Travis Washington, Southern Illinois University graduate and current IU employee, published a petition called The Hands Up Act, in December 2018. The petition, which as of this month has over 2.7 million signatures, calls for police officers who shoot unarmed citizens to serve a mandatory 15-year prison sentence.
Washington said that his ultimate goal is to have police take accountability for their actions and give justice to those who have been hurt. He realizes the relationship between citizens and the police is becoming fragile due to fear and a lack of responsibility for officers.
To demonstrate his point, Washington cited a 2021 NPR article that states 135 Black people have died unarmed at the police’s hand since 2015. What’s worse is, 15 of these officers were repeat offenders.
“That’s an institution that needs to be destroyed, and the Hands Up Act can do that,” Washington said.
While riding the train one night in December 2018, Washington was contemplating publishing the petition. He thought of the minorities being needlessly killed by armed forces and prayed for guidance, he said Washington cites this train ride as the moment that inspired him to fight.
“It was a magical moment for me,” he said.
Over the years, The Hands Up Act has gained a lot of momentum with both political and celebrity figures. Family members of victims such as Michael Brown, Antwan Rose, Jacob Blake, Daniel Shaver and Andres Guardado have either promoted the petition or reached out to Washington in support.
Even celebrities such as Mark Ruffalo and Sophie Turner have shared the petition on their social media platforms.
With so much support, Washington said the only significant challenge is him not believing in himself.
“That gave me all the confidence in the world,” Washington said. “I’m not going backwards.”
Washington said he has plans for this act to become federal law, but there are still many legal hurdles to overcome. Before his act can become a bill, he said he has to have a state representative take it to a judiciary committee where he can formally present it to 22 U.S. senators.
“It can take as long as it wants,” Washington said. “You’re gonna hear my name whether you like it or not cause I’m not going anywhere.”
Despite his determination, Washington has faced challenges on the road to federal legislation. Though the petition has the support of the public, it has not been as successful in gaining legal support. Washington said he has emailed all 100 U.S. senators and all 50 governors three times, but none of them have responded yet.
“A lot of these governors can easily just do an executive order just to show they support it,” Washington said. “Whether it holds weight or not, it shows that they care about people that are shot unarmed.”
Washington’s friend Yazmyne Adams is a graduate student at Southern Illinois University. She encouraged him to put a lot of his frustration into action and it was her who inspired him to move forward with the Hands Up Act.
“I’m extremely proud of him and very impressed with his follow-through,” Adams said. “This would strike an emotion with every family that has had an incident with the police. It would inspire a lot of people.”
Washington hopes his petition will lead to more trust between police officers and citizens. For now, his two goals are accountability and justice to police and citizens, he said. He believes the Hands Up Act can bring change.
“I can’t force anybody to support it,” Washington said. “But I do know that there are people in this country who definitely will.”