Clark County prosecutors offer joint letter on the issue of systemic racism


Letter states that ‘Systemic racism exists in Clark County, in Washington State, and throughout the entire United States’

Clark County Courthouse. Photo by Mike Schultz
Clark County Courthouse. Photo by Mike Schultz

The Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Action and Reform Committee and Clark County Prosecutor Tony Golik issued a joint letter Tuesday addressing the issue of systemic racism in Clark County. 

Clark County Prosecuting Attorney Tony Golik
Clark County Prosecuting Attorney Tony Golik

The letter was signed by Golik and Deborah Wechselblatt, senior deputy prosecuting attorney and chairperson of the CCPA Action and Reform Committee. The letter stated that “Systemic racism exists in Clark County, in Washington State, and throughout the entire United States. To deny it is to perpetuate it.’’ 

The letter did not reference Clark County Chair Eileen Quiring by name but it does come two weeks after Quiring commented during a June 24 Council Time meeting that “I do not agree that we have systemic racism in our county. Period.” 

The prosecutors’ letter said “recent studies looking at our community have identified racial disparities in public schools’ discipline and hiring practices, in higher-education outcomes, and in access to healthcare. 

“Systemic racism has its roots in our history, our laws, and our culture,’’ the letter continued. “But it is not always overt and obvious. It is hidden in the structures of our society. Even when its operation is invisible, its devastating, generational impacts can be seen throughout our community. We know systemic racism exists because those who experience it and suffer from it are telling us it does. That should be enough, but, if it is not, empirical evidence also tells us that systemic racism exists.’’

The Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Action and Reform Committee and Clark County Prosecutor Tony Golik issued a joint letter Tuesday addressing the issue of systemic racism in Clark County.
Click to view PDF.

In the letter, the prosecutors supported the decisions of Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins and Vancouver Police Chief James McElvain to remove “Thin Blue Line’’ and “Blue Lives Matter’’ iconography from county and city property.

“We recognize that while the removal of these symbols was a meaningful gesture, it was not an easy one,’’ the prosecutors wrote. “Symbols have deep meaning, but their meaning is not always universal. Symbolism and imagery often morph over time, and our choices to use them or not must occur in the context of what they mean at this point in time. When a symbol represents separation and division to a marginalized group in our community, it is important that we listen and reflect on what message that symbol sends. It is imperative that we work through the pain and discomfort the resulting dialogue may bring in an effort to right the wrongs that have persisted in this country since before its inception.’’

The prosecutors also addressed the issue of systemic racism in the criminal justice system.

“The Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office acknowledges that systemic racism exists in the criminal justice system, of which we are a part,’’ the letter states. “We are dedicated to intentionally and actively identifying and eliminating racial inequities in our office, our courts, and our community here in Clark County. It is time to change. What we have been doing as a society simply is not working. We in the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office have the power to evaluate policies, laws, and practices to change those that have contributed to institutional racism. We make the commitment to the community to actively educate ourselves and listen to the members of our community who have been impacted by systemic injustice. We commit to pursuing anti-racist policies to truly ensure equal justice under the law.’’

The letter closes with a pledge by the prosecutors to members of the Clark County community that they “will make the commitment to the community to actively educate ourselves and listen to the members of our community who have been impacted by systemic injustice. We commit to pursuing anti-racist policies to truly ensure equal justice under the law.’’ 

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About The Author

Ken Vance got his start in the newspaper industry in 1987 as a reporter at The Columbian Newspaper in Vancouver. Vance graduated from Stevenson High School in Stevenson, WA, and attended Clark College in Vancouver. He worked for The Columbian from 1987-2001. He was most recently a staff member of The Reflector Newspaper in Battle Ground, where he served as editor since 2010 and reporter since 2007. Vance’s work in the newspaper industry has won him multiple awards, including a first place award from the Society of Professional Journalists for in-depth reporting.

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