Yesterday afternoon, hundreds of protesters met at the site where a Seattle Police officer fatally shot a man last month, then marched into City Hall where they confronted Mayor Mike McGinn with a list of demands.impromptu memorial for the August 30 fatal police shooting of Native American wood carver John T. Williams. Friends and relatives were burning sage, singing, and drumming; and a red cedar staff was passed from one speaker to the next. Cries of "He never hurt a soul" and "If you're not white, you're not right" could be heard from the anxious crowd. But as the group moved into the street and on to City Hall, protest organizers sought to bring calm, order, and a sense of reconciliation to the proceedings. "This is a celebration," said Jay Westwind Wolf Hollingsworth, seeking to preempt any would-be trouble makers.
The march reached its emotional apex as the protesters left the rainy downtown streets to fill the City Hall atrium. Shouts of "Where's the mayor?" and "Where's the justice?" rang out as the drumming echoed through City Hall. The only city council member present was Bruce Harrell, who spoke at the culmination of the rally. Regarding the letter he received from the protesters on behalf of the city, Harrell said, "Not only are the questions and suggestions reasonable but to not respond meaningfully and significantly would not do the honor of our city's namesake Chief Seattle." Harrell was given a traditional gift of white sage and tobacco along with the letter enumerating the group's requests (in full after the jump).
Some members of the Native American community are not impressed with progress in the case. Mary Alice Knotts, a friend of Williams and herself physically disabled, made clear her position: "What the police are doing to us in this city is wrong... and it must stop" Asked about the character of the protesters and and the fervor that was brought to the rally Knotts replied, "You bet this anger is warranted... very warranted."
As the speaking portion of the rally wound down, Mayor Mike McGinn joined the group and gave brief remarks, asking that he be held accountable, and that his office be "judged by our future actions." The John T. Williams March & Rally Coordinating Committee was scheduled to meet with McGinn immediately following the rally to discuss the group's letter and future goals.
In response to the Williams shooting, other community groups, including the ACLU, have expressed their misgivings regarding police conduct, only to be rebuffed by Seattle Police Chief Diaz. Earlier this week, SPD shuffled its command and outlined plans for an investigation into the case.The Seattle Human Rights Commission also called for a civilian investigation. Thursday's group of protesters is seeking the "immediate hiring of a Tribal Liason to be housed in the Mayor's office" amongst other demands.
Full text of the letter to City Hall and more pictures after the jump.
John T. Williams March & Rally Coordinating Committee
September 16, 2010
Mayor Mike McGinn and the Seattle City Council,
We firmly request that the inquest into the shooting on John T. Williams by Officer Ian Birk answer these essential questions. We further request that there be tangible outcomes enacted and consequences for the officer involved.
1. What prompted the officer to stop and confront a citizen without a complaint or probable cause?
2. Why would an unseasoned officer not be required to call for back up if a stop may evolve into resistance because of a visible tool that could be perceived as a weapon?
3. Why did he not make eye contact to make absolutely certain s/he was heard and understood?
4. Why would an officer fire when a citizen does not respond?
5. Why would an officer think it necessary to fire 4 body shots into a handicapped man even if he was armed with a three inch knife?
6. What did the officer fear so much in that moment that he fired 4 shots into a weather-worn smallish man who was not behaving in a threatening or aggressive manner?
Tangible results would include, but are not limited to:
1. Institute mandatory Policy and training changes in Seattle Police Dept. to implement cultural sensitivity training, De-escalation techniques and approaching People with disabilities in accordance with the City's Race and Social Justice Initiative, which is supported by City Council Resolution 31164.
2. Immediate hiring of a Tribal Liaison to be housed in the Mayor's office to strengthen the way City government engages the Native American/Alaska Native community and provides services.
3. Mandatory call for back-up prior to an officer-initiated stop unless a person is in immediate danger.
4. A commission established by City Ordinance that reflects the diversity of the city's population chosen to advise the Seattle Police Department on Issues, potential and current, arising form interaction with the different demographic groups.
5. Consequences for Officer Birk may include loss of his job and badge but must at least take him off the streets until he has demonstrated he understands the newly instituted protocols developed in this process.
6. External investigation and inquest to be conducted for all police incidents where Citizens of the community are killed or injured by Seattle Police Department.
YOU are invited to:
~Chief Seattle Club — SPD Native American Advisory Council MEETING (410 2nd Avenue Extension South) September 22 at 6 pm.
~Denny Park — Red Drum Rally, WEAR RED (1000 Dexter Avenue), September 25 at 12 noon.
~An account has been set up to receive DONATIONS to help pay the costs of John's funeral. Donations to the John T Williams Memorial Fund may be made at any local Bank of America branch.
John T. Williams Protest Committee,
Jay Westwind Wolf Hollingsworth
Juan Jose Bocanegra
Rev. Harriet Walden
Benjamin Stiffarm Jr.
- Councilman Harrell and Mayor McGinn are ushered into the drum circle