Gyasi Ross: Native perspective on inquest of Native man's death

"Lord Jeffrey Amherst, after whom the town of Amherst, Mass., and Amherst College are both named, routinely passed out smallpox-filled blankets to members of the Ottawa Nation during the French and Indian War. The Natives knew, instinctively, that this war commander did not have their best intentions at heart — history showed that. Yet, the Ottawa were cold, out of options, and Amherst proclaimed that he came in the name of “peace” and “reconciliation.” So the Ottawa accepted this peace offering, hoping for humanity from someone who had never showed any, and thousands of members of the Ottawa Nation died as a result. Still — given the time and circumstances — the Ottawa had little choice but to feign belief.

Sitting in the fourth row of seats in the King County Courtroom on the first and second day of the inquest, I had an epiphany: there was zero possibility that the John T. Williams family would get “justice” out of the inquest. The only way that “justice” would occur is if, somehow, the Seattle Police Department could reverse the horrible sequence of events of Aug. 30, 2010, and stop the actions of officer Ian Birk that left John T. Williams dead. Understanding that justice was an impossibility, I simply prayed for — as, I think, as all justice-seeking Seattleites did — the next best thing: a full, meaningful and objective inquest process. I simply hoped for — despite a 40-year history of inquests that screamed that it was impossible no matter how clear the evidence — an inquest process that was what it claims to be, “a fact-finding process,” and not simply what it has been, an excuse-creating process that will ultimately exonerate any police officer, no matter how severe and heinous the deprivation of human and civil rights.

I suppose, like the members of the Ottawa Nation who accepted the smallpox-filled blankets from a man that they hoped would be honorable, I should have known better.

God bless the inquest jurors in the death of John T. Williams. The jury handed down their findings mere minutes ago as I finish writing this and seemingly saw through Ian Birk’s smokescreen, conjured by his lawyer Ted Buck, and four jurors said that John T. Williams was never a threat to Birk. Now, the question is whether the King County prosecutor will bring charges against Officer Birk or not. I have no idea what the prosecutor’s decision will be; I do, however, have a pretty good suspicion that King County prosecutors will do absolutely nothing in this case, as they have never done anything to punish police officers who act rashly and harm or kill civilians.

My suspicion is confirmed by 40 years of inquests that simply never determine that the officer should be charged criminally, no matter the facts of the case. Never. Doesn’t happen. And, if by some miracle, the King County prosecutor determines that Birk should be charged in the death of the so-called “drunk Indian” while said drunk Indian was walking away, God bless the prosecutor’s decision."

Get the Story:
Gyasi Ross: A Native perspective on the inquest into the shooting of John T. Williams (Crosscut 1/20)

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