Tag Archives: Resolution 31614

Speech Delivered to Governor Jay Inslee November 16, 2015

Speech to Governor Inslee Nov. 16, 2015

Before beginning I must first acknowledge that we are on stolen Duwamish and Salish land.

 

Second, I would thank you for making the time to visit us at the University of Washington Governor Inslee.  There are myriad pressing issues you could have selected to devote your time to, but you have chosen to invest your time with us and your concern and interest has not gone unnoticed.  Thank you.

 

Today I am going to speak on issues of equity and how they pertain to the qualities and characteristics of the kind of Board of Regents members we desire here at the University of Washington and why.  Equity is not blind it is very intentional and it differs drastically from equality. Equality as I have come to understand it is like placing everyone from different socio-economic, racial, gender, and citizenship status backgrounds on the same starting line. On the one hand this would seem just and fair because of the concept of equality, but what it lacks is an understanding of preexisting conditions for some that translate into unfair advantages for others. Many of the non-white students here at UW are also first generation college students, which may mean that our families do not possess as much disposable income to assist us in times of need, or that when it comes to academic concerns or administrative issues they are unable or incapable of helping us. Gender is a fluid and evolving concept of identity, but one thing that is certain is that when a student does not fit into a particular definition of gender they face discrimination and marginalization. And citizenship status can often pose an almost insurmountable barrier to affording tuition or other helpful resources, regardless of the reasons a particular individual’s status is in question. These preexisting conditions and many others can make admittance into and successful completion of university programs difficult, if not, nearly impossible for many. Merely placing everyone on the same starting line is simply not enough. On the other hand, equity seeks not to establish a similar starting point rather it seeks to garner similar outcomes regardless of preexisting conditions.

 

Last week students from universities across the country staged demonstrations in solidarity with the students of the University of Missouri who were protesting racial injustices and unfair responses from their administration. The demographics of University of Missouri are not unlike University of Washington, which is also a predominantly white institution; black students make up roughly eight percent and three percent of the undergraduate populations respectively. Earlier this year the students of the University of Washington staged what has been reported as the largest demonstration on campus since the 1960s when we declared a State of Emergency because of the racial and class disparities on campus, and walked out on February 25, 2015. During that demonstration we were subjected to racial epithets and as a result of further reprisals intent to silence our people through violence, which went unpunished, we determined it was necessary to challenge the unjust system of impunity with further demonstrations, much the same as the students at the University of Missouri.

 

These demonstrations are part of a much larger national struggle challenging the racial and class inequities and injustices within institutions such as law enforcement, the prison industrial complex, and education that reemerged onto the agenda of the general public with the Black Lives Matter movement. Police brutality and murder by police officers are major problems because they equate to state sanctioned violence against the people, which is extremely problematic because this violence is perpetuated in the name of and purported to be for the benefit of society. We are members of this society and this treatment is disreputable, and repugnant, humiliating and dehumanizing. Moreover, police brutality, which is nothing new to poor and minority communities is but one of the many factors that constitute the negative preexisting conditions that layer and stack upon each other to consolidate into a system of oppression and inequity.

The School-to-Prison Pipeline is also a major factor contributing to the racial, class, and ethnic disparities that confront many of our communities. People of color and those with mental disabilities are three times more likely to be disciplined while at school. From the ninth grade onward, one suspension or expulsion makes a student over fifty percent more likely to wind up in juvenile detention. Once in juvenile detention they become seventy-five percent more likely to end up in the adult penitentiary system and, once in that system they are more than eighty-five percent likely to return. Many people equate these statistics to inherently ‘bad’ youth, but Michelle Alexander, the author of The New Jim Crow, reveals that there is just as much if not more crime committed by white people. And one of our very own professors at the University of Washington, Katherine Beckett, the author of Making Crime Pay, has shown racial profiling is real and a serious problem even here in Seattle. So, it is not the case that students and people of color are ‘bad,’ but it is the case that we are being punished at disparaging and unfair rates.

 

The prison industrial complex is an institution grounded and founded upon extracting profit from slave labor. The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which supposedly outlawed slavery made one exception in the case of a person being convicted of committing a “crime.” That short clause provided justification for the creation, expansion, and explosion of the prison labor system. It began with convict leasing to plantations and mines that used to be worked by slaves, and now the prison industrial complex produces products that range from military equipment, to furniture, to home appliances and Correctional Industries’ website looks like any other online shopping website where people can purchase products. More troubling is the relative monopoly that Correctional Industries is granted by Washington State Law. RCW 39.26.251 states that all state agencies which include both universities and colleges must purchase the products made by Class II type prison labor. What this all equates to is an inequitable system of oppression entrenched in our largest and most prestigious institutions, which forms many of the preexisting conditions that stack and layer upon one another to create an inequitable system.

 

I was the president of my high school and the treasurer of North Seattle College and I used to be a business owner and helped the Department of Planning and Development of the City of Seattle revise it Job Order Contracting, so I am very familiar with bureaucratic governmental organizations. I was also part of the Divest UW coalition who for three years negotiated with and challenged the Board of Regents until we won a divestment from coal fire power earlier this year. I was also part of the team that helped draft and pass the City of Seattle City Council Resolution 31614: “Zero Use of Detention for Youth” in Seattle on September 21, 2015. What has been a consistent pattern is the nearly ubiquitous feeling that we as people are not being heard by the representatives that are supposed to be working on our behalf. Our UW President, Ana Mari Cauce, has done a lot to shift that phenomenon and also to address the racial and equity issues at the university, but we must do more. Although, I do not agree with all of the capitalistic and profit driven motives of the institution, I do understand that the university is operating within a capitalist system. Nonetheless, I and the many people I represent find it deplorable to be dehumanized and objectified, being reduced to dollar signs. When a human being is “thingified,” as Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called it, it dissolves one’s perception of their moral culpability to that individual and that is problematic. We need some Board of Regents members who are not the heads of major corporations, who are leaders in marginalized communities and can represent our concerns. We need Board of Regents members who have a firm understanding of how interlocking and intersecting forms of systemic and structural oppression function to foster inequitable conditions for many people. So that when we bring our grievances we feel heard, are heard, and our concerns are responded to appropriately and in a timely manner. And most importantly, we demand that we are respected as Human Beings.

Project 180: An Alternative to Incarcerating Youth

I had the privilege and the honor to sit in on a 180 Program session, which is an alternative to incarceration that has been in effect since 2012, and I had both my mind and heart blown away by what I witnessed. I was already impressed that the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office created this program. However, after I met Coach Dom (Dominique Wheeler-Davis) the program director, by accident at Urban Impact, whose mission is to “Partner with families and communities to break the cycle of social, material, and spiritual poverty,” when I was recovering a schoolbook I had left behind after I attended a Restorative Justice meeting, I was thoroughly impressed and very excited. This happenstance meeting occurred shortly after the Seattle City Council voted unanimously on Resolution 31614 “Zero Use of Detention for youth” on September 21, 2015. A resolution is not a law, and as such, it is not legally binding, but it is the direction that the City of Seattle is moving. By definition, a resolution is a firm decision to do or not to do something. In political and legal terms, a resolution is the official position of the legislative body, such as, how the body will function. Furthermore, it is not intended that the resolution will be applied eternally, but rather, for a limited time and acutely focused. In the case of Resolution 31614, Seattle City Council is focusing its attention on alternatives to incarcerating youth that is community led. So, the chance meeting with Coach Dom, and the invitation to Project 180 was clandestine.

Project 180 is nonetheless, a community led program, even though they are partnering with the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and as such will fit the resolution the City Council passed. Te program has had, and is having a positive impact on the lives of over 1500 youth in King County since 2012. The program is, in my opinion, limited by its focus on misdemeanor offenses, not limited in its impact in the lives of those who can participate in the program because of the threshold between felony and misdemeanor. Notwithstanding that limit, Project 180, is still able to assist over 300 youth in King County per year. That is 300 people who may not have to suffer the stigmatizing affects of a criminal background and the ostracization that often accompanies such a background in terms of limited educational and employment opportunities. I am going to let the program and its facilitators speak for themselves in this video:

I went to the Law School at Seattle University on September 26, 2015 to observe Project 180 thinking I was going to see a loosely structured, meeting and what I was greeted with was discipline and purpose.  The organizers of the event had an entire panel prepared with a mix of men, women and young people who all had their own stories of making 180s in their lives. Most of the speakers were people of color, though not all, and the participants in the program were from many backgrounds and ethnicities. In addition to the youth who were there to seek an alternative resolution to the criminal justice system, their parents were also in the room engaging in the program with them. This was something that I had not expected to encounter. However, the impact immediately apparent and it was obvious that the parents and guardians of the adolescents were truly invested in helping their children to achieve brighter futures without the entanglements of a criminal record. Most of the program was devoted to revealing that the adolescents and the adults in the room were not so different, and that in fact, we had all shared many experiences. The process was bridging a divide between us that we all walked in with and I was a component of the emergence of a community.

The program was focused on the beginnings of conflict resolution, which is developing communication skills. In most of the relationships that I am party to whether, they are activism circles, churches, non-profit organizations; friends, family, or romantic in nature issues with communication tend to be at the heart of most issues and complications. The first factor is that we as a people tend not to listen very efficiently to those whom we share our lives. Secondly, we may actually hear the words they are saying when we are not speaking over them, but we are not understanding what our partners are communicating to us. There are two methods that may increase our ability to communicate effectively and efficiently, which will decrease the negative emotional impacts that our interactions tend to draw to the surface. The first is active listening, and that is, carefully listening to the people in our lives without focusing on how we are going to respond to or undermine what is being told to us. The second is to ask questions for clarification to ensure that we have received the messages appropriately.  This is what I observed in the training during the Project 180 program.

In addition to the lessons in communication, I was also party to the development of a community. Again, this is not what I expected to encounter when I agreed to attend this event. The word “love” was used, not passively, but actively and in such a way as it not customary in many public and formal occasions. For instance, one of the exercises was for us to turn to the people who were sitting beside us and to tell them that we believed in them and that we love them. Now that may seem like a trivial and uncomfortable act, to tell someone whom you do not know, that you love them; and it was, let me assure you. However, that simple act made a huge difference to many of the people who were there; so huge that some even started to cry. The act did a few things. First, it showed everyone that they were not alone. Second, it revealed that everyone was worth respect, honor, integrity and that they were also human and members of our moral community. Third, because we all shared the uncomfortable moment together, we had a shared emotional experience that began fusing relationships among us, broadening our communities to include the people in the room.

My best research and activity has revealed that many of the social harms we want to solve begin with improving the conditions of our communities. Much of that improvement entails conflict resolution and effective communication. Communities are bodies or groups of people who work together for the common goal of the betterment of all who identify with the community. In my opinion, that is the real definition of justice and that is what I observed occurring in the Project 180 program event. However, the program does not end there, they also provide an AfterCare component, which helps the adolescents and parents or guardians to address many of the issues that may have led to the behavior and circumstance that brought them into Project 180 via the criminal justice system. These factors may include such things as education, drug and alcohol abuse, conflict resolution, emotional and mental health, job training and placement, and so on. The aftercare component of Project 180 is specifically designed to help the participants in the program to address those issues, so that they can become functioning and participatory members in our communities.

In my opinion, it is providing a very valuable and vital service to our community. As such, I think this program should be supported by our community with both funding and volunteers because it is having a positive impact on our community on multiple levels. To donate to Project 180 or to find out how you can help in some other way, please contact Urban Impact or contact Coach Dom at mailto:coachdom1@gmail.com

Please also contact our Seattle of Seattle and King County officials and inform them that you would like to see this program maintained and enhanced and most importantly, financially supported.

It is truly an honor and is highly encouraging to see that people are engaged in activities that are having positive and tangible impacts on our community; this goes for community members as well as the prosecuting attorney’s office.