Written by Kristina Larry, Esq.
Seattle is not the city you think of when it comes to racial tensions. But surprisingly the home of Microsoft, Starbucks, and a 70% white population is brimming with a culture of individuals dedicated to protecting the rights of minorities in America today. In the wake of the Ferguson and Garner grand jury decisions hundreds took to the Seattle streets with rally cries of “No Justice, No Peace”, “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot”, and “I can’t breathe”. They staged “die-ins” all around the city causing stores to close and traffic to back up. These protest spanned multiple nights and raised the question from several non-protesting citizens, “Why is Seattle Protesting?”
A quick look at the history of Seattle over the past few years will answer that question. In February 2011 protesters gathered at City Hall after the announcement that a police officer would not face charges for the fatal shooting of John T. Williams. John T. Williams, a man of Native descent, was killed for walking across a street carrying a carving knife and a piece of wood. The shooting was ruled unjustified and though the officer left the force, he was not prosecuted. This launched a Department of Justice investigation into the excessive use of force of the Seattle Police Department. U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan explained: "We found in the cases that we reviewed that when officers used force, it was done in an unconstitutional and excessive manner nearly 20 percent of the time."
The investigation into excessive force makes sense once you take into account a few earlier incidents involving men of African American and Latino decent. In 2010, an officer is caught on surveillance video kicking an African American teenager 3 times while the youth had is hands in the air. The video shows the teen, hands in the air, as the officer approaches. The officer then kicks at the teen's groin area, when the teen falls to the floor, the officer kicks him in the torso, and then the head before another officer pushes him and handcuffs him. There was another videotaped incident involving 2 SPD Gang Unit detectives from 2010. In the video one detective is heard making this threat to a detained man, "You got me? I'm going to beat the fucking Mexican piss out of you homey. You feel me?" Then, while the detained man is cuffed and on the ground the detective kicks him in the head. Seconds later another detective approaches the man and stomps on the back of his knees.
In February of this year there have been two protests. The first, a “Walking While Black” rally took place in Seattle in honor of 70 year old William Wingate. Wingate was arrested in 2014 for using a golf club as a cane. The arresting officer alleged that Wingate threatened her with the club as she drove by in her patrol vehicle. The dash cam of the car caught the incident on tape but does not support the officer’s story. The second protest took place in support of Antonio Zambrano-Montes, a Mexican orchard worker, shot and killed by police officers some 200 miles east of Seattle.
So the question should not be “why is Seattle protesting?” but “why wouldn’t Seattle be protesting?” With a police force under DOJ investigation and numerous police versus minority assaults Seattle is on the front lines of the racial equality movement. While Seattle may not be a leading city when it comes to race and civil rights, it is definitely one to watch. With its recent history, Seattle and its citizens are not going to stand idly by while racial injustice happens --anywhere.
Written by Kristina Larry, Esq.
Kristina Larry is a Washington State attorney practing in the Seattle area. Contact Kristina via email @ KristinaLarryEsq@gmail.com or via Twitter @ItsKristinaEsq.
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