by Stevi Kamphaus
Yvonne McDonald deserves justice, her life never should have ended this way. No one’s loved one should ever be treated the way she was. The extent of implicit racism that devalues and degrades black lives within our local institutions has never been so clear. At every level, from the actions of the city street sweeper, to the police officer, to the medics who should have treated her injuries, to the response of our elected officials we see the systemic virus of racist neglect and implicit prejudice is alive and thriving in Olympia’s institutions.
Above all Yvonne deserves to be alive today, and short of that she deserves justice. This is about honoring the value of her life and it is also about so much more than one person. Every day black and brown members of our community are subject to the life-threatening racist tendencies (both overt and covert) of our institutions-our schools, hospitals, courts, legislature, and of course police. We cannot expect these to change just by offering cultural competency training or committing to “diversity”. Yvonne’s case is so textbook it could be taught as a part of an anti-racist training as an example of what racism and implicit prejudice looks like on an everyday level. Yet knowing that racism has occurred and holding those responsible accountable, including taking action to change our institutions (which many of our elected officials including Mayor Cheryl Selby have admitted are racist) are two very different things. By ignoring the inactions and neglect that lead to Yvonne’s death, and covering up the inaccuracies and inconsistencies of reports that could help determine what happened to her, the city of Olympia continues its legacy of zero consequences for white people in positions of authority and power (and public service), and dire consequences for black people. Corrective actions need to be taken beginning with satisfying the very reasonable demands of Yvonne’s family, and extending to policy and structural changes that ensure that racism actually has no place within our city’s institutions. How can the city know what it will take for black people to begin to feel safe and feel as though their lives matter if black people impacted by racist institutional violence are consistently disbelieved or silenced while the perpetrators continue to enjoy uninterrupted salaries and benefits, and pensions for carrying out racist acts? This is not theoretical, it is very practical. Protecting black lives means that we take action to protect black people, and if someone’s actions are causing them harm we intervene, and if that person causing harm has institutional authority or power we rescind that power until they prove that they can wield it responsibly without harming people or we else we revoke that power entirely. If there are no consequences for racism (including implicit racism which no less deadly) then it will continue. We have to demand real changes from our city officials and from the institutions and organizations that we personally interact with in our daily lives.
As a white person living and working in Olympia, I believe that I have to take ownership of the ways that my own inaction is complicit with the actions of those who neglected to care for Yvonne while she was alive and who have dismissed her death because it was inconvenient or uncomfortable to examine. That is why I care about showing up for Yvonne’s family and pushing the city to be accountable for their violent, neglectful actions.