Once again, Native blood has been spilled at the hands of Seattle's authorities. On August 30th, 2010, Seattle Police Officer Ian Birk shot and killed a 50 year-old Native "homeless" carver, John Williams. Williams was carrying a piece of wood and a carving knife.
Williams -- a drunk, no doubt, but with no record of any violent episodes -- was sitting on a short wall by the intersection before the shooting, whittling with a knife. The murdering police officer approached him and violence ensued. The police officer that was supposed to protect Williams killed him -- an imperfect man was killed senselessly.
I will provide no witty observations, no funny anecdotes, nothing like that. Just a simple question--what are we going to do about this?
Any other ethnic group -- God bless them for it -- appropriately responds harshly and aggressively when a member of their community is gunned down in cold blood. Heck, any other ethnic group -- Jewish folks, black folks, Latino, Asian, whomever -- reasonably responds aggressively if you even say anything negatively about them in public. And they should respond aggressively; they're protecting their own people!
The crazy thing about Natives is...we do not protect our own people anymore. Ever. We used to have warrior societies that were charged with protecting our people -- now, we rely upon the same white police who killed Mr. Williams to protect us. Kinda ironic.
We are the single group that does not. Yes, we complain in editorials that we are the one group that people can make fun of publicly, make the butt of jokes, make caricatures of, but we do that to ourselves because we do not do anything to stop it. We never throw a rock when racists brand our people with swastikas in their flesh on the Navajo Reservation -- we give it a "pass." We never stop traffic when our women get brutally raped on our very own reservations -- we give it a "pass." We never get kicked out of meetings when rednecks throw eggs, water bottles, and shout racial slurs at Alaska Natives in Anchorage. We give it a pass.
All these horrible crimes happened in the past two years. Yet, we never get indignant, we never lose our cool.
Therefore people feel justified in perpetuating hate crimes against us because we do nothing to let them know that we will not tolerate it. Natives do not care enough to take care of ourselves -- why should anyone else?
We are too cool to care.
An innocent Native man--a hearing impaired, homeless man--was shot in cold blood this week. One of our relatives was killed. Once again: what are we going to do about it?
God bless the folks from the Chief Seattle Club -- the homeless shelter where Williams regularly visited -- for providing a vigil for people to mourn/honor/pray for Williams and his family. Still, we need to do more. We must ensure that our most vulnerable are not punished for being vulnerable. Williams literally could be any one of our drunk relatives -- I have relatives that roam the streets of Seattle, Great Falls, Missoula. They have made bad decisions in their lives -- I'm sure, if they had the option, would prefer not to live on the streets.
Still, being Native and living on the streets should not be a crime. Being Native should not be a crime. Yet, that is what John Williams was guilty of -- being a Native man, carving in the coastal tradition. He was guilty of being Native -- and Ian Birk, the Seattle Police Officer -- was the judge, jury and executioner.
And what are we going to do about it?
Gyasi Ross is a member of the Amskapipikuni (Blackfeet Nation)
and his family also comes from the Suquamish Tribe. His Pikuni (Blackfoot) name
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