Tuesday, December 14, 2010

IWSJ talking points on the John T. Williams murder

1. Point out facts widely accepted in the mainstream
Our greatest strength in building a broader base of support demanding Birk's imprisonment and a call for better police accountability is to rely on ironclad evidence which is already accepted as fact by a significant portion of the city's residents. There are three major points which we can lean on in this vein:
* The fact that Williams' knife was found closed
* Williams was shot 4 times only 4 seconds after being issued a warning
* Autopsy found the bullet wounds from Birk's pistol were all to Williams' side, indicating he could not have even been facing Birk at the time of the killing
These three points alone raise serious questions and cast major aspersion on Birk and his cohorts.

2. How would this case be handled if Birk was a civilian?
This is a serious question we should be raising by simply looking at criminal law regarding acceptable uses of self defense. Is it justifiable self defense according to our laws to shoot someone in the side because they are refusing to drop a closed carving knife in close vicinity to the shooter? To even ask the question sounds absurd.

3. Point out incongruences in police accounts of the incident
We need to do some more research for this one because I know the cops changed their story regarding Birk several times since the actual shooting, but it would be helpful to connect the dots clearly. I do know from reading Real Change that Deputy Chief Nick Metz went on record initially saying that Williams' knife was open and even after evidence to the contrary was exposed he did not apologize for or reverse his claim. This raises the question of whether Metz was outright lying from the start or had been lied to by his troops. Either possibility is negative and helps open a discussion about this case being more than just one rotten apple with an itchy trigger finger. It implicates the entire police department as either untrustworthy from top to bottom or rampant with misinformation and corruption which its leaders are powerless to control. This should undoubtedly be pursued further.

4. Discuss other recent police misconduct and lack of accountability
This continues in the vein of #3, where we strive to turn the discussion towards addressing more systemic problems with the police force rather than just seeing Birk as an anomaly. SPD has been making a lot of headlines recently and they haven't been good. We should dredge up every story we can find, but once again our best bet is with incidents that have already received mainstream media coverage, such as:
* The innocent 17 year old who was stomped by an undercover cop
* The girl who was punched by a cop after her friend was being charged with jaywalking
* The cops who stomped the innocent Mexican man while one said "I'm gonna beat the Mexican piss outta you homie"

5. Touch on disconnection/friction between cops and community
I've heard several reports from community members who knew Williams personally and they all add up to this: He had fairly limited mobility (he couldn't even have raised his arm to lunge with a knife, as SPD initially claimed) and a hearing problem who didn't cause much trouble and just liked to be left alone. Birk's interaction with Williams went the way it did because Birk had no concept of or connection to Williams or anyone else in the community he was policing. This is a widespread problem with SPD and needs to be addressed.

6. Raise the public safety issue of cops going rogue with no oversight
Everyone loves to talk about why police are important for public safety, but we should point out that as (supposed) safeguards of the public, police officers should be the last thing this city's residents has to fear. Given all I've listed above which portrays SPD as violent, dishonest, and lacking appropriate oversight to control their habits, they must be seen as a safety hazard as well, particularly to certain marginalized segments of the population (people of color, working class folks, the homeless).

7. The basic moral issue: an innocent man was murdered
This is a pretty straightforward point. It ranks lower than the others because it's fairly self evident and unfortunately people don't tend to be won over by pleas for morality alone.

8. Why is IWSJ's involved: How is this a worker issue?
Inevitably the question will arise "why does your group care about this?" Our response should be to discuss the Birk case in the context of a broader war by the city and the police department on working class and homeless people, making sure to mention that homeless folks are generally simply the working class who got unlucky. Police brutality is something which primarily affects working class and homeless folks, making it unquestionably a workers' issue and therefore of great concern to IWSJ.

Birk's inquest questions

Here are the questions which supposedly will be asked at Ian Birk's inquest hearing on January 10th.

1. On August, 30, 2010, did Seattle Police Officer Ian Birk observe John T. Williams crossing the street?
2. Was John T. Williams carrying an open knife at the time he was observed?
3. Did Officer Birk get out of his patrol car to contact John T. Williams?
4. Did Officer Birk attempt to stop John T. Williams?
5. Did John T. Williams have a knife in his hand when he was contacted?
6. Did Officer Birk tell John T. Williams to drop the knife?
7. If yes, did John T. Williams comply with that order?
8. Did Officer Birk believe that John T. Williams posed an imminent threat of serious physical harm to himself or others at the times he fired his weapon?
9. Did John T. Williams die in King County, Washington on August 30, 2010?
10. Did Officer Birk fire his service weapon at John T. Williams on August 30, 2010?
11. If yes, did John T. Williams die from the gunshot wounds caused by Officer Birk?
13. When Officer Birk fired his service weapon, did John T. Williams have a knife in his hand?
14. If yes, was John T. Williams knife open when Officer Birk fired his service weapon?
15. Was John T. Williams facing Officer Birk when Officer Birk fired his service weapon?
16. If no, was John T. Williams turning towards Officer Birk when Officer Birk fired his service weapon?
Our analysis:

Several of the questions listed are simple legal procedure to verify facts everyone already knows. However, some questions do offer an idea of how the prosecution is approaching their case against Birk. Firstly, it is worth noting that the document is fairly sloppy for a legal one in such a high profile case. If you noticed that I went directly from question 11 to 13 and are wondering where 12 is, the answer is 12 doesn't exist. In the actual document, the numbers jump from 11 to 13. Also, the unnecessary extra comma before "30" in the first question is a very small imperfection but shows further lack of attention to detail.
However, all nitpicking aside, the questions themselves lack much force and are worded so as to cast Birk's actions in the most positive light possible. Question 8 offers Birk an opportunity to justify his murderous actions based on his "belief" regarding Williams' potential threat. This is a ludicrous question given the fact that no credible U.S. court would recognize "believing someone to be dangerous" as a justifiable cause for murder. If that were the case no murder would be prosecutable because anyone could claim they "believed themselves in danger."
Questions 14 and 15 are probably the strongest of the bunch, as they question whether Williams was even facing Birk or holding an open knife at the time of the shooting, but their potency is sapped by the final question, #16, which offers Birk yet another route of excuse. By asking whether Williams was turning to face Birk at the time of the shooting, the prosecution hints further at a ghostly rationale for Birk's actions, as though maybe the act of turning to face a police officer might be threatening enough on its own to warrant murder.

Here is a link to the actual pdf document.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Anti-police brutality

This fall, we've been involved in anti-police brutality organizing. This flyer explains why we chose to take this up and how it relates to our ongoing labor struggles. We've been passing it out in working class neighborhoods and at rallies demanding justice for John T. Williams, a Native man who was killed by the police.