lead, leap into conversation about systemic racism

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category icon Editorials, Opinion

Anyone truly listening to the sheer pain, frustration and urgency coming out of the Black Lives Matter protests that have rocked this nation over the past three weeks, should know by now that the “same old, same old” just doesn’t cut it anymore. 

Local officials — whether they live in an urban city with a thriving Black community or in a mostly White area like Camas-Washougal — must act now to dismantle policing policies rooted in systemic racism. 

Why now? Because White Americans have turned their backs on the disproportionate rate of Black Americans killed by police for far too long. 

As Sen. Tim Scott (R-South Carolina) — our nation’s only Black Republican senator — recently told Trevor Noah on Comedy Central’s June 16 “The Daily Show” Black communities have been dealing with this issue “forever.” 

It’s time for the rest of the country to catch up. 

“There’s a reason institutions of authority are losing credibility in communities of color,” Scott said. “That is because they keep shouting about the same things and nothing changes. That is dehumanizing. It lowers all your expectations from society and leads to a level of frustration and irritation that is really hard to handle. And so, when you see these situations unfolding so many times, you finally get to the point where (you ask), ‘What in the heavens will cause a change?’” 

Scott said he has been pushing for decades to see the types of police reforms many White Americans are just beginning to open their eyes to.

“Frankly, had it not been for a video camera, I don’t think most people would have believed that officer had his knee on (George Floyd’s) neck for eight-and-a-half minutes. Had it not been for a video camera, they would not have believed Walter Scott was shot in the back five times without a weapon,” Scott said, referring to the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the April 4, 2015, death of Walter Scott, an unarmed Black man who was shot and killed by a White police officer in South Carolina after being pulled over for a non-functioning brake light. “Had it not been for the ability to record these issues, people would not believe us even to this day.”

Scott added that he believes it is the duty of all Americans — no matter what political party they support — to take these issues seriously and help enact change in their own communities. 

“Whether you love President Trump or hate President Trump, I don’t care,” Scott said. “If you love Americans, we should be happy we’re having this conversation and making some progress on an issue that has plagued the African American community in the same way (COVID-19) is plaguing the world. It’s that serious.”

Some officials do seem to be waking up to the fact that they can no longer simply say, “Hey, it’s just a few bad cops, but most are good people” or “We don’t really have these issues in our town” and get a free pass. 

Locally, Camas Mayor Barry McDonnell recently expressed his support for the goals of Campaign Zero’s “8 Can’t Wait” initiative, which sets forth eight use-of-force policies every police department can enact immediately to help make life safer for communities of color. 

We were also encouraged to hear the Camas Police Department has already taken steps to address all but one of these eight policies. We hope McDonnell will ensure the city also adheres to the recommendation that police departments ban chokeholds and strangleholds. 

Although the “8 Can’t Wait” recommendations are an excellent first step, officials in Camas and Washougal should help lead the area in a conversation about some of the long-term, more systemic changes coming out of the Black Lives Matter protests such as suspending paid administrative leave for officers under investigation; requiring officers be held liable for misconduct settlements; withdrawing local police departments from police militarization programs; taking a deep, hard look at how many officers a community really needs; and re-prioritizing spending on things like affordable housing, education and social services. 

The fact that McDonnell, along with Camas Police Chief Mitch Lackey, plans to participate in the Camas School District’s June 18 equity forum shows some Camas leaders are finally willing to open their minds to a conversation that has long been something White people could afford to ignore while Black Americans continued to suffer. 

We urge other officials, especially those who have remained silent or continued to push the “same old” narrative that these continued killings are a result of a few bad cops and not a systemic issue that disproportionately takes the lives of Black Americans nearly every day — to educate themselves about the long-term reforms being put forth by groups like Campaign Zero. 

Following are a few resources (courtesy of Campaign Zero) for officials and community members interested in moving beyond the “same old, same old” in Camas-Washougal:

  • On prison abolitionists:
  • Reformist vs. abolitionist:
  • A conversation about defunding police by $1 billion:
  • 8 to Abolition:
  • Campaign Zero’s entire anti-racism resources library:
  • About Black Lives Matter movement: