Police officer murders half-deaf, hobbling Native American man

A few months back, John T. Williams was shot and killed by Seattle Police Officer Ian Birk. Mr. Williams was fifty years old, a chronic alcoholic, and was deaf in one hear. Julie Reisman, who knew Mr. Williams personally said he was far too slow and feeble to hurt anybody. “Every step that he would take, it was like he was moving a mountain.” Randy Lewis, a leader of the United Indians of All Tribes Foundation said Williams was crippled with arthritis and hobbled more than he walked. Williams had a reputation as a skilled totem pole carver.

Mr. Williams was holding a whittling knife with a 3-inch blade (legal in Seattle) when he was shot. The video of this event recorded from the officer’s dashboard was recently released. This video depicts Mr. Williams slowly shuffling across the street at the 1:00 mark of the video. Birk begins to approach him from behind and first says “hey” at the 1:13 mark, but Williams appears not to hear and continues to shuffle along. Birk gives the final command to “put the knife down” at 1:21 and begins shooting less than a second later. Only 3-4 seconds passes between Birks’ first command to put the knife down, and the gun shots (by this time both Birk and Williams are no longer within the field of view of the camera).

“His body stance did not look threatening at all,” an eyewitness to the shooting told The Seattle Times. “I could only see the gentleman’s back, and he didn’t look aggressive at all. He didn’t even look up at the officer.” Indeed, the video shows it was Birk who aggressively approached Williams from the back, barked orders, then shot him within a few seconds.

Nevertheless, Officer Birk contends Williams was brandishing the knife in a “very confrontational posture” and that he feared for his life. It is extremely likely Mr. Williams may have been startled by the loud yelling once he did hear it. Most people would be. But are we really to believe that a 50-year-old chronic drunk who hobbled along slowly with a 3-inch blade was an imminent threat to a police officer? I don’t think so.

I think Officer Birk is a goddamn liar.

I also think cowardly policemen who quake at the sight of a slowly hobbling drunk and cannot control the urge to chase him down and execute him should be prosecuted for murder. We are told over and over by police apologists that these “brave” men and women put their lives on the line for us daily, but the reality is these “brave” men and women themselves claim that people shuffling slowly away from them, unarmed men lying on the ground, people holding walletskittens, small dogs and dogs running in the opposite direction cause them to fear for their lives.

For the police, even 86-year-old bedridden grandmothers and children who won’t take baths are terrifying threats requiring use of weapons.

They can’t have it both ways. They can’t constantly slam us with the vomit-inducing bravery rhetoric when time and time again, their actions show they are protecting only themselves, then resort to the “I feared for my life” excuse to justify shooting innocent, unarmed people and small animals.

Even assuming police are being 100 percent truthful about fearing for their lives under the great danger presented by disabled people, wallets, and people lying face down on the ground, it is instructive to examine what would happen to an ordinary person in similar circumstances.

People are by law allowed to defend themselves against attack by others (unless they are being attacked by police). One can generally escape prosecution for killing another under the self-defense theory if the danger was imminent, and one reasonably believed he was about to be attacked or killed. There is also the lesser known defense of “imperfect self-defense” in some states. Imperfect self-defense applies when one honestly, truly believed they were in imminent danger, but the belief was not reasonable. For instance, one may honestly have believed an 86-year-old bedridden grandma was going to leap out of a bed 100 feet away to viciously attack, and killed grandma out of fear, but this belief simply is not reasonable. The imperfect self-defense theory would allow for a manslaughter instead of murder conviction, but the killer would not completely escape punishment.

On the other hand, police tell some story about how the kitten was really coming to get them, granny was aggressive, they just knew the delivery boy was going for a gun, and the story pretty much ends there. They are usually subject to paid suspension (vacation) and subsequently cleared of all wrong doing. Many times, criminal charges never even make it into the dialogue.

I’d like to set forth the incredibly bold and radical proposition that police are people, like the rest of us. Yes, I know this is a very difficult concept to grasp, as some of society has been brainwashed to be a particularly horrendous bunch of cop suckers who assume, with no particular logical basis or reason, that police are super-human, possess angelic qualities, and as a matter of course, should be above the law they swear to uphold.

This is why if you defend yourself against wrongful arrest in most of the 50 states, no one will give you a gold star or applaud you for being an exemplar denizen of the land of the free and the home of the brave. Instead, you will be charged with resisting arrest, obstructing an officer, or some other nonsense of the sort. You see, it’s because the law assumes police are always correct. This philosophy inheres in resisting arrest charges. By making it a crime to resist arrest, the clear result is that police have the legal right to arrest anyone they want; it is up to the innocent to prove themselves.

This is also why it is a special, separate crime, when a person assaults or kills a police officer. If you or I were killed or assaulted, well that’s just a normal crime. But when you assault or kill a police officer, that’s equivalent to killing angels or eating fetuses. Thus, the legislature enacted special laws to make sure the angels receive better protection than members of the unwashed masses.

I wouldn’t think the idea that police are human like the rest of us is a point that need be explained. But again and again, I see that it is necessary. The existing legal system currently allows you to sue someone if they attacked you, assaulted you, or otherwise harmed you, and collect damages to pay for your medical bills and/or injuries. The same is the case if someone was the victim of a reckless driver, an incompetent surgeon, or an unscrupulous lawyer. Certainly, society has gotten a little too sue-happy (due to other governmental intervention and meddling), but the underlying idea that a blameless victim should be compensated for recklessness or negligence by others is a sound one.

But this reasoning doesn’t apply to police. Police frequently not only escape criminal prosecution, but avoid personally paying civil damages as long as they were acting “within the scope” of their employment. Acting “within the scope” of employment doesn’t excuse shoddy work by lawyers or surgeons, and does not excuse assault or battery by anyone else in society. Yet this works wonders for the police (and other members of government). All this is to say nothing of sovereign immunity, prosecutorial immunity, and other similarly asinine governmental immunities that repeatedly remind the rest of us we are not all equal under the law. One can only conclude that this is because police are better human beings than the rest of us. Why else would they be permitted by law to escape liability?

Oh here it comes, here it comes. I can hear it already. I already explained why they are not brave, and really protect themselves more than they protect the rest of us, but here’s another classic and inevitable one – “But they work so hard! They go through police training! They go through rigorous screening to become police officers!”

So fucking what? Police training is a joke compared to the twenty years of school and 3 years of residency doctors go through. That shit is pathetic compared to how hard it is to play Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 like Yo Yo Ma or to play Waldstein the way Horowitz does. But somehow I don’t think doctors, Yo Yo Ma, or Vladimir Horowitz get a free pass if they shoot some poor shuffling man 4 times for carrying a whittling knife.

Maybe you’re not a fan of Horowitz or Ma. Even so, if the reasoning behind immunities for cops is that they protect people and save lives, shouldn’t doctors get immunities? They should get even more immunities. They literally are saving lives and trying to invent cures with the practice of medicine, while joy riding in a Crown Victoria really is tangential to life-saving in comparison. Doctors don’t get immunities because they are human. They do make terrible mistakes, and must be held accountable when they do. The exact same logic applies to police, yet the legal system handles them with an obsequious, undeserved reverence that no other class of human beings in society is entitled to.

It is also far easier being an assclown with a gun and a badge than to be on the side of civil liberties. Certainly, Pete and Adam of Cop Block are not unfamiliar with wrongful arrest. Yeah, I’m pretty sure being in a fucking jail cell is harder than learning about how to violating peoples’ civil liberties, how to operate handcuffs and how to shoot kittens.

This is not to say I think everyone should be forced to complete 23 years of school in order to be in the medical profession, or that everyone’s time is best spent training in classical music, or that I am glad Adam and Pete were locked up because it proved how badass they are. But if we’re talking about difficulty – and the police apologists always do – they always talk about how hard the damn job is – the point is, difficulty is not a logically distinguishing characteristic that justifies the way the law treats police, or the way they treat everyone else. Job difficulty is irrelevant for everyone else if they kill, maim, injure or otherwise cause damage, and this is the way it should be for police.

So there you have it. Police are better people than the rest of us. You may think whatever you want, but the law says so, the police say so, and you will find out just what that means if you ever (god forbid!) resist wrongful arrest or dare to challenge the police. Accept that this is what it is, and be angry. If you are not angry, or at least opposed to such fundamental injustice, then you are complicit in your own enslavement.

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Georgia Sand

Georgia (George) Sand is an attorney located in sunny California. She enjoys beer, jogging, the beach, music, and chatting with her cats in her spare time.