TACOMA, WASH.—Chester Earl, 45, and about 300 members of Washington state tribes—from Tulalip, Yakama, Lummi, Quinault, Port Gamble S’Klallam, Earl’s own Puyallup community and more—are gathered at an election night party in a Tacoma catering hall, singing, drumming, dancing, feasting and watching returns from around the state and country. “It’s incredible,” Earl exclaims as the big news comes in: Initiative 940, a Washington state ballot initiative which approves new police reform measures, has passed with more than 60 percent of the vote.
Earl and about 15 of the attendees have just returned from a two-week reservation-to-reservation tour, N8tive Vote 2018. The tour held rallies on the state’s 29 tribal homelands and encouraged members to get to the polls, particularly to say yes to I-940, which, among other reforms, makes it easier to prosecute law enforcement officers who misuse deadly force.
As In These Times has previously reported, Natives are killed by police at the highest rate of any population group—which is rarely chronicled in the media. One victim was Earl’s cousin and tribal member Jacqueline Salyers, a 32-year-old pregnant mother of four, shot and killed in January 2016 as she pulled out of a parking space. Police were seeking her boyfriend, who was in the passenger seat. The officer who shot her in the head claimed that the moving car was life-threatening, which Salyers’s family disputes. The officer was cleared of wrongdoing.
The shooting galvanized the Puyallup tribe to join with other advocates to help craft new police accountability measures. The group then gathered nearly 360,000 signatures (100,000 more than needed) from people all across the state—not just on reservations—to bring a reform bill to the legislature. The bill requires