Revolution #226, March 6, 2011
Seattle Protests Against Decision to Not Prosecute Killer Cop
On Wednesday, February 16, King County prosecutor Dan Satterberg announced in Seattle that no charges of any kind would be filed against Seattle police officer Ian Birk. Birk killed native carver John T. Williams on August 30 in downtown Seattle. The days after Satterberg's decision have seen hundreds repeatedly and angrily taking to the streets.
Since the shooting in August, there has been widespread outrage from many sections of people, and continuing protests called by the October 22nd Coalition, Native American groups and others. Because of the opposition and the spotlight protests have shined on the case, King County held an inquest into the shooting in January that resulted in mixed findings. And the same day of the Satterberg decision, a Seattle Police Department review board found that Birk was unjustified in shooting Williams, and admitted Williams posed no threat. Birk was forced to resign to try to dampen outrage over Satterberg's decision—but it didn't work.
A YouTube video from Birk's patrol car documents that Ian Birk opened fire only four seconds after first confronting John T. Williams. John was reportedly hard of hearing and witnesses testified at an inquest hearing he did nothing to threaten Birk. An autopsy showed he was shot in his right side—not even facing Birk. John's small carving knife was found closed and Birk admitted that he knew John was a carver. He had been walking and apparently carving just seconds before Birk jumped out of his car and murdered him. Despite this evidence, Birk's lawyer and Birk himself worked to create a phony picture that Birk felt threatened, and that John was crouching in "pre-attack" mode.
Satterberg justified his decision based on a state law that shields cops from prosecution except when it can be shown that they are acting with "malice" or in bad faith. Satterberg said "There is no evidence to show malice, there is no evidence to refute Officer Birk's claim that he acted in good faith." In other words, all a cop has to do is claim he felt threatened, and then he can brutalize or even murder anyone he wants under any circumstances, even when it's clear there was no threat.
Justifying and upholding police murder is written right into the law and then the prosecutors and the court system are the means through which this is sanctioned and given the green light. The system conspires to get the cops off and the whole damn system is guilty.
In response to the decision, repeated protests of hundreds of people have taken to the streets, demanding Birk be prosecuted and jailed, and powerfully condemning police brutality and murder. A Facebook post by one person drew out 300 people to rally in the heart of downtown Seattle's main square. Youth, but also many others, including large numbers of people who had never protested before and felt moved by the tremendous injustice in this murder took the streets. Gathering hundreds more in the downtown area, people marched for hours, attempting to march on SPD east precinct, marching to the site where John was murdered, and holding die-ins and speak-outs in main intersections and refusing to go home. People confronted police riot lines and called out the cops for their brutality. All along the streets people yelled encouragement, honked in support and gave thumbs up. Black masses passing by joined one speak-out in the street and spoke to how all nationalities are one humanity and to lock-up the killer cop. Chants against police brutality, for justice and to jail Birk, and for people to "Protest like an Egyptian!" filled the air.
Another defiant and angry march built by Facebook of more than 100 people took place two days later and again defiantly seized the streets without permits, marching through traffic. KING 5 TV News characterized the march as demonstrators who came prepared to "pick a fight" with the police who simply responded to provocations. Some bottles were reportedly thrown at the police and a cop car's window broken, but the predominant violence came from police who pepper sprayed and rode into the crowd with mounted horses. Despite this, the protest continued for hours.
In the wake of this verdict and important resistance, there has been continual coverage of demonstrations and new examples of police brutality in newspapers and TV channels, editorials, forums and panels on college campuses and discussion broadly, both about this case and police brutality and the role of the police in general. Many of the participants in the protests are debating the causes of police brutality, and trying to figure out many questions. "Why did people go home the night of the protests and why didn't the protest just continue?" "Where to from here?", "What will it take to win justice and stop police brutality?", "What kind of change is needed more broadly", and many other topics. Revolution's issue on "Egypt Erupts!" and, BA's statement on Egypt, along with a statement written by Seattle Revolution distributors on the Birk decision, were very broadly distributed in the midst of joining in with fighting the power. On Feb 22, Revolution Books and the Revolutionary Student Club from Seattle Central Community College sponsored a panel discussion with speakers from different perspectives titled, "An Epidemic of Police Brutality and Murder: Why Is It Happening? How Can We Stop It?" that drew together close to 100 people.
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