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YWCA in Olympia honors Leslie Cushman

As attorney Leslie Cushman pushes on her quest with De-Escalate Washington to pass Initiative 940, the YWCA Olympia chose her as their 2017 Woman of Achievement for her work in racial justice and civic leadership.

YWCA in Olympia honors Leslie Cushman as its 2017 Woman of Achievement for her work in racial justice and civic leadership. Photos cournesy of Leslie Cushman

Tammy Stampfli, her pastor at the United Churches of Olympia, nominated her.

In her acceptance speech, Leslie said that evidence proves that racial violence is “a huge factor in policing.  The outcome is an over-representation of people of color in the jails and in the morgues.”

The YWCA Olympia chose her because she exemplifies its mission to eliminate racism.

“De-Escalate Washington in a bare bones, grassroots effort to change the law on use of deadly force,” she said.  “It is led by people of color and families who have lost loved ones to police violence.  It is real work by real people.”

Leslie, who is policy director of the campaign, recognizes the fundamental role white supremacy plays in the U.S.  She believes the truths shared by people of color, indigenous people and women, said the YWCA.

After the May 21, 2015, shooting of Andre Thompson and Bryson Chaplin, she co-founded the Olympia Coalition to Reform Deadly Force Laws with Kathy Baros Friedt, a Latina woman who has been working for human rights for years. That coalition is now a partner of the Black Alliance of Thurston County.

In the 2016 legislative session, she and others worked with a coalition of community advocates on legislation to reform the state law related to Use of Deadly Force. The legislation was not successful, but a legislative task force was formed to study the issue.

Leslie, a member of the PNC Justice Witness Ministries Committee, and her colleagues then established De-Escalate Washington, a political action committee promoting the statewide I-940 to the legislature.

Speaking at the YWCA awards event, Leslie gave the names of nine of the people of color killed by police violence across the nation— Michael Brown, Freddy Gray, Eric Garner, Trevon Martin, Tamir Rice, Laquan McDonald, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling.

Then she listed the names of eight people in the state killed in recent years by police:

• Otto Zehm an unarmed autistic Spokane man beaten and asphyxiated by police;

• Leonard Thomas, an unarmed, despondent man in Fife, murdered by a police sniper;

• Antonio Zambrano-Montes, shot 17 times by Pasco police for throwing rocks;

• Daniel Covarrubias, an unarmed Lakewood man having a mental health crisis and shot in daylight, holding a cell phone;

• Jackie Salyers, an unarmed woman shot in Tacoma, whose family in the Puyallup Tribe were kept in the dark about details of her death and unable to provide tribal ceremonies to her and her unborn child;

• Jay Taylor, an unarmed Seattle man shot with his hands up, handcuffed and left to bleed to death;

• Carlene Lyles of Seattle, holding a knife, shot in front of her children;

• Michael Anthony Rude, a young black suicidal army veteran, killed on I-90 near Olympia.

“Why is it that it’s only in Washington that it’s impossible to convict police officers for unjustified killing?” Leslie asked.

“I-940 will require statewide standards for law enforcement to receive training on de-escalation, mental health, and first aid, require that first aid be rendered at the scene, establish standards for the use of deadly force, and mandate completely independent investigations,” she said.

“It will also require the involvement of diverse communities in developing policies—people of color, natives, people with disabilities, immigrants, noncitizens, LGBTQ, youth and formerly incarcerated people—people who should be listened to and believed,” she said.

Leslie is also involved in solidarity actions at the Northwest Detention Center, peace vigils at Percival Landing and Thurston Gun Sense, a group working to preventing gun violence through safe storage.

In addition, Leslie volunteers with Not This Time, a Seattle nonprofit founded by Andre Taylor whose brother was shot by Seattle police in 2016, and she is an advisor to Latino Civic Alliance, a state organization advocating for civic engagement and reciprocal relationships between the community and political representation.

She has close ties to the Puyallup Tribe and supports its work to achieve Justice for Jackie.

Leslie is still recruiting people to gather signatures, donations and volunteers.

For information, call 360-280-0087 or email


Pacific Northwest United Church of Christ News © November-December 2017


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