In 2010, John T. Williams, a Native Alaskan woodcarver, was walking down the street holding a 3-inch folding knife and a piece of wood.
Officer Ian Birk approached him from behind, firearm drawn, and ordered Williams to drop the knife. Williams kept walking, so Birk shot him in the back four times. Backup arrived, and then they approached the body and cuffed him. As near as I can tell, no first aid was applied. Video is below.
Birk was not charged.
After an inquest into the Seattle police shooting last month, four of eight jurors said they believed Officer Ian Birk thought Williams posed a threat during the Aug. 30 incident. Three couldn't determine whether he did. Only one juror believed Williams actually posed a threat.When you watch the video, it will be hard for me to understand how an armed officer approaching a slowly walking man in his 50s from behind could justify being afraid. But this is the pattern. No one can prove whether or not the man was afraid (although "reasonably" afraid is, as I understand it, the legal standard).
Witnesses to the shooting testified that Williams -- a heavy drinker who had mental health problems, according to family members -- wasn't threatening the officer and that Birk may have fired in haste. Birk, however, maintained that he feared for his life and had to shoot Williams.
Here's why this case matters especially to me. Williams was deaf in one ear. He was, according to a family member, wearing earbuds at the time as well. He couldn't hear Birk. And because he couldn't hear, he was killed, and the killer escaped without criminal charge.
The police review board did find the killing unjustified, Birk resigned, and the city settled a lawsuit for 1.5 million dollars.
This is the cult of compliance. This is the "be normal" or die mentality, which demands that each of us comply in a "normal" way or be deemed a threat. Mostly the cops get away with it. Sometimes they are held accountable. Rarely they are charged with criminal conduct.
It happened last week in Bessemer, AL. It's going to happen next week too, somewhere.