A Street Execution of a Nuu-Chah-Nulth Man

More information has come to light regarding John T. Williams’ death at the hands of a Seattle police officer. As one commentator on this tragedy pointed out, it appears that it wasn’t Williams who approached Officer Ian Birk with a knife; rather it was Officer Birk who approached Williams with a gun.

Here is the take of a witness at the scene, as reported by Seattle’s King 5 News:

“When I heard that story, I was really upset because it was just total counter to what I witnessed,” said Thomas. He says Williams was walking away from the officer.

“The cop then fired three shots,” said Thomas. “One had to go in the side and the others had to go in the guy’s back ’cause the guy never did turn around. He never approached the cop. Never saw his hands. Never saw a knife. He may have looked back at the cop, but he didn’t do anything threatening.”

And another:

“He just turned around and the cop shot him. That’s all I saw. It was really quick,” said Reese.

Which, of course, differs from the original story from the police:

Police said the officer ordered Williams to drop the knife. Williams allegedly moved toward the officer, still holding the knife. That’s when the officer shot Williams.

“The man refused the officer’s orders and the officer fired, we believe, four rounds,” said Seattle Deputy Police Chief Nick Metz at a press conference Tuesday.

This begs the question, why did the officer immediately escalate this situation to one of lethal violence? The knife carried by Williams was legal to carry. Witnesses report that he posed no visible threat to the officer. What about Williams was it that made Officer Birk identify him as a potential violent threat to society? Certainly the safe thing to do, if anything, would have been to observe Williams from a distance and call for backup. A 3.5 inch blade poses little threat to an armed police officer wearing body armor; unless he walks within 3.5 inches of the wielder’s arm reach, does it? Particularly when that wielder is walking away from you and, as far as I can tell from witnesses’ description, doing little more than crossing the street.

As has been pointed out earlier, John T. Williams was a carver who carved and sold his art in downtown Seattle to support himself and his friends. I question whether or not Williams’ actions called for an on the spot execution, which, with no other information than that of the witnesses on the scene, is exactly what this appears to be. Here we have a situation where an officer of the law escalated an otherwise nonviolent situation, and when, in the heat of the moment, the hard of hearing, limping 50 year old man didn’t immediately respond, he dispenses lethal force.

If only this sort of thing were an isolated incident.

Noise Complaint Leads to Police Shooting, Killing 17-Year-Old
Police shoot and kill a 92 year old woman in her home based on faulty evidence
In post-Katrina New Orleans, the most violent killers on the streets were the police
A distraught man, grieving for the death of his brother, is shot after surrendering to the Portland police

This is just the tip of the ice berg, and these are the incidents that, in most cases, will result in punishment of the murderers involved. But the pattern is clear. If you are too dark skinned, too young, too old, too hard of hearing, homeless, have a substance dependency, are in the wrong place at the wrong time, or simply don’t immediately lick the boots of whatever cop happens to be barking orders at you while you’re trying to cross the street, then you might be subject to an on the spot execution.

This time it was a First Nations tribal member, one of ours. But every day this sort of thing happens. And its not always a killing. Sometimes its simple harassment. Sometimes its trumped up charges of “disorderly conduct” which will pit your word against that of a sworn police officer in a court of law. Sometimes you find yourself facing years in prison for the simple possession of small quantities of drugs. All that matters is that to a cop, you’re a menace and not a member of society worthy of dignity and respect. To Alaskan Natives, Native Americans, American Indians and First Nations this sort of treatment is familiar. We have seen the ruthlessness of the US Governments armed forces before; and believe me, these cops who are killing us in our streets behave more like an occupying force rather than a peace keeping one. We know this too well. Ours is a racial memory; a multi-generational memory that lives in the consciousness of our clan and tribe. We do not forget so easily.

About Vince

I am a Tlingit, born and raised in Tlingit Country, and a proud member of the Tlingit Nation.
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7 Responses to A Street Execution of a Nuu-Chah-Nulth Man

  1. Pingback: More on the Death of John T. Williams | American Indian/Alaska Native – Attack The System

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  7. carly says:

    I am glad people remember my uncle. I don’t know much aboutt him. But I am glad other due, please treasure the memories he has giving you. Remember he is in a happier place now, no pain, no worries. He is with his family now. My thoughts are with his friends and family.

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