Snohomish County’s Law and Justice Regional Council to incorporate marginalized groups.
By: Erin Freeman | Lynnwood Times Staff
Matters relating to Snohomish County’s law and justice system are gaining a new perspective through the addition of community input to support the creation of more effective and established policies while fostering strengthened relationships between the community and law enforcement.
Law and Justice Regional Council approved an ordinance proposed by Councilmember Jared Mead’s on August 19 to add six community members representative of historically marginalized communities to the Law and Justice Regional Council.
The Law and Justice Regional Council serves as an advisory board for the County Council that provides input on policies within the broad realm of Law & Justice in Snohomish County, says Mead but says that since joining the council last April, it’s his understanding that the board has been meeting infrequently, playing a dormant role in Snohomish County government. That’s when he and Councilmember Nate Nehring decided to work towards revitalizing the Law and Justice Regional Council.
“My sincere hope is that the County Council will be able to use this as a forum to allow the various leaders in the Snohomish County law and justice arena, including the public, to help guide us while we work to find ways to make our system more equitable and just for everyone,” said Mead.
Throughout its entirety, the Law and Justice Regional Council voice has been represented by members of the law and justice system itself, inclusive of the sheriff’s department, prosecutor’s office, the district courts, and public defenders. Yet, recent calls for police reform, in light of the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, displayed a lack of input from the communities most affected by the system itself. Holding discussions with Snohomish County residents including members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Communities of Color Coalition “it was clear we could not have these policy debates without bringing the community to the table. Specifically, the communities who have been most impacted by the injustices in our system,” said Mead.
“An ethos that elected officials should all live by is that the more unique voices and perspectives we can get on a topic before creating a policy the better,” added Mead. “While the current make-up of the [Law and Justice] Regional Council is an impressive array of law and justice leaders who bring decades of valuable experience and expertise to the discussion, in its history, there have never been community members at the table in any official capacity. That’s a missed opportunity. How can we as elected leaders honestly claim to be making decisions that will make our criminal justice system more equitable if we don’t allow for input from those who have been most impacted by the inequities in the system? Elevating historically marginalized voices in this discussion will help us hear perspectives we have been ignoring for too long.”
While requirements for community participation boil down to those who represent historically marginalized communities, the wording was left vague to avoid unintentionally creating barriers that could exclude anyone from being eligible to fill the positions, states Mead.
“It is no secret that the data shows our black and indigenous populations are disproportionately impacted by the justice system and are the same communities who have been historically left out of these discussions,” said Mead. “That said, it’s important to keep in mind not every [Black, Indigenous and people of color] has the same experiences with the system so while I do think it is critical we are looking for members from these communities, we also need to ensure our appointees have lived experiences that will be valuable when deliberating these various policies.”
Six new community members, one from each of the five council districts will be chosen by each member of the Snohomish County Council, with one at-large member chosen by the Executive. Each councilmember has individual discretion in choosing who they believe will best represent their district.