Centering Community to Build Just and Equitable Black Lives

Thursday, February 1, 2024
A circular photo of a smiling Black woman in a black hat set against a light pink background
Dear Friends,

The power of community is on my mind as we mark Black Futures Month this year.

Together, we can achieve collective liberation, break down anti-Blackness, and not just imagine, but realize better futures for Black communities. Indeed, fighting for an equitable and just society for everyone is our commitment and our mission at ACLU of Washington. But it is never easy. Multiple systems of oppression continue to undermine our goals and benefit the few at great cost to the many.

Black Futures Month can serve as a reminder that we are in this fight collectively, our struggles intertwined. That’s why community is at the center of the work we do at ACLU-WA, both internally and with and beside our partners and allies. This month offers an opportunity to recommit to community – a call to put relationships first, check our power and make space for multiple truths and norms.

Through collective work we can achieve collective liberation, but it can also be wearying to keep up the fight month after month in the face of so many obstacles.

To stay engaged and to imagine a future where the burdens of being Black dissipate, I lean into Mariame Kaba's notion that “hope is a discipline.” As ACLU-WA’s Deputy Director, I see my dedicated colleagues practicing disciplined hope and building community every day. Black Futures Month gives us space to celebrate their work and the efforts of so many others in service of brighter Black futures.

In that spirit, here are some recent examples of how ACLU-WA is joining and building community and showing up for Black futures:
  • Combatting Racially Discriminatory Policing: This session in Olympia, ACLU-WA is working to pass the Traffic Safety for All bill, which prioritizes police stops that focus on safety. Data shows that these stops increase safety on the roads while reducing racial disproportionality in traffic stops. The bill also provides community funding to shift focus away from fees, fines, and punitive enforcement and towards helping people fix their vehicles to increase compliance and road safety.
  • ACLU-WA’s Five-Year Plan: We worked closely with our partners, advocates, and activists to develop a long-term plan for our organization’s efforts. This community collaboration was key to understanding the needs of the communities we serve and the solutions they would like to see. The plan focuses on the criminal legal system, individual and personal rights and autonomy, racial and economic justice, and democracy. Crucially, it recognizes the country was built upon the systemic theft of land from and attempted genocide against Indigenous peoples, the systemic exploitation and dehumanization of Black people, and the systemic exclusion and suppression of communities of color, women, and queer people. Undoing the persistent harms of those systems is at the core of our work.
  • Justice for Victims of Police Misconduct: In cases where officers have harmed people, we want to strengthen the ability to provide justice for victims of police misconduct and bring systemic change to departments. The Attorney General’s Investigations and Reform bill strengthens the AG’s authority to address systemic violations of the Washington constitution or laws at police departments and jails by elevating resources, solutions, and accountability.
  • Transforming Sentencing and Reentry: For decades, Washington state has been overly reliant on life and long prison sentences. Yet, instead of keeping people safe, these sentences have devastated marginalized communities. In collaboration with formerly and currently incarcerated allies, the ACLU-WA is supporting two bills – Emerging Adults and Juvenile Points — this session to advance developmentally appropriate, evidence-based sentencing laws that promote public safety and lead with racial justice.
  • Joining Community in Olympia: For the first time, we co-hosted our annual Advocacy Day in Olympia with 17 other organizations representing the great work happening across the state to reform the criminal legal system. Over 130 people from 37 legislative districts showed up to learn about the bills our organizations are collectively fighting for, practice telling their stories, and advocate with their lawmakers.
  • Combatting Racial Discrimination in Jury Selection: In May, the Washington State Supreme Court overturned a 65-year-old Black man’s conviction, nearly two decades after he alleged racial discrimination in the jury selection process for his trial. ACLU-WA submitted an amicus brief on behalf of Theodore Rhone, who will now have the opportunity for a new trial with a jury of his peers.
  • Building Generational Wealth: In partnership with our colleagues at National ACLU, we’re working to pass a “baby bonds” bill proposed by the Washington State Treasury which would invest state funds on behalf of every child born into poverty. The money – the equivalent of about $30,000 in today’s dollars – would then be available for higher education, home ownership or starting a small business. An initiative supported by the ACLU’s Systemic Equality Campaign, baby bonds allow the state to address generations of systemic inequality by building wealth in BIPOC communities.  
At ACLU-WA, we know everyone in our state benefits when we show up in community to fight for Black futures. Please take some time to follow the links above to read and learn more. And please know that none of this work is possible without you – our community of supporters.

Building and working in community takes work; it takes humility; it takes a lack of ego; and it takes centering the humanity in all of us. The process won’t look perfect. We will not always agree, but we can – we must – come together around our common goals. The stakes are too high not to.

In solidarity,

Tonie Davis
Deputy Director, ACLU of Washington
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