Oct 1, 2017 - Holding Police Accountable for Murder by Jacob Maurice Johns

Recent rises in the police killings of American citizens has raised concerns in Washington State. Many of the killings at the hands of the police meet the legal definition of homicide or even murder but police are free from prosecution.

In Washington state, there is a malice clause that has prevented the prosecution of law enforcement after killing someone with a use of force violation. This Malice clause uses a “good faith” standard that remains undefined for WA officers. Malice is defined by: the intention or desire to do evil; ill will. You basically have to prove what a police officer was thinking during the time they shot and killed someone, and prove that that thought was evil.

On August 30, 2010, John T. Williams was shot four times in the back killing him in the streets of Seattle. The footage from the dash cam shows then officer Ian Birk command a deaf John T. WIlliams to drop a knife he was carving wood with. Four seconds after the first command Officer Birk shot Williams who was deaf four times in the back. Officer Birk never received a criminal charge for killing John T. Williams.

A legislative effort was filed under the ballot initiative 873 to address this malice/immunity clause but it failed to get out of committee. Not this time A political action committee funded largely by a coalition of tribes, refiled under a new initiative I-940 that addressed actual prevention as well as removing the malice clause and creating a good faith standard. The Puyallup tribe, read Puyallup letter here Puyallup Tribal Chair letter on De-Escalate Washington, has taken the lead in this statewide ballot initiative effort financially sponsoring the new initiative joined by the Muckleshoot tribe and Port Gamble s’klallam.

Native Americans are the mostly likely to be shot and killed by law enforcement. Native Americans make up roughly 1% of the population yet make up 2% of police killings. A recent study at eastern Washington university concluded that officer initiated contacts went up significantly when you were a male and a person of color. Native American males were the most likely to be stopped, arrested and have force used upon them, often the use of force results in death with little or no public outcry.

On January 28th 2016 Jackie Salyers a pregnant Puyallup Tribal member was shot to death in the streets of Tacoma. According to the police investigation there was no wrong doing. The official story states that Jackie Slayers drove at the officers, despite only the driver’s side window and side of the car having bullet holes.

Often the police departments investigate their own murders leaving ” justifiable ” deaths across WA state. I – 940 creates an independent investigation when a person is killed, outside of the offending officers departments involvement. This addition is key to revealing the truth, allowing justice to prevail.

Chester Earl a Puyallup tribal member and uncle of Jackie Salyers defines justice ” To hold a person accountable for criminal act and or to protect others from similar action….”. Chester is also Exec At-Large Member for De-escalate WA. Preventing tragic deaths from happening to other families is his goal. The Puyallup tribe are urging other tribal nations to join in the fight for justice. “No one knows how to function as a community like the Native Americans do…” Jackie Salyers was shot three times by police in Tacoma. She was left bleeding in the streets for 45 minutes after being shot. I – 940 addresses this issue “… It would require law enforcement personnel to provide first-aid to save lives and require law enforcement agencies to adopt guidelines for implementing this duty.”

A recent king county (Seattle) endorsement of this Initiative is a step in the right direction. Providing officers more training to prevent death in the line of duty not taking from city or county budget .

Often police are the first on scene and have not been trained on when a person needs mental health services. The police often shoot first and ask questions later or don’t ask them at all. In the April 2015 Daniel Covarrubias, a Suquamish tribal member, just left the hospital after suffering from hallucinations, was shot to death by Lakewood police. This ballot initiative offers a way to prevent death through more mental health training for when someone having a mental health crisis. Mental health crisis situations need to be approached in this way. Often the use of force is used rather than rendering first aid during a mental health crisis. ” This measure would require all law enforcement officers in the state to receive violence de-escalation and mental health training, as developed by the criminal justice training commission.”

Supported by tribal nations and advocacy groups across WA state this grass roots effort needs support “Unity is important, and this issue needs a communal fix. ” It is only through the realization that society its self is being denied justice that we can collectively address problems. Included in the initiative is also the notification of tribes when one of their tribal members are killed.” The rules must require that procedures under RCW 9A.16.040(5)(d) be carried out completely independent of the agency whose officer was involved in the use of deadly force; and, when the deadly force is used on a tribal member, such procedures must include consultation with the member’s tribe and, where appropriate, information sharing with such tribe”

Building bridges between communities of color and law enforcement is the only way we can move forward as a nation. De-escalate wa provides actual solutions to problems in our system. This initiative is a multi-level fix to one of the worst states for police accountability.

To find out how to contribute more to this Native American sponsored campaign check out www.deescalatewa.org

By Jacob Maurice Johns

Last Real Indians