A Letter to My City Council Members

For my wife, for my family, for my friends, for me: Please don't sign that contract.

Hey, it’s Luke.

This week’s episode of the podcast comes in two parts.

PART 1 | A Letter to My City Council Members

Offers a little background on the soon to be voted-upon police contract as a warm up for a dramatic reading of a letter Luke wrote this week asking Spokane City Council to tear it up with extreme prejudice. 

PART 2 | Our Borders, Ourselves

We reach the conclusion of the awesome interview with Yakima immigration attorney Stephen Robbins, where the conversation turns toward some of the more mundane, overlooked atrocities of Trump's immigration policy and also some (infuriatingly) hilarious reflections on our dumb, dehumanizing border policy. 

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If you feel like writing your own letter — or if you’re a damn boomer, making a phone call — here’s a directory for the Spokane City Council. We recommend contacting them early and often. They’re voting on Monday.

Just in case you want to read my sterling prose, I’m publishing the letter below.

But first, briefly, here’s a new weekly feature:


THINGS COOL PEOPLE DO

In case you were wondering how the world’s best people get that way:

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DEAR COUNCIL

For my wife, for my family, for my friends, for me:
Please don't sign that contract.

Dear Council Members Wilkerson, Beggs & Kinnear,

I’m writing you today because there’s an important vote coming up on the new Police contract — a contract that every credible person I’ve heard from says will limit the civilian oversight we fought so hard for in 2013, including a poison pill that would allow the department to remove the Ombudsman and members of the commission.

I’ve lived on the South Hill for nearly 11 years. I see you walking your dogs at Cannon Hill and Manito. We see each other at Rosauers. I’m your neighbor and your constituent.

I have a multiracial family and community I worry about constantly. My wife doesn’t feel safe working downtown anymore. My friends talk about not feeling safe in their own skin.

I’ve heard from several people that members of council are considering a yes vote. I’m begging those members to reconsider.

I’m asking you all, desperately, to vote down this police contract.

In 2013, I was one of the people who voted to amend the city charter — effectivel y the Constitution of Spokane — to encode in our literal founding documents the right of the residents of this city to have oversight of the law enforcement who are supposed to protect us.

I didn’t know how many people would join me in that, but ultimately the number was overwhelming. I’m sure you remember 70% of people across this entire weird city coming together to speak with a single voice. I’ve lived in this county my whole life and that was the clearest, most unified I’d ever seen us.

I’ve never been more proud.

Since then, though, what has changed? From my view, very little.

Hurling a K9 unit into the truck of a man who was screaming that he surrendered is barbaric. An officer kicking a man in the genitals — Black man who was handcuffed — is literal torture.

As you know, the Spokane Police Department was the subject of a Department of Justice inquiry that yielded 42 recommendations for change in the department. City Spokesman Brian Coddington says SPD has implemented all 42 and that use of force complaints are down.

But that’s not the full truth.

As of data released a week ago, Black people are still 12 times more likely to be arrested in Spokane than white people. In the Spokesman, “Meidl pointed to a 25% reduction since 2017 in the ratio of Black people who were arrested compared to Black people who experienced force. Compared to 2017, 72 more Black people were arrested in 2019 and two fewer experienced a police use of force, reducing the overall ratio by 25% over two years.”

Let’s pull apart those numbers: Cops used force nearly as many times as they had in 2017 — but the ratio looked lower because they just arrested 72 more Black people! It’s statistical cherry-picking that relies on worsening racial disparities.

So the Police department leans back into greater over-policing of Black people and Chief Meidl twists the data to make it look like a great leap forward.

That isn’t progress. 

It’s a PR stunt.

In the wake of George Floyd’s death, Meidl went on camera and talked about all the things the Minneapolis PD officers did wrong that day. “you want to just yell across time and tell them, ‘Don't do this.” he told reporters.

Then just days later comes documented evidence (on Facebook) of the same technique that killed George Floyd being used in Spokane — an officer kneeling on a man’s neck during a routine stop.

I don’t know whether Chief Meidl and SPD leadership knew about that incident or whether they didn’t, but either way it demands a strong ombudsman to take public testimony like that and make the public aware of these abuses of power so that we can put pressure on law enforcement to change.

Because it’s clear the police are not adequately policing themselves.

What is happening across this entire nation and large parts of the world isn’t happening because cops decided to clean their own house.

It’s only happening because the people have taken it upon themselves to record misconduct when they see it.

They say sunlight is the best disinfectant. These days we all carry little rays of sunlight in our pockets.

Change is happening now only in those places where the people demand it and elected officials act. The people of Spokane made their demand in 2013.

Seven years later, it’s time for y’all to finally act.

It’s probably actually wrong of me to draw a distinction between the public and its leaders. You three are the public.

You are the people elected or appointed to represent the people of district 2. You are our voice.

We could not have been more clear in 2013.

We did our job.

On Monday, please, please do yours.

Luke Baumgarten