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Washington Build Back Black Alliance forms to ‘speak with one voice’ in Olympia at Seattle City Hall

When Paula Sardinas moved to Washington, she noticed that despite lawmakers’ rhetoric, “Black Lives Matter” was not reflected in policy.

Sardinas, president of a government relations firm, said she’s been advocating for equity in Olympia, but has always come up against better-funded special interests, noting specific fights in the cannabis industry that activists have argued has kept out Black business owners. So she asked herself: “How can we create a concentric circle which centers around social and equitable racial justice in policy and bring all the members to the table?”

Sardinas and colleagues hope they have answered this question by forming the Washington Build Back Black Alliance this fall, which includes members from Tacoma to the Tri-Cities, to both develop policies and give feedback on existing legislation that could affect the wellbeing of Black people.

“Every piece of policy we draft we need to ask ourselves one simple question: Does this hurt or advance the cause of Black lives and if it does, how is it helping us to create generational wealth and equity,” Sardinas told CHS this week. “If a bill or piece of legislation doesn’t answer those two questions, then why are we hearing the bill?”

Some elements of the group’s 2021 agenda are already taking shape. Monday, Gov. Jay Inslee unveiled his equity plan for the state’s next budget including “$365M for equity-related decision packages and budget items.”

Included in the proposals are measures that would establish an independent office to investigate police shootings and use of force, $400,000 in capital bonds for the Department of Commerce to create an equity committee to develop strategies for equitable investing and policy, boosting the state immigrant relief fund more than $10 million to $72.6 million, and establishing Juneteenth as a state holiday.

WBBBA plans to play a major role in shaping state spending including a Black and BIPOC economic development package.

“Our purpose,” the group writes, “Harness the power of #black advocacy to speak with one voice — to local Mayors, City Councils, the Legislature, and the Executive Office regarding the need to fund a sustainable, scalable plan for the black community.”

Notable WBBBA steering committee members include Sen.-elect T’wina Nobles, who is also CEO of the Tacoma Urban League, Lanesha Debardelaben, executive director of the Northwest African American Museum, and Andrea Caupain Sanderson, the CEO of the Central District’s Byrd Barr Place.

With the 2021 legislative session about a month away, the WBBBA has been working on legislation on a variety of issues, from the multifamily tax exemption policy that aims to incentivize developers to set aside some housing units for low-income tenants to police accountability.

Seattle-area state lawmakers have said they are working on a suite of legislation that would look to improve police accountability across Washington through a more stringent officer decertification process, a public use of force database, and create a statewide civilian-led body for misconduct investigations.

“When people violate that trust that we have placed with them, then we’re going to say ‘You no longer have the right to carry a badge and a gun on behalf of the taxpayers and enforce our laws,’” state Sen. Jamie Pedersen, a Capitol Hill Democrat who chairs the senate’s Law and Justice Committee, said in a virtual panel last month.

Sardinas, who notes she has been to every legislative district in the state, says Washington needs independent inquiries into police misconduct because law enforcement shouldn’t be trusted to investigate themselves.

A Florida native, Sardinas has been talking about “Black Lives Matter” since 2012 or 2013 when Trayvon Martin was killed nearby. Now with the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, she hopes that the recent protests can be harnessed into a movement that results in strides toward better living conditions for Black Washingtonians. In her estimation, the WBBBA is the organization to make that happen.

“The community has become sick and tired of being sick and tired and have decided we are going to unite our voice,” she said. “We’re going to come together and say that ‘injustice for any is injustice for all and we no longer want to tolerate injustice.”

And with Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan saying she won’t be running for re-election next year following tension with the city council and activists who wanted deep cuts to the police budget, Sardinas said “we will look forward to working with candidates as they put their names forward to make sure that Black people have a seat at the table and that they are ever-present in both the agenda of the mayor and the agenda of the council.”

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