A Message from the Executive Director
February is Black History Month and a good time to reflect on the challenges we face and the achievements we have made in addressing issues of racial and social justice in our nation.
Locally, we can all be proud that…
- We once again have an African American newspaper, Black Lens News
- Over 3,000 people turned out to march in support of racial equity on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day;
- Our local NAACP now has a permanent presence downtown with its new office in the Saranac Building (we love having them as a neighbor!)
- And the NAACP President chairs the newly formed Office of Police Ombudsman Commission.
However, one cannot ignore recent events in Ferguson, New York, and across the nation that demonstrate how our justice system often provides little justice to communities of color in our nation. In fact, the system is skewed to disproportionately incarcerate those in poverty and people of color. In a recent New York Times editorial Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, wrote, “The system is legally rigged so that poor people guilty of relatively minor crimes are regularly sentenced to decades behind bars while police officers who kill unarmed black men almost never get charged, much less serve time in prison.” As Alexander points out,
…no other country in the world imprisons as many of its own ethnic or racial minorities. In fact, the U.S. currently incarcerates a far greater percentage of its black population than South Africa did under apartheid.
We cannot ignore the local impacts of these systemic disproportions. The recent review of Spokane’s police department conducted by the Department of Justice points to racial bias in the law enforcement’s use of force. The report finds that while African Americans constitute only 2.3% of Spokane’s population, they were involved in 10% of use of force incidents examined. Likewise, Native Americans were involved in 7% of the use of force incidents surveyed, despite making up just 2% of the city’s population. Incarceration rates mirror this disproportion— records indicate that African American inmates appear to make up 12 percent of the Spokane county jail population.
So what do we do? The good news is that there is local momentum to fix our broken system. With the help of our supporters, the Center for Justice and many others are working to enact potential solutions through the Smart Justice Coalition that would address the racial inequity of the criminal justice system by providing alternatives to incarceration, such as community courts, drug courts, and other alternative sentences to provide judges with options beyond jail for nonviolent offenders. The efforts of the Smart Justice Coalition resulted in the creation of the Spokane Regional Law and Justice Council made up of local government representatives. One of the specific goals of this group is “eliminating racial inequity” in our criminal justice system. While this is admirable, the Center for Justice and its partners are diligently working to keep the Council on task toward achieving this goal.
There is also hope that local policing has changed and will continue to change in order to eliminate disproportionate impacts on low-income communities and communities of color. Spokane citizens overwhelmingly passed a charter amendment calling for meaningful police oversight and requiring police accountability advocates to sit on the newly created Ombudsman Commission. This coupled with the departure of our former Ombudsman, Tim Burns, and the hiring of former Center for Justice Executive Director Breean Beggs as the Ombudsman attorney provides an opportunity for significant community oversight of how our police are policing and how this impacts the populations of our community. Moreover, the City recently finished piloting police body cameras that serve to reduce doubt and increase transparency about police-community interactions. The Center will work hard to ensure that this program progresses from pilot to full implementation of body cameras on every officer.
Through your support, the Center for Justice will continue to be dedicated to the efforts of the community to make change in our criminal justice system. We believe strongly that these efforts are key to addressing racial inequity in our community. As Michelle Alexander said, “The fate of millions of people—indeed the future of the black community itself—may depend on the willingness of those who care about racial justice to re-examine their basic assumptions about the role of the criminal justice system in our society.”
Here are three things you can do right now to help:
1. Join our local NAACP chapter.
2. Attend Whitworth’s upcoming President’s Leadership Forum on April 14th featuring Bryan Stevenson, Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative and author of Just Mercy. The Center for Justice is honored to be a co-sponsor of this event.
3. Volunteer with us! Send us a message and let us know that you’d like to be involved.
Time to HealA call for restorative justice in Spokane
Julie Schaffer, Staff Attorney
Conscious racism, but more often an unconscious and deeply ingrained fear of difference, is destroying our community. In my work, I see the impact that racism and fear of difference has in our police department, our criminal justice system, and our schools. Some of this we can measure – a documented higher use of force, arrest, and school suspension rates for people of color. But some of it we can’t – brokenness, pain, anger and mistrust. This has been disturbingly clear in the past few months in Ferguson and New York.
As a Staff Attorney at the Center for Justice in Spokane, I spend a tremendous amount of time advocating for systemic policy changes to eliminate racial inequity and other forms of injustice within our institutions and systems. But are policy changes enough? Will any of these policy changes – like police body cameras, mandatory de-escalation training, and an ombudsman – completely cure the broken relationships and individual pain caused by a history of distrust and violence in Spokane? I’m not convinced that they will, but I believe Restorative Justice has a chance.
Restorative Justice is a way of seeing crime, or an act of violence, as more than breaking a law; that action also causes harm to people, relationships and the community. A just response must address all of those harms. And the best way to do this is to have the “offender,” the victim, and the harmed community members decide together how to hold the offender accountable and how to heal the harm so that the community can be whole again. To reach a common solution, each person in the circle explains how the event impacted them personally while everyone else listens. This practice of connecting across difference at such an intimate and individual level is the key to breaking down barriers.
Restorative Justice is the basis for the entire criminal justice system in New Zealand, and the model has shown dramatically positive results in criminal justice systems and school systems within the United States. Fania Davis has called for a Restorative Justice process in Ferguson and New York, and all across the nation where violence against African Americans is pervasive. Her article in Yes! Magazine is a necessary read.
I think it is time for us in Spokane to talk to each other and to listen – police, teachers, students, victims, incarcerated families, and all who feel harmed. Connecting across difference is the only way that I think we can begin to heal.
If you want to be involved, email me at Julie(at)cforjustice(dot)org.
Inmates with serious medical needs go without medication and risk serious injury or death
Jeffry Finer, Staff Attorney
Whether newly arrested or serving a court-ordered sentence, inmates confined to jail or prison are cut off from their doctors and routine medications until the local jail steps in to provide needed care. When inmates with serious medical needs (diabetes, high blood pressure or seizure disorders, severe mental health problems, etc.) go without medication, they or the people around them are at risk for serious injury or death. With funding from the Washington Legal Foundation, we began a program to identify incidents of neglect, error, and abuse of at-risk inmates who can’t get their needed medication while in jail. We have gathered scores of first-hand accounts and, where necessary, have brought legal claims against the County and State in instances where the mistreatment appeared to be intended or the natural result of a failed policy.
In 2014 , the Center settled a case where a man serving a life sentence for killing his last cellmate was denied his medications and as a result suffered a psychotic breakdown, assaulting both of his cell mates. Despite the cries for help from our client, guards did not intervene until the Injuries to the third cellmate were horrific and our client was badly battered as well. In other instances, we are challenging the run-around between families, doctors, and the jailers, so that the jail gets timely information and permission to communicate with the inmates’ outside doctors. With communication lines open, inmates who have serious medical needs can be promptly medicated. Risk for suicide, seizure, diabetic collapse, and psychotic breaks can be reduced simply by pulling down the barriers between the patient/inmate, the treating physician, and the jail’s doctor. Up to date medical information is going to save lives and reduce needless suffering.
Polluting Waterways Without Penalty: Hangman Creek
Native Trout Cannot Live in Mud!
Jule Shultz, Riverkeeper Technical Lead
A few months ago, while scouting locations for water quality sampling sites, we came across this shallow stream that was recently dredged by a landowner. The ditch, excavated for the purpose of draining agricultural land, flows directly into Hangman Creek bringing with it:
• High water flows unfiltered by streamside vegetation
• Tons of sediment
• Fecal Coliform (from feces and manure)
• And other nasties!
- Do you like swimming or recreating in the Creek or Spokane River? High levels of fecal coliform in Hangman Creek pose a health hazard to those who come into contact with it. Improving waste water treatment plants and implementing proper animal management practices are key to cleaning the creek.
- Do you enjoy fly fishing for native trout? High temperatures in Hangman Creek kill native redband trout and impede their reintroduction. Soil erosion destroys spawning beds and kills the insects that trout need to eat. Streamside shorelines vegetated with trees and shrubs that create a canopy lower water temperatures and provide habitat for insects that trout need to survive.
- Do you love the rolling farmland of the Palouse? Poor farmland management washes tons of that dirt, and the associated nutrients, into Hangman Creek every year. This sediment and nutrients fuel toxic algae blooms in Long Lake, creating health warnings and unsightly algal mats. “Direct seed” methods of agriculture could reduce agricultural runoff dramatically.
We sent this photo and others to local regulatory agencies, thinking that surely this must be illegal.
Although I’m not a lawyer, I felt there must be some law broken when a stream can just be dredged and straightened. As it turns out, these actions are perfectly legal based on a number of agricultural exemptions to the Clean Water Act
As someone who cares about the health of the Spokane River, and who diligently monitors pollution on this stream, this allowable exemption which results in severe pollution in our watersheds is beyond frustrating. Given the lack of regulation on agricultural lands how does one clean up these sources of pollution? Some programs are being implemented, for instance in the Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes. However, in many cases these programs rely heavily on incentives, such as through grants and loans for proper pasture management. Relying solely on incentives, without a regulatory backstop, allows bad actors to continue polluting without any penalty.
Locally a number of organizations are working towards cleaning up Hangman Creek. Riparian plantings, land and easement purchases, and implementation of conservation practices all work towards the goal of clean water in Hangman Creek. However, I think the problem is so big in this watershed none of these practices alone will solve it.
So what is the solution? The answer to that will be complex. It will involve providing incentives to implement best management practices, regulation of existing water quality law and education about the value of intact riparian buffers. The Spokane Riverkeeper will be working in the Hangman watershed for years to come. We will be exploring pollution solutions through monitoring water quality, pressing for the enforcement of existing regulations, educating the public and advocating for a swimmable and fishable river.
Despite the legality of the pollution shown above, there are many ways to make a difference on Hangman Creek. Reporting pollution as it is happening, volunteering with one of the many organizations, such as the Spokane Riverkeeper, and supporting your local environmental group all go a long way towards restoring Hangman Creek.
“I am re-calibrated and rejuvenated in my purpose. The retreat nurtured my soul, and I didn’t even know that I needed it so badly.” -Retreat attendee.
Law school draws some of the most intelligent, capable and dedicated women in our community; women who are leaders. Unfortunately, the pressure and atmosphere of law school can result in women forgetting or devaluing their authentic talents, passions and voice, and also not taking the time to build supportive and meaningful relationships. This is a loss not only to each woman, but it is a tremendous loss to our community and the legal profession. Center for Justice staff attorney, Julie Schaffer, and Community Building Foundation Executive Director, Katy Sheehan, teamed up to facilitate a weekend-long retreat for women law students to address these issues. The purpose of the retreat was to give space and guidance to:
- Connect with fellow female students in a purposeful way that ensures ongoing support and feedback;
- Recognize the value of placing “relationship before task;”
- Experience the importance of connecting across difference;
- Release stories and beliefs that limit women’s leadership capacity and replace those with stories that work to empower and enable;
- Discover and embrace what women uniquely bring to leadership and explore the spectrum of feminine and masculine styles, particularly within the legal profession;
- Identify one’s own use and misuse of power;
- Clarify sense of purpose and receive encouragement to honor ones purpose;
- Learn and practice skills for giving and receiving feedback, as well as skills for networking and creating mentor relationships.
Here is what some of the other participants had to say about the experience…
“I feel able to let go of the “shoulds” and instead pursue work that I am truly passionate about. I intend to be a change agent in my community, and I learned how a female lawyer’s unique tool set can accomplish that objective.”
“The most meaningful part of the retreat for me was the openness of others. That really helped me to feel safe. It isn’t often that I have felt that feeling of safety and security in law school. Something about this weekend made me trust the women in the circle.”
“This retreat taught me that I do not have to be a man to be a good leader, that (as a woman) I bring a unique set of qualities to leadership and that can make all the difference. This retreat encouraged me to take an active role in leadership and in my community, rather than stay in the background.”
“This is something that ABSOLUTELY NEEDS TO CONTINUE. This needs to be given the space and resources to grow and impact the lives of the women in the Gonzaga community.”
Nominate the Next Justice Hero!
The Center for Justice loves to recognize individuals and groups whose work embodies our mission to be advocates for justice. One of the ways we show our appreciation is through our annual “Justice Hero” award. Each year at our annual fundraiser Jazzed for Justice, we name this “Justice Hero” and present them with an award.
This year we are seeking nominations from our community! Please help us find a most deserving person or group for our Justice Hero Award.
Please submit your nomination online by April 1, 2015. Purposely kept vague to encourage a diverse nomination pool, the Justice Hero nominees should demonstrate the following characteristics:
- An individual or group of individuals
- whose demonstrated contributions to the community show an unwavering commitment to making Spokane a more just place
We encourage thinking outside the box. Read more about Spokane Community Court, and you will see why they were so deserving of this recognition.
Andrew has been a lively addition to our CFJ environment since May of 2014. He is a second year law student at Gonzaga Law School.
Q. Tell us a bit about your background
A. I’m from Santa Rosa, California. It’s an hour north up Highway 101 from San Francisco in the Sonoma Valley, where I was born and raised. I went to Maria Carrillo High School where I was a stand-out in basketball. Focused on basketball, I continued on to Santa Rosa Junior College. After an interesting time there, I moved to Lewiston, ID to play NAIA Div. 1 basketball and study kinesiology. This interest was short lived, however, as I soon shifted focus from basketball to my individual and personal growth.
Q. Why are you passionate about Law, Justice?
A. I have a self-described “superhero-complex” – I want to save the world. I want to use my strengths in the civil service of others. The passage of I-502 back in 2012 really piqued my interest in the law, since it was such a huge shift in legal policy. In its passage, I saw an opportunity to make a contributory impact in an area with far-reaching consequences. I want to help an underground lifestyle to transition into a valuable community industry. Struggling to understand a shifting, amorphic body of law encourages confidence and hope in the face of adversity and uncertainty. Such a lesson contains applications outside of this singular focus yet within the universe of Civil Rights. It is my hope that such a lesson will make me a stronger, more effective advocate our community. This makes me passionate about Justice, and reinforces my passion throughout my study of Law.
Q. What, along your “river of life” would you say were the events or realizations that caused your river to twist or bend, leading you in your current flow?
A. I would say the successes in my life revealed my capacities, and my failures, like a river’s banks, guided my direction. I have found confidence that in the course of my life thus far, I can succeed at the things I strive for. Like a river’s constant flow, I have learned the value of hard work and tasted the fruits of persistence. If I keep genuinely working towards my goals and dreams I can reach them–almost as if they are just downstream. I need however, to understand the power of my life’s flow. When I ignore this flow, I figuratively kick and struggle to keep my head above water. In fact, ignoring the importance of flow is a challenge I still face. But, by being mindful of my life’s flow, I know I can tap into that power, potential, energy, whatever you want to call it, and achieve great things with seemingly little effort.
The failures in my life showed me that my efforts to fight the flow can be wasted in futility. A flowing river is unlikely to abruptly change course, leap its banks, and begin and entirely new river altogether. Much like this metaphor, along the way the river of my life I began to see the limitations that basketball had for my future despite my achievements, and began to meet resistance on this “stream”. Listening to my internal dialogue, I began to divert my attention elsewhere. In so doing, my life’s “river” found a compatible groove in Law, so I continued on that course. There is a saying I heard some time ago that seems to ring true still, “Sometimes the best stroke of luck is not getting what you wanted.” Whether it is a failed relationship, a denied application, a failed job interview, or anything else, it seems apparent that if you remain true to yourself, then you will always be in the flow. I’m so grateful that I listened. Five years ago, I had never heard of Spokane. Now, I simply could not imagine myself living any other place.