By Steven Zimmerman
[Editors Note: We are updating this article as Mr Washington game a TEDx Talk, about the Hands Up Act. You may view the TEDx Talk below]
“I don’t care who you are,” says Travis Washington. “I don’t want anybody shot unarmed.”
There are some good police officers out there. However, like any profession, there are those bad apples in the bunch. When you are a police officer who is on the wrong side of the law, then you tend to make the rest of the force look as bad as you.
Throughout my life, I have met both types of police officers. The most negative experience I’ve ever had was when I was in New York City.
I was working, chasing a story, and dressed in a suit. Before work that day, I had made plans to meet some friends in Time Square before we headed out to Silver Cup Studios to watch a friend of our tape his weekly television show. It’s what we did every Thursday.
We met up at Roy Rogers restaurant like we did every week, and that’s when we were swarmed by NYPD officers in street clothes, pulling guns on my friends and dragging me way as quickly as possible.
At first, I thought we were being jacked in broad daylight. It turns out; it was something worse.
I was surrounded by three or four officers all asking me if the people I was with had hurt me, what they had taken from me, if I was bleeding. I couldn’t understand what was going on.
Nearby the police were yelling at my friends – telling them not to move, to get down on the ground, to get their IDs out, all while pointing guns at them. It was in this confusion that the police suddenly realized two of the people they had pulled guns on were well-known actors for a television series on NBC.
The police, by way of explanation, said that it is unusual to see a white guy in a suit surrounded by black guys in goose-down jackets and Tims (Timberland Shoes).
Fast-forward to today.
If this were to happen in the politically and racially charged environment we live in today, that event could have played out much differently. Someone would have been shot. Don’t believe me? Look at the news of the day.
There is a story making rounds about police officers all over the country, making hateful and racial statements about people on their social media accounts. The Associated Press has a write-up about just that.
Or, take the time to look at all the shooting of unarmed suspects by various police departments around the country: Anton Rose’s shooters were cleared, despite video evidence showing he was unarmed when shot.
In Milwaukee, in 2017, Jerry Smith Jr was shot, on a rooftop. He was unarmed.
How about Brian Riling, who was shot in the stomach in a small-town Pennsylvania police station. Those officers faced no charges.
Then, right here in El Paso, there was Daniel Saenz. Remember him? He was handcuffed, shot and killed just outside the El Paso County Detention Center by a police officer that has had issues in the past.
In all these cases, the suspect was unarmed; their lives cut short.
As a defense, in almost every case where an unarmed suspect has been shot and killed by the police, the police and media point to the suspects criminal past. Often, they will say the suspect has had a violent run-in with the police before.
Other times, they will say the suspect has been known to have a gun in the past. The key words in such statements are “before,” “in the past.” Just because someone may or may not have done something in the past does not justify lethal force today.
Then, when discussing this story with a few friends, a couple of them said that they were criminals, that they had criminal records. “It’s what they get,” said a now former friend. “They were doing criminal things. It’s what they get.”
No. In my opinion, no one deserves to die on the street like that. No one. Period.
This issue of unarmed people being shot at the hands of those entrusted to enforce and uphold our laws needs to stop. Almost every week we hear of someone else who was shot.This is an issue that crosses racial and socio-economic boundaries.
It’s because of this that Travis Washington has decided to take the step to push for the “Hands Up Act,” a piece of federal legislation that will create a mandatory sentence of fifteen (15) years in prison for any police officer who shoots an unarmed suspect.
“The whole purpose of this bill is to protect individuals who are being shot, unarmed, by the police. Because right now the United States is the number one country across the whole globe leading in most police shootings,” says Travis Washington.
“Like the United Nations has already declared that police shooting unarmed people as a form of lynching in the United States of America.”
Travis Washington is not against the police. On the contrary, he is pro-police and does support them. At one point, he even wanted to be a police officer.
It’s from this, from what he sees, from what he’s witnessed that he wants to ensure the protection of others.
According to figures released by the FBI, there were 1,165 people killed by the police in 2018. Here are some rather startling statistics of the people whose race was known when police killed them, compiled by The Root:
- In 2018, black people were three times more likely to be killed by police than were whites;
- More Americans died last year from police shootings (986) than mass shootings (84).
- Twenty-eight per cent of the unarmed victims of police killings were black, and only 48 per cent were white.
- 34.9 per cent of the people killed by cops—even though they were unarmed and not attacking—were black. Forty-four per cent was white.
- We know the race of 113 people who were shot and killed by police officers as they were fleeing the scene on foot. Thirty-five per cent were black.
- The violent crime rate does not correlate with police shootings. Some cities with high crime rates have low rates of police killings. Some cities with low rates for violent crime still kill a disproportionate number of citizens.
- Although non-Hispanic whites make up 62 per cent of the population, most of the unarmed, armed, and fleeing victims killed by police in 2018 were people of color. There was no category of police shootings where police killed more whites.
“I just wanted to protect people from the individuals who taint the police department,” Washington shares.
“My main focus is to make sure you do not get shot unarmed, criminal or not. You have people like Nicholas Slobodyanyuk. He waved his gun at police officers, but he was able to come home alive. The Planned Parenthood shooter shot some people, was able to come home alive. Even Cliven Bundy, they had guns and snipers held at police officers, federal government police officers in 2014, they were able to come home alive,” says Travis Washington. “So, the whole purpose of this is to make sure people that don’t get shot unarmed, like people that are surrendering themselves. People who are like, hey, I want to come home alive.”
As Washington went on to say, some people have absolutely nothing in their hands and are being shot and killed for no reason whatsoever.
Just think, it could happen to you.
Police could stop you, and you could be shot. We live in a society were, just last year, a motorist called the police because he saw a black teenager in the car with two white, older women.
We need to hold law enforcement accountable. We need to send a strong message that shooting an unarmed suspect like Daniel Shaver, was shot and killed in an Arizona hotel hallway, has consequences. Let’s make that happen.
To help get the attention of Congress and the world, Travis has begun a petition on Change.org.
As of my writing this piece, he has almost 55,000 of the needed 75,000 signatures. Let’s help him get over the top. Sign the petition here
I gave Travis Washing the last thought in our recorded interview, which you can hear at the top of the article.
“My goal is the speak in front of the House of Representatives or United States Senate during the committee hearing so the whole world can know about my hands up so people can know who I am,” says Travis Washington. “And also, I want the United Nations human rights council involved. I want them to come here, and I want them to hear the stories of the people who were shouting unarmed, like Antwon Rose’s mom Michelle Kenney. She was my number one support, and I’ve been emailing and contacting her recently and telling her, I even asked for her permission if I can wear a picture of Antwon Rose on top of my cap and gown as I walked through stage getting my master’s degree, because I wanted her to know that he’s still with us all.”