Protesters took to the streets on both Wednesday and Friday nights, in response to the lack of action by prosecutors, against Officer Ian Birk. Officer Birk was permitted to resign without charges filed against him for the shooting death of a homeless wood-carver John Williams.
Initial reports of the shooting on August 30 stated that John Williams had brandished a knife at a police officer after being confronted. After failing to comply and advancing on Officer Birk, the officer opened fire.
However, a forensic investigation determined that Williams’ knife was not opened and not in a position that could have been construed as threatening. He had been shot four times in a position that had him facing away from the firearm. This contradicted the initial statement that he was advancing on the officer.
A video from the dashboard-mounted camera in Officer Birk’s patrol vehicle is available on Youtube. In the video, one can see Williams traveling along a crosswalk on Howell Street. In his left arm he seems to be carrying a plank of wood along with something indistinguishable in his hands.
Shortly after disappearing from the view of the camera, Birk is seen walking off the right side of the video and shouting “Drop the knife!” Shots were fired seconds later.
In light of the video and the autopsy, an investigation conducted by the Seattle Police Department’s Firearms Review Commission, deemed that the use of deadly force was not justified.
Despite this finding, prosecutors cited a code that protects law enforcement from legal action in the event of a justified shooting.
The family and friends of John Williams were shocked and visibly distraught during the press conference, held by King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg at the King County Courthouse. According to Satterberg, there would need to be proof beyond a reasonable doubt of malicious intent behind the actions taken against another individual.
The evidence was insufficient to warrant charges against Officer Birk.
Since the incident and the recent press conference, Facebook groups were created in an attempt to gain support, rally protesters and coordinate when and where they would meet.
On Friday night, protesters gathered by the Westlake Center and proceeded to march towards Capitol Hill. What started out as a peaceful protest turned into a physical confrontation between police after the rear windshield of a patrol car was smashed with a hammer.
The individual escaped into the crowd after being aided by a group of demonstrators. Two girls were detained and charged with obstructing for preventing the police from pursuing the hammer-wielding suspect.
Others were pepper-sprayed for attempting to breach a police line and making contact with officers near Pioneer Square.
Photographers from various media groups were kept on guard by people claiming that they were aiding the police. Some even went as far as turning on Joe Dyer, one of Seattle Weekly’s photo interns, and spitting on him as well as trying to damage his camera.
The group of about 50 or 60 people gathered strength they travelled up Pine Street and Broadway as they passed through Capitol Hill shouting “Out of the bars and into the streets!” By the end of the night, the crowd had reached approximately 300 people.
Although they were deterred from approaching the East Precinct by police wearing riot gear, the group continued to march through the city peacefully and without any more major incidents. A group of local superheroes even showed up to help keep the peace between those participating in the demonstration and the officers sent to escort them.
“We just want to make sure that people are safe,” said Red Dragon as he walked ahead of another hero named Skyman. He pointed out that Officer Birk does not represent the majority of the Seattle Police Department and he hopes that people will start putting the blame where it needs to go.
As the protest began winding down later in the night, there was little to no sign of anybody there who were supporting the William’s family. An older female said, “It’s sad really. I wonder if these people know what they’re even protesting for. All I see is a bunch of kids here to make noise.”