Rick Williams was walking through Seattle’s Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone when he stopped to read a sign, held by a person sitting near the entrance to Cal Anderson Park. The sign listed names of those killed by law enforcement officers in Washington state – more than a dozen on the cardboard.
“There he is,” Williams said Saturday night, pointing to the third name from the top. “There’s my brother.”
“John T. Williams,” the sign detailed, “killed by Seattle police.”
Thousands have descended on the CHAZ (also referred to as Capitol Hill Occupied Protest), the six-block area around the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct taken over by demonstrators for the past week. John T. Williams’ name is brought up often, in conversations, chants and cardboard signs.
Ten years ago, the First Nations woodcarver was shot and killed by a Seattle police officer at Boren Avenue and Howell Street. The Seattle Police Department’s Firearms Review found the shooting unjustified.
Rick Williams has spent several days in the CHAZ. On Saturday evening, he marveled at the way it had expanded since he first arrived.
“To see this, I am honored,” he said. “If John were here, he would be honored. All my heart and soul show this will work. The government is listening, that we have had enough. I’m proud of this.”
He, like his brother, is a woodcarver; he and his son are carving a totem pole under a tent set up at Cal Anderson Park. People recognize him often, which he wasn’t expecting, because the demonstration “is about what happened to George Floyd,” not his brother. He was stopped multiple times on a walk from one side of the park to the other, as others recounted meeting him at various anti-police brutality protests over the years.
During a round of speeches, a man with a megaphone asked him to come up and speak to the crowd. Williams had to leave, “because it hurt my heart” to hear everyone chant his name and his brother’s name.
At one point, he said, he saw a group of young men react in pain after being exposed to tear gas, and so he went over to try to help them. Somebody said he knew him as “John T.’s older brother.” One man said he felt honored to meet Williams, and bent down as a sign of respect.
“No kid, get up,” Williams recalled saying. “That’s the only way you are going to make a difference in the system. By standing up together.”