|UBCIC Calls for Systemic Change Necessary for Policing
News Release- February 22, 2011
(Coast Salish Territory/Vancouver, BC - February 22, 2011) Last week the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council publicly stated their shock and dismay of the King County Prosecutor's office would not bring charges against Seattle Police Officer Ian Birk for the shooting death of John T. Williams, a carver with roots in Ditidaht First Nation, Vancouver Island, BC. Birk fatally shot Williams on Aug. 30, 2010 as he was making his way along a busy downtown street.
“The Union of BC Indian Chiefs shares the disbelief, disgust and deep disappointment of the Williams family, the Ditidaht First Nation and the of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs. “When an Indigenous person dies at the hands of a police officer, it does not matter what jurisdiction it happens in, the officer is not held to account to the same degree as any other member of the general public.”
King County Prosecutor’s office stated that a conviction was unlikely due to existing state laws which would require proof that the officer acted with “malice" and did not act in "good faith." Trials against police officers are rare as jurors are more inclined to believe officers to be the "good guys."
Grand Chief Phillip observed “It appears that quite a number of critical police incidents resulting in death or serious bodily harm involve young and inexperienced officers. More and more, the general public want officers who exercise poor judgement and abusive misconduct to stop hiding behind the badge and the mythology of the good guy and stand before the law like everyone else.”
Shortly after the King County Prosecutor’s decision was announced, the Seattle Police Department formally announced that their Firearms Review Board findings declared the shooting of John T. Williams as unjustified. Ian Birk resigned as an officer of the Seattle Police Department.
"What is amazing is how quickly the Seattle Police and the Prosecutor’s office came to a clear decision which they respectively took the time to publicize. Unlike recent incidents here in British Columbia where the RCMP and municipal police are more often interested in maintaining the ‘esprit de corps’ than addressing the deep concerns of police investigating police. It is too easy to say such officers went rogue or to paint them as ‘bad apples.’ These young officers are a reflection of modern-day policing where funding for pre-screening and training are growing scarce at a time when more veteran officers are retiring. We need to learn from these horrific acts and bring fundamental reforms to policing. Police officers are not above the law.” concluded Grand Chief Phillip.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, Union of BC Indian Chiefs
Phone: (604) 684-0231
UBCIC is a NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.