The downtown Seattle intersection where John T. Williams was killed by a Seattle police officer in 2010 is now adorned with paintings of white deer to honor the memory of the First Nations woodcarver.
Seattle officials and members of John T. Williams’ family unveiled a crosswalk painted with white deer Sunday to honor the memory of the First Nations woodcarver who was fatally shot by a police officer six years ago.
The crosswalk, at Boren Avenue and Howell Street, will honor the memory of Williams and underscore the healing relations between police and communities of color, organizers of the ceremony said.
Williams, 50, a member of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations in British Columbia, was shot and killed by Seattle police Officer Ian Birk in August 2010 after Birk spotted Williams carrying a knife while crossing Howell. Williams used the knife for carving, his family later said.
An investigation revealed that about four seconds elapsed between the time Birk first ordered Williams to drop the knife and when the officer opened fire.
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The Police Department’s Firearms Review Board found the shooting was not justified, but Birk was not criminally charged. He later resigned from the Seattle Police Department.
The incident was one of several that prompted a 2011 Department of Justice investigation that found Seattle Police had engaged in a “pattern and practice” of excessive force, and uncovered troubling evidence of biased policing.
During Sunday’s ceremony, representatives from Seattle Police and the city’s Department of Neighborhoods joined members of the Seattle Indian Health Board and the John T. Williams Organizing Committee in a dedication ceremony near the crosswalk.
At one point, Williams’ brother Rick Williams invited Detective Denise “Cookie” Bouldin into the circle. She responded to the gesture by kissing his hand.
Bouldin, who works in special projects, including community outreach, said it was an emotional moment for her. “It meant a lot,” she said. “He doesn’t show any ill will toward all the police force for what one police officer had done.”
Members of the organizing committee are pushing to change a state law that makes it difficult to criminally charge police for questionable uses of deadly force. The law was the subject of a Seattle Times special project, “Shielded by the Law,” which found Washington has the most restrictive statute in the nation.
John T. Williams committee members are gathering signatures to put Initiative 873 on the ballot next year.
Mayor Ed Murray, speaking at Sunday’s ceremony, noted the nation’s heightened awareness of police shootings in communities of color. Several officer-involved shootings, especially those of black men, have caused outrage and protests throughout the U.S.
“We know that what happened just the last few months in this country, we have to find a way to heal,” Murray said, referring to changes within the Police Department after the Department of Justice investigation. “We need to acknowledge that we are making progress. We have a long way to go, but we are making progress.”
Organizers read the story of the White Deer, the inspiration for the deer painted on the crosswalk. The Nuu-Chah-Nulth story emphasizes walking through life peacefully and the ritual of repeating acts time and again to fully learn them.
Seattle police Capt. John F. Hayes Jr. said it was important for the department to be at the ceremony.
“In order to grow and make it so that we build bridges and we’re able to hold hands in time of tragedy, it starts long before a tragedy happens,” he said. “It’s important that we’re all here.”
Rick Williams said he has seen some positive changes in the Police Department and hopes to see more as groups continue working peacefully together.
Speaking after Sunday’s ceremony, he recalled he frequently found himself fixing things for his little brother while he was alive, and indicated he needed to do something after his death.
“I fixed everything for him all my life but this,” he said, adding, “He left me quite a big one to fix.”