By Seattle Anti-Imperialist Committee
On August 30 John T. Williams was shot to death by Seattle Police Department (SPD) officer Ian Birk at Boren Avenue and Howell Street. According to Birk, Williams had"refused" to obey his orders and "lunged" at him with the knife during a sixty second interaction. But this story immediately began to fall apart. Williams likely didn't even hear Birk because he was deaf in one ear and wearing headphones. More, it would have been hard for him to lunge at anyone because he was arthritic and limped. Indeed, witnesses say they may have seen Williams stumble a bit, but saw no "lunge." And one witness says that Williams " didn't even look up at the officer." Then, the autopsy showed that John Williams wasn't even facing Birk when he was shot, instead he was shot four times in the side.
The truth is that John Williams, who carved traditional tribal totems to sell for a little money,
had been peacefully walking along carving a piece of wood with a small, legal knife when
officer Birk boiled out of his car to confront him, and ended up shooting him down like a dog.
This would never have happened had Williams been a white businessman in a suit. Instead, he
was Native American, poor, and homeless. And if you're a cop, such a person is someone to
fear, "keep in line," and brutalize if they "disobey orders."
But family members, friends, workers at social service agencies where John Williams was a client, members of the Native American community, longtime fighters against police brutality, and others have stood up against this blatant murder by organizing numerous street rallies and marches demanding justice. They also, at a packed September 8 meeting at the Daybreak Star Cultural Center, denounced to police chief John Diaz what had happened. And the many, many hundreds of people who have been involved in these events represent a much larger mass anger. Yet this movement must continue farther if it is to win any kind of justice.
On October 14 Seattle Police Chief John Diaz and the department's Firearms Review Board reached a preliminary finding that officer Birk's shooting of Williams shooting was not justified. Birk was also relieved of his badge and gun for now, but allowed to keep collecting his salary. Moreover, we should note the SPD has not referred this case to the prosecutor, while nationally, ninety-five percent of those cases which are egregious enough to be referred to prosecutors by the internal police investigators are not prosecuted .
The next legal step is the coroner's inquest. But the last time that a coroner's inquest found a
SPD homicide "unjustified" was the murder of African-American Leslie Allen Black . . . in
1971! And while 1971 was a time when the mass movements of the oppressed were at a much
higher level than today, even in those conditions the King Co. Prosecutor refused to bring
charges against the officers involved.
In order to blunt protests by slurring over the racist and class nature of John Williams' murder, the SPD and corporate news media quickly pointed out that officer Birk had only been on the force two years. Hence, the only alleged problem was the inexperience or lack of training of an isolated officer and not the entire system he was representing. But protesters have been rightfully denouncing this system nevertheless.
The U.S. has 25% of the total world prison population: both the highest incarceration rate, and the highest total prison and jail population in the world. Moreover, African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans and other national minorities are far over-represented in the criminal "justice" system: for example, in 20 states the percentage of Blacks imprisoned is 5 times their share of the state population; Black males are nearly seven times more likely to be incarcerated than whites, and Latino males are 2.4 times more likely. These populations are also far over-represented in the system of justice meted out by the police on the streets, in murders like that of John Williams, and in beatings, threats of violence, and plain harassment. Blacks are 3.8 times more likely to be killed by cops in"justified homicides" than whites.
But this racism of the criminal justice system is necessary to enforce the racism of American capitalism generally. The U.S. is the most unequal society on earth, and its large cities are where the gaps between the very richest and the very poorest, who are disproportionately nonwhite, are greatest. Overall unemployment officially went into the double digits last year, with the real rate much higher. But various geographical regions, including inner cities, racial minorities, and youths experience much higher rates. For example, the overall official Black unemployment rate is 17.6%, and this doesn't account for the millions who have grown discouraged and given up looking. In some urban centers, like Minneapolis and Memphis, Black unemployment is three times the white rate. And In the Pacific Northwest, Native Americans officially experience 18.7 percent unemployment today.
As for homelessness, another measure of the state of the working class and poor, the same
patterns prevail: Native Americans are 10 times more likely to be homeless than their weight in
the population, and Blacks are 3.2 times more likely.
The capitalists are driven to practice racism in order to increase
profits by super-exploiting
national minorities. They spread racist ideas among white workers to
justify this, as well as to
undermine united resistance by the workers and poor of all races and
nationalities, and thereby
keep them all down. Moreover, during the past several decades the
capitalist ruling class,
through both the Republicans and Democrats, has gone on a vicious
offensive of taking back previously-won democratic rights, affirmative
action, wages and
conditions, and social entitlements of all kinds. Meanwhile, in order
to repress the inevitable
rebellions against this, in the name of the "war on drugs," and then
the "war on terrorism,"
they've expanded, militarized, and better organized the police and
other law enforcement
agencies to unprecedented proportions (that, they have money for).
Thus, the prison population
today is roughly five times what it was in 1980, as the ruling class
tries to control a"surplus
population" of workers and poor via the criminal justice system. And,
since the 2007 onset of the
Great Recession there has been a rise in police murders nationally,
while the recent assassination
of John Williams was one of a string of seven killings in a few weeks
in Washington state.
The kind of massive and organized resistance needed to beat back the current capitalist onslaught has not yet broken out, which has much to do with the fact that the trade union leaders,"community leaders," and others work hand in glove with the capitalists to prevent this. Nevertheless, the class struggle of the working people and oppressed is brewing. For example, in the last several years, crowds sometimes numbering in the tens of thousands have gathered at various relief sites around the country sometimes waiting for days in the hope of getting assistance or subsidized housing. When cops in riot gear have used Tasers and pushed the people around they've fought back, knocking down barriers and standing their ground.
Meanwhile, the struggles against police brutality and murders continue to flare up, with the potential for fueling each other. For example, the July large mass protests and rioting in Oakland after one of the murderers of 25-year-old African American Oscar Grant was given a slap on the wrist by the courts were followed by large September protests and rioting against the Los Angeles police murder of Manuel Jamines, an immigrant worker from Guatemala.
It's in the interests of all working and oppressed people to support and join these struggles. They're also a necessary component of building the overall movement against the racism, mass decimation coupled with handing $trillions to the Wall Street robbers, stepped up deportations, and imperialist wars of the Obama administration.
Justice for John Williams!
Jail Officer Birk!
Rally at Seattle Central Community College, (Broadway & Pine), 5 p.m. March downtown!
Seattle Anti-Imperialist Committee, October 18, 2010
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