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First Nation Woodcarver Shot by Police

Meghan Walker

Members of Seattle's Native American community voiced outrage Friday about the recent police shooting of a local native elder and woodcarver. First Nation tribe–member John T. Williams was killed Monday after failing to drop a small woodcarving knife at the demand of a Seattle police officer. KUOW's Meghan Walker has more.


Several dozen community members are gathered at the Chief Seattle center in Pioneer Square. Off to the side of the podium stands a large picture of John T. Williams, the man who was shot by police. Jenine Grey is a spokesperson for the Chief Seattle Club.

Grey: "We find it very difficult to believe that the police officer's life — that he felt his life was being threatened when he was not responding to a call, and no other citizens on the street felt threatened, nobody else called it in and saw, and felt that a police needed to respond."

Community members say Williams was partially deaf and may not have heard the officer's command to drop his carving knife. Williams was crossing the street downtown when he was stopped by Seattle police officer, Ian Birk. Birk says he felt threatened. He ended up shooting Williams four times. Police are investigating the incident.

Grey says the Chief Seattle Club will follow the investigation closely. She says there's a history of homeless natives being pushed around by police.

Grey: "This sort of thing, typically there are no investigations. There are so many stories of police brutality, harassment, profiling; the list goes on and on. They're never even acknowledged. And so, and a lot of times there just are never even police reports being filed. So therefore there's never an investigation."

Grey says most native woodcarvers, like Williams, carry their knives around as their tools and not as weapons. The officer who shot Williams is now on paid leave.

For KUOW News, I'm Meghan Walker.

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