Ceremony to mark anniversary of woodcarver slaying in Seattle


by Associated Press and KING 5 News


Posted on August 30, 2011 at 6:10 AM

Updated Tuesday, Aug 30 at 5:35 PM

SEATTLE -- It's been a year since a Seattle police officer shot and killed a woodcarver who didn't immediately drop a knife. The family of John T. Williams plans to honor his memory with a special ceremony Tuesday.
The brother of John T. Williams has carved two 30-foot totem poles in his memory. The Williams family will dedicate them Tuesday afternoon at Pier 57 on the Seattle waterfront. His brother, carver Rick Williams, hopes they'll be raised at the Seattle Center.

"My brother was a human being. This man, I feel bad for him and his family, the horrible mistake he made," said Rick Williams. "All the departments look bad."
On Aug. 30, 2010, John T. Williams was carrying a knife and a piece of wood in Seattle. He was ordered to put the knife down by Seattle Police Officer Ian Birk. Williams did not and he turned toward Birk.  Birk then shot Williams four times, killing him.

Birk, no longer a police officer, was found to have shot Williams without justification, but he was not charged with a crime.

The shooting shook up the police department. Officer Birk resigned and the city paid $1.5 million to the Williams family. On the Seattle Police Department's blog, chief John Diaz wrote almost 1,800 have gone through racial sensitivity training, more than 400 officers are now equipped with less lethal alternatives like tasers, and police officers have attended hundreds of community meetings. The chief also said the department is still undergoing a Department of Justice review.

"Even the best police department can benefit from this, especially if the result is an increase in public trust," said Diaz.

A year after the shooting, the Williams family hopes the totem poles will send a message.

"We are letting our brother go," said Eric Williams, brother. "The totem poles are a positive. Ian Birk took my brother away. That's the negative. On a positive note we are showing my brother he still has a lot of people that care for him."

About 330 family members and friends are expected to attend the special ceremony, scheduled for 3:30 p.m. at Pier 57. The event is open to the public.

Family and friends also have a fundraising effort underway to pay for the work and maintenance of the totem poles so the work can be displayed February 27, which would have been John T. Williams' birthday.