Jan 11, 2022
Representative Jamila Taylor of the 30th Legislative District joins Crystal to highlight the legislative priorities of the growing Black Members Caucus that seeks police accountability reforms that align with community values and needs. They delve into the importance of why equitable, sustainable, and accessible resources are the key to issues ranging from public safety to pandemic response to environmental stewardship.
As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at officialhacksandwonks.com.
Find the host, Crystal on Twitter at @finchfrii.
Black Members Caucus Newsletter: https://housedemocrats.wa.gov/taylor/the-black-members-caucus-newsletter/
“Kent badly underestimated outrage over assistant police chief’s Nazi insignia, mayor says” by Mike Carter from The Seattle Times: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/kent-mayor-city-badly-underestimated-outrage-over-assistant-police-chief-who-embraced-nazi-rank-insignia/
“Educate, not incarcerate: The value of restorative justice” from Federal Way Mirror Letters to the Editor: https://www.federalwaymirror.com/letters/educate-not-incarcerate-the-value-of-restorative-justice-federal-way-letters/
“Crime-conscious mayors criticize King County’s juvenile justice program” by Olivia Sullivan from Kent Reporter: https://www.kentreporter.com/news/crime-conscious-mayors-criticize-king-countys-juvenile-justice-program/
“The Origins of Modern Day Policing” from NAACP - History Explained: https://naacp.org/find-resources/history-explained/origins-modern-day-policing
Q&A: The Blake Decision - ACLU of Washington: https://www.aclu-wa.org/pages/q-blake-decision
HB 1773 - Concerning assisted outpatient treatment for persons with behavioral health disorders: https://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=1773&Year=2021
[00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington State through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening and what you can do about it. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes.
So today, we are thrilled to have joining us, Representative Jamila Taylor, from the 30th Legislative District. She's the chair of the Black Members Caucus, just an esteemed and long-standing leader in our community here in South King County and throughout the state, has been doing great work for years, and has now brought her talents to the legislature, leading the Black Members Caucus. Thank you so much for joining us, Representative Taylor.
[00:01:05] Representative Jamila Taylor: Thank you, Crystal. I appreciate the time to spend with you today and with your listeners.
[00:01:11] Crystal Fincher: I guess I just want to start talking about your capacity as the Chair of the Black Members Caucus. One, wow, this caucus has grown - a much bigger group than it used to be when it was down to one. I was working with the legislator, who at the time was the only member of the Black - it was a Black Member Caucus - but now the ranks have grown. It's a very diverse and esteemed group. What is that like right now? What's on your agenda? What's upcoming in this session that's about to start?
[00:01:47] Representative Jamila Taylor: So what's fascinating about the Black Members Caucus is that we've done a lot of internal work to figure out what our true north is. We've grown from five members in the founding of the Black Members Caucus, if you will, as a formal organization to ten that we have now. So just in one elective cycle, we have doubled in size. But if you think about in terms of the entire history of Washington State, we've only had 26 Black folks serve in the legislature. And so generally that's been one or two at a time. And of course we've had historic moments with the 44th - it's the second all-Black delegation - the first was in the 37th - where you have the first Black male senator in 31 years. And of course having two Black senators at a time is incredible with that small group that is heavily influential in policy making and making sure that the interests of the Black community throughout Washington State is really heard.
So if you think about it, we've got folks who are representing districts outside of King County - so half of our members are not even in King County - so we got to dispel this myth that we're all concentrated in one spot - in Seattle - and we're spread throughout the region. And of course we have in constituents, if you will, all over the state that are looking to our leadership to not only help the Black community, but lift the rising tides of all. So when we help the most marginalized members of our community, we help the whole community.
[00:03:28] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. So I guess thinking about what your wins were coming out of last session, certainly a lot was accomplished, and work that needs to continue into this new session, work that is a priority - what's on the top of the agenda?
[00:03:45] Representative Jamila Taylor: In terms of the Black Members Caucus, which actually we're changing our name to the Legislative Black Caucus, last year we prioritized all of the police accountability reforms. And we are the first in the nation to have this suite of bills that address police accountability. There would be some in the community who believe that it's the cause of the rise of increasing crime, but remember the pandemic has happened and folks are engaging differently in community and are under stress and under immense challenge.
But what I would want to say is that these accountability reforms are necessary for community to be invested in our own public safety continuum. If we hold our law enforcement accountable for a police state, if you would say police brutality, to make sure that they are acting within policy, to make sure that innocent bystanders and those who are innocent until proven guilty are not held to a different standard in terms of, I guess if you will, the kind of brutality that is not necessary. Our policies need to be matching where we are as a community. We saw with George Floyd in the challenges that are global response - and Washington State was the first to step up on a statewide level to codify where community is. With the work with I-940, that really set the tone for us to do this work. So community-driven work is necessary for our communities to be healthy. So we believe that this work with the police accountability reforms, even with us as a diverse caucus - we've got folks who are attorneys, folks who are law enforcement, moms, dads, folks who are just members of the community who are invested in safety not only of the individuals who are stopped by law enforcement, but law enforcement themselves. We don't have to continue on the pathway of the militarization of our police force.
[00:06:03] Crystal Fincher: And I want to talk a little bit more about that and about public safety overall. I love the term that you just used - like a public safety continuum. Certainly there is the accountability component and talking about communities that are overpoliced, ineffectively policed, and where the focus is on criminalization and punishment, perhaps more than actually making people safer in addressing those root causes. One question is we continue to see a lot of malfeasance. I mean, we're sitting here recording this show the day after big City Council meetings in both Kent and Federal Way - addressing challenges - like one, Nazi propaganda posted by an assistant chief in Kent. In Federal Way, hostility towards police reform overall by many and seeking to pause on some community-driven initiatives. What do you think needs to be done in order to continue the accountability work? And beyond that, what else can be done just overall to make our community safer and to help bolster some of these community-led, community-driven initiatives to address the root causes of crime and prevent it before it becomes something that happens that police feel obligated to respond to?
[00:07:31] Representative Jamila Taylor: I mean, for one, we have to move away from this notion that criminality is race-based. And so, the policing policies and the way that the police departments were founded - based on slave codes - it has racist history. But do we want to eliminate public safety options in community? No. What we want to do is make sure that innocent folks are not attacked just for walking down the street. We don't want to criminalize poverty. We don't want to criminalize individuals who are experiencing substance use disorder or mental health crises that are untreated. We have alternatives to how to address community problems. And expanding resources at the end of the road - meaning in law enforcement, in jails - is costly to communities. We cannot afford to arrest our way out of these problems. We have to get to the root causes. And members of our community, Black members of our community, have been screaming for generations that we need resources.
And some of these policies en masse cause more disarray in communities. When you disinvest in communities that have a concentration of poverty, or unfair policing practices, and no investment in jobs or opportunities - one of the best ways you can help make communities safe is provide opportunities for folks to get jobs and education. Why aren't we investing more in that? And where our budgets go is showing where our values are. And it's not to say that law enforcement shouldn't have tools. They should. Some of the tools could be crisis responders so that instead of escalating a situation when someone's in a mental health crisis, that we're de-escalating. So there are techniques out there that allows for the dignity of the individual to be protected as they are contacted by police. And that's not soft on crime. Give the law enforcement the opportunity to investigate crime.
We don't sit here and talk about police brutality when it comes to white collar crime and how much fleecing of America that happens that is never accounted for. When we are talking about embezzlement, for example, folks want to be made whole if you stole money from them - you don't necessarily need to put them in jail. There are alternatives in other situations. So, I mean, it's a complex system - that it's hard for a lot of folks, including myself, to navigate. I mean, I'm an attorney. I work outside the criminal justice system with crime victims, and I know how people are impacted by the policies that we set at the state level and at the federal level. And I really wish that people understand that sometimes you're a victim today - you could be in a situation where you could be misconstrued as the perpetrator. And then you can be the victim in the next moment. And no one moment should define your entire future.
[00:10:48] Crystal Fincher: Well, and you raise a good point. You raised several good points, and we've seen especially for people who've advanced some of these very common sense reforms that have been accepted as normal, rational for quite some time, that you passed in the legislature, and responses of, "Well, this is hindering police from being able to do their job. You don't care about victims, and what are you going to do? Does that mean that everything that is happening and people being victimized is okay?" What do you say to people who are saying those, or people who don't know what to make about those arguments when they hear them?
[00:11:31] Representative Jamila Taylor: I'm a crime victim's attorney, and I represent domestic violence survivors. And most often, domestic violence survivors want the harm to stop. And so that doesn't necessarily mean putting their abuser in jail in all cases. Sometimes it means that person just needs to stop committing the domestic violence. There are individuals who need to be put in jail because they will be hell-bent on harming that individual, that survivor, or those in the path, in the pathway. So when you think about law enforcement, they are most likely to be harmed in responding to a domestic violence call than some of the other traffic stops and community stops. So when we think about how can we address community problems, how do we do that without law enforcement participation in the first place?
If someone is having a mental health crisis or a substance use crisis, can we use 988? This is a new system that we're developing that allows people to call this number instead of calling law enforcement when a person is in crisis. When more than 50% of calls to 911 are around substance use and mental health, there are other ways that we can address those challenges rather than "Law enforcement, come fix it, arrest that person." How many times have you been in a home where someone has a person who's a member of the family who has a substance use problem, and they have stolen something from the house? So grandma is upset that her television is stolen, but she's not going to report it to police, even though she can. She's already chosen other methods to address her family problem. And so again, do we want to push everyone into rock bottom and in thinking that that is the only way? We have to have multiple pathways to redemption, and we need to stop stigmatizing individuals who have found themselves addressing, having challenges with substance use disorder, or having untreated mental health challenges.
[00:13:39] Crystal Fincher: So how do we do more to put those resources in place? What can you do in your capacity as a legislator to - when someone does need mental health or crisis intervention, that when someone responds, there are resources to connect them with, to actually treat the root cause. Or if someone needs treatment and recovery services, that those are available for someone who wants to seek that treatment? What can we do from a legislative perspective to make sure those resources are there for people who need them - to make us all safer and healthier?
[00:14:19] Representative Jamila Taylor: So one of the things that we were addressing in the legislature last year was the Blake decision, which decriminalized possession of controlled substances. And as part of our response, it wasn't simply let's add "knowingly" to the statute and go back to the status quo and keep it as a felony. We, in the legislature, with bipartisan - heavy bipartisan support - decided that no, we're going to reduce it to a misdemeanor, which doesn't satisfy everybody. But we also needed to put the down payment in restoring the services that we need in community - crisis responders, recovery navigators, treatment centers. We have - even City Council members here in my district, the 30th district - saying, "Hey, a legislative priority is to have a treatment center in the City of Federal Way." And so we are now moving away from this "Not In My BackYard" mentality. We need the resources locally, and they need to be regionalized in such a way where folks don't have to go 30 miles, a 100 miles to get a basic service like Suboxone or something.
There's so many things that disrupt the person when they're trying to do the right thing. How do we reduce those barriers? And so when you're thinking about the restoration of services and rebuilding our complicated behavioral health system, we've got to make sure that we have a behavioral health system that has compensation, so people can be retained in the industry - professionals. We've got to have the physical infrastructure where people can access treatment, but then we have to have the recovery services that go along with that. So someone needs housing. They may need support with their family law needs, because if you think about it, a lot of folks actually have children and one of the challenges they face is that once they have a substance use disorder, they have difficulty getting access to their children afterwards. And we want those children to be safe, but we also want families to be intact, to be healthy. And how do we support the tools, the tools that people need to be on recovery and to stay in recovery. And so we're all about "Punish you, punish you, punish you from mistakes." Yes, we need accountability, but what is accountability when there are so many resources that are still lacking out there? When a person says, "I can't go through with treatment because there isn't anything in my entire county in Spokane." And that's just an example. I don't know what all the resources are in that particular community, but that's one reason why it needs to be community-driven, because we can't assume that what's available in Seattle or Tacoma is also available in Federal Way, Algona, Pacific. Or think that the best solutions only come from the big bureaucracies of a large city, like Seattle. There's some innovative opportunities that are happening out of Kitsap County, out of Pend Oreille County. We need to listen to all of our citizens as they are coming up with solutions that really matter for their neighbors.
[00:17:32] Crystal Fincher: So is more funding on the away? Is there legislation to help ease access, or to align access more? What can be done?
[00:17:45] Representative Jamila Taylor: So right now, it's around the supplemental budget and making sure that we continue to make more investments in the behavioral health system, make sure that we are on the right path around the implementation of the new laws that are out there. I'm working on a bill - assisted outpatient treatment - where if a person has been resistant to treatment, how can we get them into services when they're not making rational decisions to do it on their own? And so how does the family engage in that process? How do they petition the court to do it? And then if we do use that method of getting someone into services through a court action, making sure that it's not held against them in so many other venues, as a way to say, look, this person is a problem. No, this should be - they experienced a significant crisis. It's a disease. They're not making the same decisions that you or I would make, and we certainly don't know what it's like to be affected by some of these substance uses. At this time, at this moment, there are people who are in actual recovery serving in the legislature right now. There are people who are parents of folks who have a significant and severe substance use disorders - of all races, of all races. And so we just have to find the common ground to make that political will to invest - reinvest - because so much of it was pulled back with the great recession of 2010, 2008. And we're restoring services that were just slashed and burned and we're seeing the consequence of that.
And then, and we're seeing also, how do we do this in a different framework than what we did before the pandemic? When the pandemic gave us the opportunity to say, if we put someone in stable housing, they might have the time and the wherewithal to go to their telehealth appointment. Oh, wait, we find out that they need to have a phone to do that. We find out that maybe having food in their stomach will make it that they don't have to spend so much time getting access to that need and the drugs. So the harm reduction model is something that is absolutely necessary because the hard policy on drugs for the last 60 years has led us to where we are right now, and it has disproportionate impacts on communities. We've got to do something different than what we did before.
[00:20:17] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely agree with that. What we have been doing has not worked. We have to do something different. There has to be a change. I want to continue talking about health, especially as we sit here - the Omicron variant is running wild. I have never known as many people with COVID as I do right at this moment. It is hitting everyone. Fortunately, vaccines are still useful and helpful in that they reduce the incidence of hospitalization and death, but that does not mean that people still don't get sick and experience a number of complications from that. Everything from - they're experiencing their own health problems to missing work, missing income, dealing with that. People are worried and concerned because a lot of the safety net protections and supplements that had been there may not be there anymore. Eviction moratoriums are looking at ending where they haven't already ended.
And so people right now are going, "Hey, we're still in a pandemic." Lots of people want to be beyond it, but it is not over itself. It is still here. We still need the same kind of help and support that we did in the beginning of this. There are more people affected by it now when we're having lots of these programs end than there were when they were all in place. And so there's a lot of people feeling abandoned, frustrated - parents trying to figure out how to navigate through do they send their kids to school? Do they not? What kind of protections are in place versus not? It's a very unsettling, frustrating, and scary time for a lot of people. How do you plan to address this in the legislature? Is there anything that you can do right now? There's people having a hard time accessing rapid tests, super long lines at testing centers, hard time getting appointments for vaccinations. Do you think there needs to be a renewed effort and a doubling down reinstatement of a lot of the protections that were in place before? What's on your plate and on your docket to get to address this?
[00:22:31] Representative Jamila Taylor: I mean, I think this is a complex issue that is hitting all the domains of our daily living. When we say shut down schools, that has not only the impact on the education of the young person, but the childcare resources of the family. So that means that you might be pulling out not one, but both parents, out of the economic market. We don't have universal basic income that folks can rely on if we have to do that and they have to parent the child and educate the child and do what have you. We have folks who have inconsistent access to broadband. So it's like when you do go to a virtual school setting, can they even get the education during that temporary time?
I mean, this pandemic might end up being an endemic, meaning that it's going to be with us for the long-term. So we have to come up with strategies that help us cope with the situation. That means vaccinations. While some folks may say that they're not effective, they are effective. It is reducing the hospitalizations. And just last month, FEMA set up a shop in Federal Way where they had 500 to 700 people a day coming in for their vaccinations and their boosters. I went in there for my booster. It was simple. It was easy. And folks want to come back. The only reason why it was interrupted was that snow that happened between Christmas, but I believe that it was modified operations and some people were able to get in despite the snow. If you think about it, when I was in there, there were folks across all racial backgrounds who were getting the vaccinations.
And I noticed in one of the stats that the disproportionality is a problem across the state and across the nation. However, folks in communities are catching up. So for example, Joseph Seia, in the Pacific Islander community, has done incredible work to ensure that members of the Pacific Islanders are having access to vaccinations and testing and what have you. And they do it in a culturally responsive way. So having those messengers from community to ensure that they have the good information that's out there - we don't want anyone left behind.
And if you choose not to get a vaccine, okay, but we also know that basic medical standards has separation and segregation. When you're getting a surgery, you're not asking to have that surgery in the middle of the meat locker. You're trying to go into an OR, where it's sanitized and people have very limited access to the space. And when you're talking about airborne illness that is hard to control and is easily transmitted, taking reasonable actions - like social distancing, masks, and other precautions - can slow down the spread of the disease. We know we're not stopping it. We would love to get to stop it, but we have to do something and we can't just put our heads in the sand and think, "Oh, I'll take that horse tranquilizer to cure my condition with COVID." As much as you trust the science on that and you don't want to trust the science on the vaccine that is globally researched - researched - I don't know what to say. How do we choose some science and not other science?
[00:26:10] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. And you talked about this being a highly transmissible virus. It is. I think one challenge that a lot of people are looking at and asking our leaders about is that, especially with this more easily transmissible variant, in conjunction with now we have CDC guidelines saying that the quarantine time can be shorter, lots of reports from folks in the service industry where employers are attempting to rush them back to work sick, not taking all the appropriate precautions. They don't have time to get tested and certainly can't afford to take that time off. Even time with vaccinations and experiencing side effects and maybe needing a day off and time to do that, that's not there.
Does the legislature have a role to play, or is there anything that can be done to say, hey, if we are going to remain open and try and figure out how to navigate through this without shutting things down, then we have a responsibility to the essential workers who continue to be out there, continue to be exposed to this virus, and people continuing to ask more of them under increasing strain throughout this? Is there a place for mandating, within the states, certain time that people get and making sure that workers have protections? Is there anything that can be done to make sure workers aren't being forced back into work while sick, which impacts the entire community's health? What do you see as the legislature's role with that?
[00:27:57] Representative Jamila Taylor: One of the difficulties that we have as a legislature that only meets once a year - for 60 days in even years, and 120 days in off years - is that we are trying to respond to something that's rapidly changing. Two weeks ago, it was 10 days for quarantine. And so the minute we start building statewide policy that responds to that, then something else is going to happen. And so I think that there are some long-term effects that we know off top. How do we address the lack of funding that some schools have, and they may go bankrupt if we can't address how many children are pulled out of the school. So we can talk about how it happens. I know that as Senator Lovick was in the House, he wanted to introduce legislation on a pandemic response, so we can kind of triage through all of this.
And I think part of that can inform long-term policy. We can over-legislate and we can under-legislate. I think the complexity of this challenge and the advantage of having a Speaker in the House that has a direct public health background informs us on how we can address some of the challenges in even how we operate. We want to instill confidence in community to live their daily lives. But I know - you and I - in the pandemic post-George Floyd, we don't want to go to a new normal where we go back to old routines where we have four and five jobs. What we want to go is to new possibilities of how to live our life. And sometimes when you have new possibilities, there are new factors that we have to take into account, that what we did before wasn't always healthy. And maybe that is the wake-up call that we need. We were not on a healthy path. Maybe we need to have more healthy Nubians in charge who can help guide us through some ways of thinking about the future of work.
[00:30:03] Crystal Fincher: I guess, in this few minutes that we have left, I just want to see if there's anything on the top of your agenda. You're also on the Transportation Committee, a lot more there. Is there anything that folks should keep an eye out for? And how can the public be engaged throughout this session that's happening? And what is your call to people who are just wondering what they can do?
[00:30:29] Representative Jamila Taylor: Well, I would say there are four key themes that are still present in the legislature: racial equity, economic recovery, still COVID response. And so I know that there are several legislators who will probably have bills to drop there. And then of course, environmental stewardship. And so if we think about, in terms of transportation, we have this huge transportation federal package that we're waiting to get dropped into Washington State. And how do we use those federal dollars to leverage the resources that we need to put on the table locally? We know we need huge infrastructure packages throughout the state that have been long in the queue to get funded. We're still behind in passing a transportation package. And so the federal money will help us address some of those immediate needs. And -
[00:31:22] Crystal Fincher: On that - real quick, just on that transportation thing. I know there's lots of conversation looking at, hey, we're in the middle of this climate crisis. A lot of our communities, especially in South King County - lower income communities, BIPOC communities - are disproportionately impacted by air pollution, other types of pollution. As we look at this new transportation package and cars and highways being a primary source of greenhouse gas emissions and pollution, are you looking for a package that doesn't expand current highways - that it might be maintenance-focused, but maybe not expansion of that and more investment in transit and facilities and infrastructure for people biking and walking who may not be able to drive?
[00:32:15] Representative Jamila Taylor: Well, I mean, part of that is building out the infrastructure of where people live. So if you think about our housing policy, if we are expanding options that are transportation-oriented design. So in South King County, we have hubs coming through light rail to Federal Way in particular. So how do we increase the density around those light rail stops? How do we make sure that we have services that are available? So for example, Black Members Caucus is very much interested in having more community health centers throughout the region. So how do you access the basic services within the walking distance? And how do we use public transportation in a safe way? Because - well, the perception is it's not safe to be on public transportation or it's not convenient, and we've got to find ways to respond to the needs of community. And we're in unique times where some folks are working from home, and so how do we change what being in our communities looks like in terms of accessing resources and services in regards to transportation needs.
[00:33:25] Crystal Fincher: Yeah. Much appreciated. This is our time for today, but I appreciate you taking this time -
[00:33:29] Representative Jamila Taylor: Can I come back?
[00:33:31] Crystal Fincher: - to talk with us. Of course, you can come back. You're welcome back any time. No shortage of things to talk about any time you're here, and appreciate the work that you continue to do. Thank you so much, Representative Taylor.
[00:33:43] Representative Jamila Taylor: Thank you. Appreciate your time.
[00:33:45] Crystal Fincher: I thank you all for listening to Hacks & Wonks on KVRU 105.7 FM. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Lisl Stadler with assistance from Shannon Cheng. You can find me on Twitter, @finchfrii, spelled F-I-N-C-H-F-R-I-I. Now you can follow Hacks & Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, wherever else you get your podcast. Just type "Hacks & Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to get our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave a review wherever you listen to Hacks & Wonks. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at officialhacksandwonks.com and in the episode notes.
Thanks for tuning in. We'll talk to you next time.