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Seattle Police involved in fatal shooting of deaf man

by Robert Randle  
9/07/2010 / Events

A 50 year-old Native American man, John T. Williams, who was deaf in one ear was shot and killed by Seattle Police Officer, Ian D. Birk on August 30, 2010 at the corner of Howell Street and Boren Avenue near Pike Place Park in Seattle, WA. The fatal incident [not confrontation as portrayed in the news] occurred when Officer Birk spotted the suspect displaying a small knife that he was cutting into a block of wood, from looking from his patrol car.

Although Officer Bilk stopped his car and activated emergency lights, the audio recorded his verbal commands to Mr. Williams but interestingly the video inside the squad car did not show what really happened. Not only that but the officer was not equipped with a Taser [or pepper spray apparently]. Mr. Williams died from wounds inflicted by 4 bullets discharged from Officer Birk's service revolver. Seattle Police Chief John Diaz has some questions about this third incident this year where police have had to discharge their weapons; as well he should along with the public, news reporters and possibly the Justice Department.

According to Mr. Williams' siblings, John lost hearing in his left ear eight years ago due to an ear infection and usually wore headphones but there is no evident that he was wearing them at the time he was fatally shot. John was a seventh-generation wood carver and learned the trade around the age of five or six, along with the rest of his eleven brothers and sisters. The question which could be asked is: "How did the deceased Mr. Williams come to the attention of Officer Birk in the first place, while on patrol in his police cruiser in the neighborhood.

And as for the three inch knife that was used to whittle wood carvings and totems which posed a grave threat to the officer's safety, it meets the legal requirement for carrying a concealed or unconcealed weapon, according to the Seattle Municipal Code. Isn't it just possible that when Mr. Williams approached Officer Bilk that he was doing so because he couldn't hear the officer's commands and wanted to communicate that he was deaf in one ear instead of wanting to harm him? Ironically, as part of training, Seattle police officers go through potentially lethal scenarios and one of the possible scenarios is approaching a deaf individual.

Oftentimes, a person's past criminal record is introduced as a sort of mitigating evidence to justify the use of deadly force by the police to show their conduct as an ever-present danger to society that warrants this kind of tactical response. The only thing is, the police in most cases have no knowledge of prior criminality, and even if they did, not all situations justify them to be judge, jury, and as it seems in this case, executioner, too.

Robert Randle
776 Commerce St. #B-11
Tacoma, WA 98402
September 2, 2010

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