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To the Editor:

I was happy to see that the city of Ellensburg will support the Black Lives Matter movement with a permanent visual display on the street in front of City Hall. I look forward to watching that project move forward.

It remains to be seen whether this show of support is followed by policy changes that increase equity in our community.

The City Council oversees the Police Department and controls its budget. The Police Department produces an annual report that includes data on use of force and internal investigations. I was impressed that this data is available. I believe it is an important step towards limiting unnecessary police use of force.

The section of the report on “implied use of force” shows that a gun was drawn 37 times during 2018. And hallelujah, there were no incidents when a gun was fired.

Digging deeper into the report, out of 43 incidents of implied use of force, only 60% involved white suspects. Our community is about 85% white and non-Hispanic. And out of 42 incidents when force was used, only 76% of those incidents involved a white person. Let’s find out more about why.

I’m a white person who was alive during the 1960s and cheered the civil rights progress made. I have aspired to be thoughtful and open-minded. I have assumed I am “not racist.” But no matter how much I strive to be a good person, I grew up in a country where policies and deeply embedded cultural assumptions have kept racist systems and attitudes very much alive. I have been unaware of how much I have benefited from being white and done too little to change that. Stories of individual Black people who have attained wealth and fame in the U.S. cannot negate the shameful statistics about disparities in income, wealth, health, education, punishment, and trauma that continue to plague us. These disparities are not the fault of individuals who simply don’t try hard enough. The more I learn, the more I understand that they are the result of our history of racism.

How can our white-majority community be truly welcoming to Black people, as well as other groups that have experienced unfair discrimination? Let’s start by really listening to Black voices and taking a close look at assumptions about how policing should be done. City Council, thanks for taking the first step and acknowledging that Black Lives Matter.

Liz Whitaker



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