A federal judge in Washington state declared “black lives matter” during a hearing Monday.
U.S. District Judge James Robart, a former President George W. Bush appointee, is presiding over the implementation of a 2012 consent decree requiring Seattle to adopt various police reforms. The city’s police department was accused by the federal government of engaging in various practices, such as excessive force, that fell disproportionately on non-white residents and therefore violated their civil rights. The consent decree was reached so the city could avoid fighting a costly lawsuit against the feds.
This is the first time the contentious political movement has had its anthem officially supported by a judge in a federal courtroom.
Implementing that consent decree is requiring extensive negotiations with Seattle’s police union, because some of the reforms it prescribes would modify their current contract. For instance, putting internal investigations in the hands of civilians, rather than police officers. Most recently, the union voted to reject a contract that would have implemented certain reforms while giving officers a small pay boost.
In a Monday hearing, Robart lashed out at the union for holding up the reform process.
“The court and the citizens of Seattle will not be held hostage for increased payments and benefits,” he said from the bench. “I’m sure the entire city of Seattle would march behind me.”
Then, Robart stunned the courtroom by explicitly tying the proceedings to the Black Lives Matter movement. According to The Seattle Times, he cited statistics that blacks represent 41 percent of all people shot by police, when they are just 20 percent of the population. This is a mistake on Robart’s part; blacks are actually just 13 percent of the population.
“Black lives matter,” Robart said to end his remarks, in a moment that apparently produced audible shock from the courtroom. Black Lives Matter has been active for three years as a movement, but this appears to be the first time it has garnered such explicit support in court from a federal judge.
Enrique Gonzalez, a member of Seattle’s police reform commission, hailed Robart’s statement as an important sign the movement has moved beyond street protests and penetrated the federal government. (RELATED: Milwaukee Rioters Hunt Down, Attack Whites)
“Now we know that not only is this movement happening in the streets … even a federal judge has acknowledged that people of color have been on the receiving end of police brutality and this needs to change,” Gonzalez told The Stranger.
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