Seattle Probes Police Shooting Of Native American Seattle has been shaken by a pair of police-involved shootings -- the most troubling of which took the life of a Native American man, who may not have understood -- or even heard -- the warnings from the officer who shot him.

Seattle Probes Police Shooting Of Native American

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.


Seattle has been shaken by the shooting that took the life of a Native American man who may not have understood or even heard police warnings. From Seattle, NPR's Martin Kaste has the story.

MARTIN KASTE: The victim was John T. Williams, a 50-year-old of Native ancestry who was known around downtown for his wood-carving. And it's the carving that got him killed. On August 30th, a young cop saw Williams carrying a piece of wood and a three-inch blade. He ordered Williams to drop the knife. Williams was slow to respond. And from a distance of nine feet, the officer shot at Williams four times.

WERTHEIMER: Why does he need to fire four shots without asking for help?

KASTE: Pamela Bond was one of many Native Americans who took turns grilling the police chief at a special meeting on Wednesday night. Anger has been growing since it was reported that Williams was partially deaf.

WERTHEIMER: It's wrong. And it's made my stomach feel rotten, and it's so rotten I can't retch it out.

KASTE: For two hours, Police Chief John Diaz and his deputies sat stoically, absorbing the crowd's anger. When Diaz spoke, he was asked to hold an eagle feather to assure his truthfulness.

INSKEEP: At Wednesday's meeting, Finette Blackbear said she thinks there's just something's up with the Seattle police.

WERTHEIMER: I think the cops are more jumpier. You know, they're trigger-happy. I'll tell you that much.

KASTE: Kathleen Taylor, head of the ACLU of Washington State, says she certainly hopes the cop killings of last year haven't affected police behavior.

WERTHEIMER: If they start thinking that everybody is another Monfort, we'd end up in an armed camp.

KASTE: But the ACLU is worried. In an open letter, Taylor called for an end to what she described as a pattern of violence by Seattle police. The department called the criticism objectionable, and it pointed to the multiple forms of citizen oversight and the constant review of police officers' use of firearms.

WERTHEIMER: And they've really made some major improvements.

KASTE: Samuel Walker, an expert on police accountability, says the Seattle Police Department has taken steps over the years to overcome an earlier reputation for excessive force. But he says it's nearly impossible to know how well those steps have worked because the federal government does not collect good statistics on shootings by police.

WERTHEIMER: They do report officers, you know, assaulted and killed in the line of duty. And they really need - we really need a database on officer-involved shootings.

KASTE: Martin Kaste, NPR News, Seattle.

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