Update: I read in the Vancouver Sun Friday, February the 18th, that Ian Black, the police officer that shot John Williams quit the force. That means he will not be subject to any disciplinary measures. Some might say that losing his job and reputation is enough but to John Williams family and friends, that will never be enough. They will always feel that justice was not served and that another police officer got away with a crime that no other person would get away with and to make it worse, the fact that it was another indigenous person who was the victim only adds to the feelings of anger and mistrust of the "just-us" system.
A shocking and disturbing announcement was made today-Wednesday february 16th, by the King County Prosecutor Dan Setterberg. No charges will be laid against Ian Black, the police officer who shot artist, John Williams, Dididaht, four times in the streets of Seattle.
Why? He says there was no malice of criminal intent that is required. What? Excuse me, but when a police officer shoots a man four times with no cause, isn’t that pure malice? When a police officer excessively shoots a human being and that is not criminal intent? Then what is? One shot would have disabled the artist so he would no longer be a threat-even if he wasn’t to begin with. John Williams didn’t go after the officer or show any signs of harm to the police officer but the officer was threatened? This is totally unbelievable!
The prosecutor defends the police officer by saying he said he believed Williams was a threat, a threat that had to be dealt with by firing 4 shots and taking his life? Officers are trained to shoot so that they do not have to take a life unless the situation is dire. The board who did the inquiry concluded that the shooting was outside of the department’s policies, tactics and training. And all he may face is to be fired, or continued suspension with pay, or a slap on the hand? What message does that send to people: don’t cross a Seattle police officer because he can shoot you four times and get away with it? What people don’t talk about much, is that there were two armed police officers and one artist with his carving knife. Why would the police officer feel so threatened when they were covering each other?
The Board who heard the inquiry found he made serious tactical errors and the shooting was not justified. But the Prosecutor won’t bring charges even though the justice system is in question.
John’s brother Harvey Williams said he was not surprised by the announcement. Why is it, we as First Nations people have no faith in the justice system to do what’s right? Why is it we know that something as serious as a fatal shooting of a First Nations man will be ignored, downplayed or given lip service. We have been conditioned to accept this kind of treatment but that is not good enough and we cannot and should not be so accepting. First Nations people everywhere should be up in arms, speaking out and seeking fair play and justice. We need to be the ones who make the changes.
Prosecutors should not be able to cover up for the police. Put the man on trial and leave it to the courts to decide. It should not be up to the prosecutor to be the judge. When a police officer steps out of line so far without justification, there has to be dire consequences. Surely the law will not protect such conduct?
First Nations peoples are not the only ones who should be speaking out, but all people everywhere. If police officers can get away with these kinds of shootings then who will protect us from the police when they know consequences are not that severe? Scary stuff! I know there are good police officers and I don’t want to tar all of them with the same brush but until racism and discrimination or even negative feelings toward First Nations people are eradicated, this could happen again.
How many more First Nations lives do we need to lose with improper and unjustified treatment by the police? We have Frank Paul, John Williams and how long it took Pickton to come to trial as the more prominent issues in the last year and others that don’t hit the front pages. We need a very serious revamping of the police forces, and the justice system. We need processes in places that are unquestionable. The problem is inquiries do not do that. As it was with John Williams, as it is with Frank Paul. Inquiries make recommendations. We need far more than recommendations. We need action and we need to know that we are safe in our homes, and home communities, wherever that may be. Most of all, we need leaders who are brave enough to make the necessary changes and regain the confidence of First Nations people and the general public.