On Friday, dozens marched through the streets of downtown Seattle as part of the International Day Against Police Brutality
The march was organized by Anonymous Seattle and drew a diverse turnout from people of various ages and ethnicities, as well as different political ideologies including anarchists, progressives and libertarians.
The event was dedicated to being peaceful as previously reported, and it succeeded at that.
Major roads throughout downtown were blocked off and the march escorted by the Seattle Police Department. Although a few protesters yelled at the police, the SPD did not respond either verbally or physically, though at least one protester reported mocking gestures from officers.
The march also incorporated three rallies, one at City Hall Park, the origin of the march, then one at Westlake Park along the way and finally at the end destination in Seattle Center.
The rally at Seattle Center was staged at the site of the totem pole erected to memorialize an indigenous man, John T. Williams, who was fatally shot by an SPD officer in Aug. 2010.
Williams, a seventh-generation wood carver, was seen by Officer Ian Birk carrying his carving knife near downtown Seattle. The officer shot Williams after issuing a warning to drop his knife only a few seconds prior.
On Feb. 26, 2012, approximately 90 people carried the 34-foot, 3500-lbs. totem pole a mile and a half, from Seattle's Pier 57 to Seattle Center.
Many at the rally felt John T. Williams's killing is a prime example of police brutality in Seattle, and the main organizer of the event, Melvin Neifert, spoke about why he chose to end the march at his totem pole.
“This totem pole was put here for a reason. This is a community totem pole, and they put it here in memory of John T. Williams who was shot in cold blood by a Seattle police officer who was never charged. That’s why we’re here. That’s why we were marching today.”
One person who helped carry Williams's totem pole last year also addressed the crowd at Friday's rally.
"It’s hard for me to stand here in front of this totem pole. It’s hard for me to stand here watching all the Seattle’s finest. Now listen to that: Are they the Seattle’s finest or are we the Seattle’s finest?"
It isn't just protesters who think the shooting was wrong; in Feb. 2011, the SPD's Firearms Review Board decided the shooting was "unjustified." However, the King County Prosecutor disagreed and decided not to file charges, even though he claimed Officer Birk committed "serious tactical errors that compounded the danger."
Shortly after the announcement, Officer Birk voluntarily resigned. In August 2011, the city awarded $1.5 million to Williams's family in a legal settlement.
The U.S. Department of Justice felt it was behooving to investigate the Seattle Police Department after the Williams shooting and began doing so on March 31, 2011. They have subsequently found that reforms are needed and are currently working with Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and the SPD to implement those reforms.
Another incident brought up by protesters was the recent fatal shooting of Jack Keewatinawin, a mentally-disabled man. Afterward, the SPD admitted there is a department-wide need for Crisis Intervention Training that would better prepare officers to interact with individuals who suffer from mental health issues.
Meanwhile, activists like Tim Sage think that the community serves a role in keeping the police accountable. Sage recently opened up a Cop Block chapter in the city and during the march, he gave a speech about the importance of filming the police, whether they are doing legal or illegal acts, to keep them in line. He pointed out it is legal to do so in Washington state.
A smaller second rally and march was held in Seattle's Capitol Hill area on Friday. The attendees made a point not to obtain permits as the other march's organizers did. That rally remained peaceful as well.