I’d like to bring an urgent concern to your attention – please allow me to tell you about something that happened to me today:
Winter’s coming. I’m trying to create a website for Rick Williams, so that he has a better chance of supporting himself selling his carvings- and having a documentable income and therefore increasing his chances of getting he and his TWO KIDS into subsidized housing (and hey, if anyone wants to help with that, please step right up). I arrived at Victor Steinbruck Park this afternoon to meet up with Rick and hear more about his tech needs. I sat down on the bench next to his brother Eric and chatted with his friend Linda… and about 20 minutes in, suddenly noticed how many cops I kept seeing. Three cruisers drove slowly by in a 20-minute span (I didn’t think to write down the first two car numbers, but the last one was car# 968), and over the course of the next 45 minutes three separate pairs of bike cops rode by.
“What’s up with all these cops?” I inquired curiously.
“It’s been like this since the shooting. Usually it’s the Pike Place Market security that patrols this area. We’ve never seen a cop presence anything like this here before”, replied Rick’s partner Linda Soriano. “They’ve been trying to intimidate us.”
Two bike cops then stopped directly across from us in the traffic triangle that juts into the street and stood on the curb with arms folded over their chests, staring intently. One took out a camera and began taking our photograph (this was officer B. Conway and his badge# is 6149). Pollyanna that I am, I was shocked at such a blatant show of intimidation. I had just been to the Native Advisory Council meeting at the Duwamish Longhouse on Friday and heard the SPD representatives avowing friendship and reconciliation. I walked across the street, taking pictures with my cell-phone camera to document this behaviour. The first words out of one of the cops as I approached was “Got a fucking problem?” (This officer’s name is T. Willoughby and badge# is 5560.)
“Excuse me, are you on duty?” I asked.
“Do I look like I’m on duty?” he sneered (not exaggerating).
“I didn’t know cops on duty use profanities with the public”, I replied.
“Can you prove I did?” he sneered again.
“I’m here to get your names and badge numbers and ask why you’re here photographing us.” He broke eye contact then and stopped talking to me, suddenly redirecting his attention to Rick’s boy Eagle Son (both cops started berating Rick for his parenting at this point and pointing out that his teenage son smokes – gasp! – cigarettes; is this in the job description of cops?); things started to feel really tense. Shortly after, two more bike cops (officers N. Etoh, badge# 6604, and _. Jokela, badge# 5453 – couldn’t get his first initial because he refused to show it to me) showed up, and next thing I know I’m surrounded by all 4, who are taking photographs of me, raising their voices and being intimidating, getting right in my face, and laughingly mocking me. It was the farthest thing from de-escalation; it was pure provocation. Their tone was disrespectful and belligerent from the first moment of contact, before I even had a chance to say anything. Fortunately, I’m not a reactive person, and even though my heart was pounding, I took out my moleskin notebook and started documenting what was happening. I didn’t respond to their taunts or say another word, feeling to do so might escalate the situation. When I had finished writing down all the names, badge numbers, and details of the encounter, I returned to the bench to sit down with Rick. Rick and Linda told me how the other street Natives are avoiding them for fear of reprisal by the police. They are feeling very alone and vulnerable as they experience this ongoing police intimidation and harassment. I was in shock. I’d naively believed that the SPD would be seriously minding it’s P’s and Q’s right about now with all the scrutiny of the force. There may have been an element of bravado involved, but these cops did not seem terribly afraid of the possible consequences of their actions. Just a brief encounter with these shamelessly disrespectful cops filled my bloodstream with cortisol and left me shaking. How must if feel to be Rick Williams and his family, to have been enduring this for WEEKS, on top of the grief of losing their family member to a senseless act of violence?
This is wrong. Not to mention illegal. And it has to stop NOW. I’ve made a statement to Rick’s attorney (Tim Ford), and I’ve called Tina Fox, the Native Advisory Council liaison. I’ve got photographs on my phone, and just as soon as a tech-savvy teen shows me how to get them onto my computer, I will send them along as well. A meeting with John Hays has been scheduled tentatively for next Tuesday (he’s out of town till then). Tina has let me know that Nick Metz has been unresponsive to communication from her since being promoted, and that Paul McDonagh (of Special Operations Bureau) has only called her right before meetings to find out the agenda. John Hays is the ONLY person who has reached out to Tina, and he was just demoted for unknown reasons. NOT A SINGLE other person on the SPD (aside from Officer Linda Hill, known to most folks here) has contacted their official liaison to the Native community outside of the meeting times to build the relationships they say they want to build.
I’m asking you – PLEASE – to take your cameras (video w/audio is best) and go to Victor Steinbruck Park during daylight hours to DISCREETLY keep the Williams family company and to help them feel safe, and to document whatever is happening. It’s critical that if you witness intimidation or harassment that you not escalate or insert yourself into the situation – don’t make it easy for the cops to demonize Natives and don’t give the police an excuse to kick your ass. These guys are angry and threatened; stay quiet, calm, steady, and non-reactive. If you do witness anything suspect, please document as extensively as you can and contact Rick’s attorney Tim Ford (email@example.com) or his attorney’s paralegal Christine Barone (firstname.lastname@example.org).
I’d like to obtain some video of this intimidation – then it won’t be so much a case of a bunch of cops saying “Oh, that didn’t happen.”
Please pass this along the moccasin telegraph. Please let folks know that Rick Williams and his family need our help.
Fern Renville, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate
Red Eagle Soaring
Have harrassment to report? Contact attorney Nancy Talner (Urban Indian Legal Clinic) –
American Civil Liberties Union of Washington
901 Fifth Avenue, Suite 630
Seattle, WA 98164
(No phone calls or voice messages)