Roughly 200 people spilled into Second Avenue in front of the Chief Seattle Club Thursday night, holding candles, praying, and singing for over two hours to commemorate the life of John T. Williams, a carver from the Nitinaht tribe who was fatally shot on Monday by a Seattle police officer while holding a carving knife.

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"I'm proud to see this large gathering of nations here to celebrate [Williams'] life," said Jenine Grey, executive director of the Chief Seattle Club. Members of tribes in Alaska, Canada, many parts of Washington, and all plains nations were represented. City officials, most notably Mayor Mike McGinn and City Attorney Pete Holmes, stood in solidarity with the crowd. Elk stew and fry bread was served, as one-by-one people stood to eulogize Williams between songs and prayer. One woman spoke of the LOVE tattoo displayed on Williams's hand, and how it reminded him daily to "be a good person and to love everyone." Grey spoke of Williams's carving work—"he was a man who stayed true to his traditions"—which was sold in local stores in the area, such as the Raven's Nest Treasure in Pike Place Market and at Ye Olde Curiosity Shop.


But the peacefulness of the candlelight vigil couldn't mask the growing anger at the Seattle Police Department over Williams' death.

"The police have dehumanized [Williams]," said Real Change Director Tim Harris. "They mention his criminal record but don't mention his name. They paint the situation like we need to reserve judgment. What I see is self-justification and the closing of ranks."

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"We have to stop police brutality—this is 2010," said Leona, Williams' cousin. "He wasn't homeless, he had a home and a family and he shouldn't have been taken from us."

"To see a Native with a piece of wood and a knife and not put that together—that’s culturally ignorant," said Storme Webber, a local writer and performance artist with Aleut heritage.

"Hearing about our club members dying on the streets is a reality," admitted Grey. "But as more details emerged, I got angry, outraged. I have a ton of questions, just like everyone else who's here. Why did this have to happen? Why didn't the officer subdue him? Why take his life?"

At this point, there are few answers to these questions. Grey says SPD has been in contact with the Native American community, that they've been assured the police are running a full investigation, and that "Chief Diaz is interested in meeting with us." However, outbursts of anger throughout the evening showed a lack of faith in the police—specifically, in police accountability—among the Native Americans and homeless people present.

"This is a night of peace, love, and prayer—not demonstration," Grey reiterated to the crowd. "But the demonstration is coming. We can't let something like this happen and not demand to see changes."