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Frustration boils between city and community members over police accountability in Spokane

Three different sides are saying three different things about how those discussions have been going.

SPOKANE, Wash. — Following the death of George Floyd and a massive protest in downtown Spokane, Spokane City Leaders started meeting with groups to discuss police reform. During the last three years, they've had four roundtable discussions with a fifth scheduled this week. Instead, talks ended Tuesday morning on a bitter note.

"We are disappointed and frustrated to be talking to you about a disruption we had today," Mayor Nadine Woodward said. 

Community members who participated in the discussions included representatives from the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, Police and Action Justice League of Spokane and Spokane County Against Racism. They said the city backed out of Tuesday's meeting when they learned the group wanted to share a critique of how the discussions had been going.

"We decline to further participate in roundtable discussions with the City of Spokane regarding policy and public safety," pastor Walter Kendricks said.

During two separate press conferences, city leaders and local activists said they're stepping away from the table.

"You get tired of saying the same thing over and over and over. And nobody wants to listen, because they don't want to hear it. Because if they admit that they've heard it, really heard it, then they have to do something," Kendricks said, quoting the late civil rights activist Sandy Williams.

Those demanding police reform said the meetings have been unproductive. They also claim city leaders never came to the table with an open mind and even asked people to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

"People were very vulnerable in these conversations and to think that somebody could walk out of that meeting and then go share that publicly, why would people return to the round table?" Woodward said.

Activists say there's also been no real progress.

"After three long years, the policy proposals brought forth by council president Beggs in 2020 have not moved forward," Kendricks said.

However, Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs said that many of the 24 proposed police reforms have been completely or partially achieved. Mayor Woodward says the process hasn't been perfect and some roundtable discussions were delayed or postponed during the pandemic, and two facilitators encountered serious health problems.

"To our community, we hear you. We hear that public safety is your priority, and that you expect us to find the right balance between evolving policing and keeping safe from the drug, property and violent crime that is grinding in our city."

Moving forward, the mayor and police say they will continue these conversations  at the state level.

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