State commissions make recommendations
Even though Spokane's community of color is smaller and more diverse than communities of color in urban areas where he has lived, Pastor Walter Kendricks of Morningstar Baptist Church is encouraged by his work with people who want to make change in the community and state.
Serving in Spokane for seven years, after many years in Seattle, Cleveland, Chicago, Los Angeles and Denver, he is active in leadership with the Spokane Ministers Fellowship, the Spokane Coalition Against Racism, the NAACP Spokane, the Carl Maxey Center, The Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center and The Fig Tree.
He has been bringing insights from those involvements to help Washington Governor Jay Inslee write legislation for the upcoming session on issues of concern to the African-American community and other people of color in Spokane.
Since June, he has been one of two representatives from Spokane and 35 from around the state, plus advisors serving on the Governor's Task Force for Independent Investigations of Police Use of Force. He is one of two representatives from Eastern Washington serving a two-year term on the nine-member Governor's Commission on African-American Affairs.
The Task Force on Independent Investigations was asked to give recommendations to craft a bill on independent investigations involving police use of force. They met 80 hours on Zoom from July through early November.
Walter served with people of color, local activists, women, Native American tribal leaders, police union representatives, community members and families who have lost loved ones, as well as police and prosecuting attorneys.
"To work together, we first had to address systemic racism on the task force, talking it out so people of color felt heard and addressing resistance to establishing an independent investigative body so police do not investigate themselves when there is use of force or other crimes by police," he said.
"We met differing points of view from prosecuting attorneys and county sheriffs," he said.
The Washington State Constitution allows for creating an independent investigative body, but the task force's recommendation is that it be one totally independent of the Washington State Patrol, county sheriffs and police departments, he said.
They recommend hiring someone who is not a current or former law enforcement official who will hire investigators for a state body that will look at police use of force.
They reviewed Initiative 940's requirement for law enforcement officers to have de-escalation, first aid and mental health crisis training. Voters passed the initiative in 2018 but most provisions have not yet been enacted, said Walter.
The task force looked at models in Canada, England, and New York and San Francisco.
"After 20 years, the Canadian body began outreach to victims' families," he said. "There's an urgency to start something. There will be challenges, because those with power do not want to give it up."
Their recommendations are being used to draft a bill for the 2021 session.
"I can't speak to what a police officer thinks or feels when discharging a weapon the state authorizes him/her to use, but it's heart wrenching to hear of the encounters with people of color and people with mental illness who have been killed by police," Walter said. "It shakes my soul to look at the magnitude of police use of force and the depth of despair when there is racism. Police have hidden behind a blue wall and official antipathy."
Walter calls on the community to stay vigilant, on guard and active on boards and commissions, because "freedom is not free."
"We need to be active in community affairs," he said. "Nothing causes government bodies to respond more than knowing the community is watching. Some need to see the light and some need to feel the heat, so people in office care and act."
The Commission on African American Affairs similarly gathers blacks to advocate on behalf of the African American community, said Walter, whose first term ends in May 2021, when he may be reappointed.
That commission is also looking at police reform and at the disproportionate effect of COVID-19 on communities of color.
"We advocate on issues affecting black people. The legislature has no black representatives from Eastern Washington in its black caucus," he said.
The local agencies he engages with are involved in advocacy for communities of color, giving voice to those who do not have a voice or are not heard.
"That's also my mission as a pastor," he said.
"We have to continue to fight in the grand scheme that has gone on 401 years since 1619 when black people were brought against their will to the shores of this land," he said. "We can't give up. I owe it to those who came before me and will come after me to advocate on behalf of those who feel the brunt of racism. It's why I do what I do.
"The message of the Gospel for salvation and eternal life being available to all includes the social Gospel of God coming in flesh, of Jesus of Nazareth interacting with people to stand up for what is right, to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly," he said.
Walter challenges some evangelical friends who espouse white supremacy.
"I confront them at every opportunity. I preach the Gospel of liberation and freedom found in God," he said. "I continue to challenge friends. It's a slow process, piece by piece to dismantle ideas of the God they define as blond haired, blue eyed. I preach that God is a Spirit."
Through his encounters, he addresses the division of the nation and community.
"I keep talking, cajoling. If I see wrong, I speak. We need to be a bridge. It is tough to keep lines of communication open," said Walter, who draws strength from his involvements with others. "It's not just me sounding my horn, but many others."
Despite the small size, diversity and isolation of the communities of color in Spokane, Walter is encouraged by working with other people who want to make change.
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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, December, 2020