The Seattle Human Rights Commission expressed grave concern about a police officer fatally shooting John T. Williams on Monday, saying in a letter this morning to Police Chief John Diaz, "Regardless of his economic, physical, or emotional condition, it is a tragedy that John Williams’ life ended in such a violent manner." (The full letter is after the jump.)
"The incident impacts three communities that we do a lot of work on behalf of," says commissioner Chris Stearns, "Native Americans, people with disabilities, and the homeless."
The human rights commission—A 14-member panel appointed by the mayor and city council—is typically soft spoken in controversial matters, always informing discussion instead of stoking debate. But that they are weighing in right now adds to the sense that large movement is brewing to oppose the shooting by officer Ian Birk. Last night, the mayor and city attorney attended a large vigil in Pioneer Square. And rumors are floating that city leaders and city employees are planning a major protest in the coming week.
In its letter, the commission pressed the police department to provide answers about Williams's death. Police have reviewed few details of the incident, but reports have come out that Williams was partially deaf, had a hard time understanding people, was carrying only a three-inch knife he used to carve wood when an officer approached him, and there are questions whether Williams—who may not have been approaching the officer—posed any threat.
"SPD has the responsibility to treat all citizens with fairness, respect and value," the commission wrote. "Please bear in mind that many in the Native community believe that is not an isolated incident."
September 3, 2010
John Diaz, Chief of Police
Seattle Police Department
PO Box 34986
Seattle, WA 98124-4986
Re: Fatal Shooting of Native American carver John T. Williams
Dear Chief Diaz:
The Seattle Human Rights Commission is writing you to express our serious concern regarding the fatal shooting of John T. Williams on August 31, 2010, by Officer Ian Birk.
John T. Williams, a Native American carver, was a member of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations and a regular member of the Chief Seattle Club, a downtown center that provides services to homeless Native Americans. Mr. Williams and his family are well-known artists in the Native American community. Regardless of his economic, physical, or emotional condition, it is a tragedy that John Williams’ life ended in such a violent manner.
Mr. Williams’ death has had a great impact on Seattle’s large Native American community as well as the City’s homeless and people with disabilities communities. As the Department’s Firearms Review Board and the Office of Professional Accountability conduct a thorough review of the incident, the Commission urges you to provide the Native American, people with dtalking about organizing a formal protest. isabilities, and homeless communities with as many facts and answers as quickly as possible.
SPD has the responsibility to treat all citizens with fairness, respect and value. Please bear in mind that many in the Native community believe that is not an isolated incident. We understand that you are committed to accountability, de-escalation in the use of force, improving relationships with the minority communities in Seattle, and transparency in the review of police actions within SPD.
We would like to offer you assistance, should you wish, with the facilitation of meetings between SPD and the Native American, people with disabilities, and homeless communities in furtherance of a constructive and meaningful dialogue. And please keep us informed of the results of your investigations.
We look forward to your reply. Sincerely,
Roslyn Solomon, Chair Chris Stearns (Navajo), Vice-Chair
Cc: Mayor Mike McGinn
Councilman Tim Burgess, Chair, Public Safety & Education Committee
Councilman Bruce Harrell, Chair, Energy, Technology, & Civil Rights Committee
Peter Holmes, City Attorney
Darryl Smith, Deputy Mayor of Community
Julie Nelson, Director, Office for Civil Rights
Felicia Yearwood-Murrell, Seattle Office for Civil Rights
Arthur Shwab, Chair, Public Safety Task Force, Seattle Human Rights Commission
Jesse Aspuria, Chair, Homelessness Task Force, Seattle Human Rights Commission
Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities