Revolution #212, September 26, 2010

Seattle Police Murder Sparks Outrage: Justice for John T. Williams!

The following is an edited version of a statement received from Revolution distributors in Seattle:

On August 30, John T. Williams was making his way down a busy Seattle street, holding a folding three-inch carving knife and a piece of wood. John was known for his beautiful totem poles and other carvings. He came from a family of wood carvers from the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Dititdaht First Nations people on Vancouver Island in British Columbia.

It happened in little more than an instant. Seattle cop Ian Birk saw John, jumped out of his car, and yelled at him to drop the knife. John was deaf in one ear, and according to reports, a person who suffered from the horrible disease of alcoholism. So he had difficulty understanding what people were saying to him immediately. Within 60 seconds of jumping from his car, Birk pumped four bullets into John. As Williams lay dying, one of his friends confronted Birk about the shooting and, without cause, was promptly thrown to the ground and arrested.

Immediately, the police moved to justify the Williams murder. They claimed John had menacingly come at Birk with his knife. But eyewitnesses exposed this as a lie. Witness Amber Maurina said John did not look threatening or aggressive and "didn't even look up at the officer," and that "from what I saw, it didn't look right at all." Another witness said of the police account, "When I heard that story, I was really upset because it was just total counter to what I witnessed." After this got into the press, the police changed their story, saying they didn't know what happened and were trying to get answers.

Williams' murder has sparked widespread outrage. Broad sections of people have spoken out about John's character and that it wasn't like him at all to pose a threat to an armed cop. Others have written "letters to the editor" and protested the police actions.

John T. Williams was well-known in the Native American community in Seattle and among artists. One prominent store that caters to tourists on Seattle's waterfront said the store had bought carvings from John and his family for five generations. John, who had been homeless at times, was also well-known and liked among social service workers. The fact that he had ties to people in the community has made it difficult for the police to cover up and justify this murder.

People have responded with outrage and protest. Hundreds attended a candlelight vigil for Williams at the Chief Seattle Club, a center for native peoples that John frequented. Native American and Canadian First Nations leaders held a press conference and demanded a full investigation into the shooting. One person drew the largest applause when he said, "This policeman should be charged with murder."

On September 7, a protest was called at the site of the crime by the October 22 Coalition to Stop Police Brutality. The protest drew 150 people—many native proletarians, basic people from other oppressed nationalities, middle strata white youth, and revolutionaries. People close to John T. Williams and others spoke out against the police murder. Anger at the oppression of Native Americans poured out. One person said, "This is our land, they [the police] killed us on our land!"

A speaker for Revolution Books popularized the RCP's campaign statement, "The Revolution We Need… The Leadership We Have," and talked about how the Party is building a movement for revolution. One man took the statement the speaker was holding and got a stack from someone else. Others also took copies.

People marched to the police precinct of the killer cop and angrily denounced the murder. There was widespread determination to fight for justice for John Williams and not let the cops get off. Revolutionaries denounced the epidemic of police brutality—exposing how the whole system works to get the cops off and why we need a communist revolution to finally stop police brutality. People crowded around to hear the audio of Bob Avakian from the Revolution DVD speaking on "Yes, there's a conspiracy, to get the cops off" played over the bullhorn. People were commenting and laughing at different parts, saying things like "yeah, they always try to get them off" and "we never get that prosecutor!"

Williams is one of SEVEN people murdered or shot by police in the past three weeks in Washington State. Two were killed by taser, and five shot—including a pastor in Spokane. And there have been a series of cases where Seattle or other area cops are caught on tape assaulting people: an officer beating and slamming the head of 15-year-old Malika Calhoun in a jail cell, and a 17-year-old girl who was punched in the face by a cop for jaywalking. Another video showed a Seattle cop kicking a Latino man and yelling, "I am going to beat the fucking Mexican shit out of you, homey." All these cops got off.

The police held a community meeting at the Native American arts center about the murder of John T. Williams. Seattle Police Chief John Diaz was confronted at the meeting about the racist attack on a Latino man which one officer tried to justify by saying King County prosecutors decided there wasn't enough evidence to prosecute this cop for a hate crime! People started yelling about this and the officer tried to calm people down by assuring them that there would be disciplinary action taken against that officer.

What kind of a system is it when the police are trained that they have complete authority to view oppressed nationality people as the enemy, and anything, even an innocent carving knife, can be seized on as an opportunity to snuff out someone's life in an instant, even when that person can't even hear their orders? What kind of a system is it where the police are given power to see a person like John T. Williams as a dangerous threat that must be eliminated? And where such murders and brutality not only happen time after time, but where the system works and maneuvers to get the cops off every time? This police murder was not the result of bad communication or a tragic accident, but of a capitalist system where the police are given power of life and death as the armed thugs and the enforcers of a vicious class dictatorship over the masses of people, and particularly oppressed nationality people.

It is critical that people increasingly grasp and act on this understanding, as they continue to step up and spread much more broadly the fight for justice in the Williams murder, demand the killer cop be charged with murder and be tried, and that this is connected to stopping the whole epidemic of police brutality including building for a powerful outpouring on October 22.

Justice for John T. Williams!

The Whole Damn System is Guilty!

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