September 19, 2023

September RSJ Spotlight | Justice Forral

Racial & Social Justice Spotlight Series

Each month, our Equity Coordinator sits down with an organization or individual in our community to spotlight the work they do to create real and lasting change for a more equitable Spokane.


6 min. read time


September Spotlight

Justice Forral, Operations Director – SCAR Spokane

There was so much I resonated with after chatting with Justice for this month’s RSJ Spotlight. As someone relatively new to the professional world of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) work and community organizing, I’d admired Justice’s work from afar as Spokane Community Against Racism (SCAR) Spokane’s Director of Operations. They spoke up regularly at protests and city council meetings, a very visible and active community partner. 

Before working as YWCA’s equity coordinator, I wondered how people got their start in community organizing. I don’t have a formal education in this kind of stuff, another thing I connected with Justice on, who, during our interview, called themselves a college dropout (I hold an English degree from Spokane Falls Community College after multiple attempts at higher education).

Justice is a passionate and dedicated advocate for equity and justice in Spokane, serving as the Operations Director for Spokane Community Against Racism (SCAR). Their impact in the community so far embodies a diverse background and a commitment to activism that has evolved over the years.

Justice’s journey into activism began with a rebellious spirit during their youth, embracing a punk lifestyle and a defiant attitude towards politicians. However, their activism truly took shape when they became heavily involved in documenting and exposing the injustices at the Intermodal Station, particularly in collaboration with David Brookbank. Their efforts were instrumental in capturing crucial footage sent to the attorney general, leading to the shutdown of the station and highlighting the mistreatment of individuals there.

Justice went on to become a prominent supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement in Spokane, focused on ensuring the movement was inclusive and effective. They were also part of the Eastern Washington Progressives, a group dedicated to educating people on various impactful issues.

Their journey took a significant turn when they were arrested, leading to getting hiring by SCAR. Justice’s commitment is unwavering – they ran a weekly food distribution program called Burritos 4 the People that not only brought together community members, but also empowered volunteers to clean and take care of our city’s streets every Sunday. During its almost three year run, this program served nearly 30,000 burritos in downtown Spokane until the program concluded last August. This community outreach is just one facet of SCAR’s activities, with a primary focus on policy work.

Justice actively engages in various policy initiatives, such as the Platform for Change, focused at reshaping criminal justice and public safety. They also serve as the chair of a political action committee for Measure 1, the No New Jail Initiative. Additionally, SCAR has its own PAC, and Justice plays a crucial role in decision-making, particularly concerning Proposition 1, addressing issues like anti-camping ordinances.

A central concern for Justice is how certain policies disproportionately affect marginalized communities, especially the unhoused population. They emphasize the need for alternative solutions to criminalization, such as community courts, rehabilitation, and transformative justice.

Their advocacy extends to issues like housing insecurity, highlighting the plight of renters in Spokane, where 50% of them spend over 30% of their income on rent. They stress the importance of understanding the structural challenges faced by marginalized individuals and the consequences of policies that perpetuate inequality.

Justice’s activism is characterized by challenging traditional norms and structures, including those within progressive spaces. They advocate for BIPOC individuals’ liberation and call for the unification of marginalized organizers, who often feel isolated and tokenized within existing structures.

Their unique approach to conversation centers around the idea of decolonizing dialogues, emphasizing that conversations should focus on who we are rather than just what we do. This perspective reflects their commitment to meaningful and transformative change.

Below is an excerpt from our conversation:

Justice Forral: This is my favorite question to ask. And I ask this instead of, ‘How are you doing?’ because small talk sucks. What makes you feel respected?

Lara Estaris: I don’t know if this sounds bad, but if I ask someone to do something, and they do it, that feels like respect to me. Not only did you hear what I was asking for,  you believe in what I want to get done. And I don’t mean like, Please follow me blindly, I don’t want that. But you listened and you’re just like, ‘Yeah, okay, I will take time out of my day to do the thing that you asked because it’s also important to me and it’s going to make both of our lives better, or all of our lives better or whatever the case may be.

JF: How do you de-escalate others?  

LE: I don’t know if I can do that. I feel very ill-equipped for de-escalation because I’ve got trauma with it from an abusive past marriage. If someone is yelling or starting to get angry, I shut down or walk away and that is still a gut reaction for me, to remove myself from the situation. But I also want to understand why a person is like that and how can I help their brain kind of make sense of what’s going on in there, so they can calm down. But I don’t think that I’ve had too many chances to practice that. 

JF: How do you de-escalate yourself?

LE: I usually don’t know, ‘cause I think sometimes it’s unhealthy for me to reason within myself if something’s a big deal or not. I talk myself out of it. It’s not really a big deal and I just shove it deep down. If I get really upset or angry at something, I tend to just walk away, take break, stretch my legs, maybe get some sun and think about why it’s making me mad. 

JF: So something I’ve been working on is decolonizing conversation and how we think about conversation. How it feels for the most part is, we always ask, what do we do? What is the value that you have towards me? And I think we see this more often in college and beyond. It’s more about what we do, right? Rather than who we are. And so these questions I love asking because it presents, first off – the first question, when you deserve to be respected.

Bottom line, that should be a given because everyone deserves to be respected. I’ve asked hundreds of people. And for AFAB, (assigned female at birth), people who identify as female, (they) will say being listened to. And I specify that because when we think about the equitability of larger things, we also need to think of the equability of basic conversation. At a base level, that is just talking. Being listened to and being able to communicate and when you say something, that somebody respects you enough to hear it. 

But more other people will have the next level, right? We want to be listened to or even your answer was the next level of discussion – you want to be listened to and you want the follow through. And, so I like thinking of that and thinking about how we are presenting when we talk to one another. Even with what you bring up with your second answer of the de-escalation, how AMAB (assigned male at birth) and how AFAB people responded these answers are drastically different. Because there’s sometimes the toughness or the feeling of feeling small or not being able to do something or having to come up with different tactics of de-escalation that are outside of what’s the options for one of the other. So I just think that’s interesting stuff to bring up and it tells me more about you than I could ever learn from How are you doing?’ and it helps bring us closer than what we do. 

Maya Angelou said, We don’t always remember what people said to us, but we will always remember how they made us feel. I am always trying to decolonize our conversation, to decolonize our relationship, to create more space for us, by BIPOC. And because I am first and foremost for BIPOC, not saying that I’m not against other people’s liberation, but I know BIPOC’s liberation comes first.

Justice’s journey as an activist is driven by an intrinsic desire to make the world a better place, regardless of the challenges they face. They advocate for respect, understanding, and equity, all while challenging the status quo and striving for a more just and equitable society.


Resources

Spokane County, Washington, Measure 1, 0.2% Sales Tax for Criminal Justice, Public Safety, and Behavioral Health Programs (November 2023)

[article] Pros and cons surround $1.7B Spokane County jail ballot measure

[article] Spokane County must explain that $1.7 billion sales tax would pay for jails, judge rules

[article] Spokane vs. the Border Patrol: How Immigration Agents Stake Out a City Bus Station

Mapping Police Violence

Learn more

[blog post] Inequities in the Legal System | Day 9: 2020 Racial Equity & Social Justice Challenge


Join the conversation with our Facebook Group and learn more about our Learning Community at ywcaspokane.org/racialjustice.

CHECK OUT PAST SPOTLIGHTS

Find past RSJ Spotlights here.

If you or someone you know should have their advocacy work highlighted through our RSJ Spotlight series, please email equity@ywcaspokane.org.

By: Lara Estaris

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