At its core, Initiative 940 has a simple yet powerful goal.
"Everybody wants to go home to their families," said Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin, who in December announced his public and financial support for the measure, which if passed "would require law enforcement to receive violence de-escalation, mental-health, and first-aid training, and provide first-aid; and change standards for use of deadly force, adding a 'good faith' standard and independent investigation."
"Both community and law enforcement," Baldwin continued. "We know the inherent risk that comes with the job of law enforcement, and not taking anything away from that, but at the same time, the community wants the same thing (law enforcement) wants in terms of going home safely, so why not push for initiatives and causes and changes to our system that allow for us to have more resources, more knowledge, more training so that those things can actually come to fruition? That's why the empathy part of it is most important. We all want the same thing, but we have to stay at the table to figure out how to achieve that."
For the past two years, building a bridge between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve has been an important cause to Baldwin, whose father has more than four decades of law enforcement experience with the Pensacola Police Department and Homeland Security. That's why on Tuesday Baldwin was in Olympia to address the Washington State Legislature at a public hearing on Initiative 940. The State Legislature could pass 940 before the current session ends next month, or if that doesn't happen, the measure has enough signatures to go to ballot later this year. No matter how things play out, Baldwin sees empathy as the key, meaning he wants community leaders and law enforcement to continue the conversation and hear each other's sides on the matter.
"I know that this conversation is not easy," Baldwin told the State Legislature. "I know that it's hard. It has been hard to hear the reluctance from some others in the conversation to just come and stay at the table. I also know the hardest work is often the most important work. We have a unique opportunity to be a leader and demonstrate to the rest of the country what it looks like to come to the table, stay at the table and to empathize with each other through a very difficult conversation in order to seek solutions for the greater good.
"At the human level, we all want the same thing. We want to feel like our lives matter, that we are seen, and that somebody else cares. Everyone, law enforcement and community members alike, deserve to go home to their family members, to the people that they love and that love them. I believe that this legislation is a step forward in realizing that goal. I acknowledge that there is still work to be done, but I'm asking law enforcement and community leaders to remain at the table, to share their expertise and to move this legislation forward. The desire of this work and this legislation is to invest in human capital in both law enforcement and the community. Furthermore, human to human, I'm asking that each of us fully consider the responsibility we have to stay at the table and to continue this dialogue. We all deserve that."
In supporting Initiative 940, Baldwin wants to see more resources allocated for "reoccurring training for law enforcement in terms de-escalation training, training when dealing with mental health issues, and again, reoccurring training, so it's not just one time they go through it at the academy, but they continuously have this training so it keeps them adept at the knowledge of information they need as society and culture changes."
Initiative 940 focuses on police reform, but Baldwin reiterated that neither he nor the measure are anti-police in any way.
"Nobody is blaming law enforcement," Baldwin said. "When I went to speak with cadets at the police academy, I specifically stated that I don't blame law enforcement themselves, I blame the system. The system has allowed some things to fall through the cracks, which has allowed some situations to occur, and there's no accountability.
"I've heard the argument that I don't care about police officers, and that couldn't be further from the truth. My father was a law enforcement officer for 35 years. He served his community, his state and his country for over 40 years—six years in homeland security and also further training for law enforcement after that. So the fact that people think I'm anti-police—again, I understand that the concern is that I'm pushing for this initiative to take away protections from law enforcement—that couldn't be further from the truth. I want protection for our law enforcement that makes sense, that is reasonable, understandable, and implemented in a practical way. I think if we all honestly took a look at what we can improve on, we would see just how much these improvements will be more beneficial not only to law enforcement, but also for the relationship with the communities they serve. Because, again, taking an empathetic approach, at the end of the day, everybody wants to go home to their family, to the people they love."
This was not the first time Baldwin has spoken to lawmakers in Olympia, having also done so in 2016 when he addressed the Washington State Use of Deadly Force in Community Policing Joint Legislative Task Force. Baldwin has also dedicated countless hours meeting with different political leaders and law enforcement agencies, and has also spoken to cadets at the state police academy. None of this has anything to do with Baldwin's career as a wide receiver, which is why when he spoke in Olympia in 2016, then again this week, he introduced himself only as a concerned citizen.
"If I'm being completely honest, for a long time I was too self-absorbed to really have my eyes open to things going on around me and in our society. I have come a long way in that regard and still have a ways to go, but I'm now able to acknowledge that I have a greater opportunity to truly impact society in some capacity and I feel compelled to do so," Baldwin said this week. "I feel like it's my obligation as a human being on this earth—if I'm occupying space on this earth, if I'm breathing oxygen, then I also need to be helping others who also occupy space and breath oxygen on this earth. So for me, it's a really silly 'why.' The real question is 'why not?' If we want to be a society that cares—we had so many conversations about, pick anything, healthcare, the housing crisis, children with cancer, anything—we have so many causes, things that we care about, but yet when it comes down to simple things like injecting empathy in a conversation, we have a hard time doing that. So I really challenge people to stop asking the question of, 'why would he do that, why would she do that?' and instead say, 'why wouldn't they do that?' Because again, at the end of the day, if I'm occupying this space on earth, that means somebody else is coming after me to occupy that space, so I want to make sure that I'm leaving the world a better place for my children, my grandchildren moving forward. The question is, why would I not do that?"