Washington rolling out 'History of Race and Policing' course for law enforcement

Seattle police reform
Posted at 11:29 PM, Apr 14, 2021

SEATTLE — For weeks, the nation has been reliving George Floyd’s death in a Minneapolis courtroom. As the trial of former officer Derek Chauvin continues, the region grapples with another police killing of an unarmed Black man.

But since Floyd's death last summer, demands for racial justice and police reform are being answered across the country.

“What we saw was an overwhelming tidal wave of response and people immediately taking action," said Sakara Remmu, founder of Washington Black Lives Matter Alliance.

Thousands of Washingtonians contacted elected officials, demanding police accountability and reform.

This month, nine police accountability bills were passed in the state.

“Our work really began in earnest 40 years ago, if you're talking about the community's effort to actually have the legislature in the state of Washington not just say they care about Black and brown lives, but actually take action to protect Black and brown lives," said Remmu.

Other reform efforts are underway after a voter-approved initiative in 2018. Aimed at establishing higher training requirements and police accountability standards, the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission (WSCJTC) has been working with stakeholders to create and adopt new officer training requirements.

Among the required training mandates is a curriculum on the historical intersection of race and policing.

"If you don’t come to grips, or at least understand your history, you’re bound to repeat it," said Dr. Daudi Abe, a consultant for the new curriculum.

A Seattle-based professor, Dr. Abe is training instructors who will teach the curriculum to recruits.

“It’s been emotional. It really has. There was a point in this process I was drawn to tears because it’s that important," said Abe. “We could be talking about life and death in a certain situation. That pressure has not been lost on me, and I can only hope that this makes a difference.”

Future police recruits will be required to take the eight-hour course, broken down into four sessions. The commission also plans to provide training to veteran officers.

"The idea is to have students go through the timeline before class – as you see, it’s massive and spans centuries," said Abe. “The surprise I imagine will probably come with how far back it goes and aligns with the foundations of the country.”

Among the curriculum requirements:

  • Learning about the historical intersection of race and policing
  • The experience of Black Americans then and now: the institution of slavery through the Civil Rights Act of 1964, mass incarceration, the role and impacts of police in schools, the ongoing influence of race relations, strategies to reconcile past injustice, and the importance of fair and impartial policing
  • Understanding how culture and differences in experiences, histories, and social norms impact community perceptions of law enforcement and employing cultural humility skills, with the goal of learning about respectful and effective approaches with communities of color
  • Learning to build more positive relationships with specific communities within areas officers serve by understanding how biases, stereotypes, and a lack of understanding about varying cultural norms negatively impact police interactions with the public

Training instructors are asked to give honest feedback on the curriculum.

“What we were being introduced to, when we first seen it, was totally against police, defunding police," said Port of Seattle Police Officer Leland Allan. “Going over it and having it explained to me, now it just has more language, information that we can now put on paper. But we have been teaching de-escalation, cultural responsive policing, interactive policing.”

He believes having difficult conversations on race is a step forward to addressing problems.

"We’re not going to erase racism. It is what it is. But talking about it, understanding what it is, having a game plan for it is just as powerful as not talking about it and shoving it under the rug as if it’s going to pass and go away. Because it’s going to rear its ugly head at some point in time," said Allen.

But some activists have little faith the training will result in meaningful change. Remmu says forms of cultural competency are already required in departments and yet Black and brown people are still killed by law enforcement at an exponential rate.

“White supremacy in the minds of people will always add a layer of justification for behavior that harms Black and brown bodies, that is an internal process. That is why policy is important. Because if I were waiting on the cultural competency, or good intentions of people, particularly white people, we would still be slaves today. This is why we have policy, to force things to happen," said Remmu.

However, she is encouraged by recent bills passed in the state and ongoing reform efforts.

“There is a sense of relief that we will at least have more avenues that are legally defined, that are statewide, that are mandated, to hold officers accountable and prevent them from doing harm to our lives to begin with."