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#10: Eyewitness; Best of the Sable Verity

October 17, 2010

We’re celebrating another year of the Sable Verity Social Commentary this Friday with a party at Hidmo in Seattle’s Central District.

In honor of adding another candle to the cake, we’r’e counting down the best of- a top ten list of sorts, starting with #10: Eyewitness.

I have to be honest, it was written long before the SV was even a consideration, but since it’s my list, I’m adding it.  The article marks the 1st time I was published.

In the wake of the John T. Williams shooting, SPD tactics and law enforcement in general is under heavy scrutiny, and it’s no wonder; the details that have emerged about the moment SPD Officer Birk encountered the harmless wood carver are damning.

Eyewitness accounts of the killing have been critical for the investigation, and for the rest of us as we struggle to understand exactly what happened and why.  For me these accounts aren’t just words on paper- they come from people who have had an experience that will no doubt stick with them forever.

I know what that’s like.  It was just over 9 years ago when I witnessed a police shooting in South Seattle.  It’s an event I’ve never forgotten and every time I pass the spot where it happened I think about it.

Don’t get me wrong, the events leading up to the moment guns started blazing couldn’t have been more different than those in the Williams shooting, but that difference in no way lessens the experience of witnessing the end of a man’s life.

The Inevitable Death of This Brutha of Mine

The end of Summer, 2001

It is a rare thing to know you are seeing a man living out his last moments. Monday evening while walking home from the Rainier Beach Library, that is exactly what happened.

At first, it was hard to discern the facts. Black folks stood on every street and corner surrounding 51st and Rainier Avenue South, facing four police cars that had stopped precariously at the base of the hill, lights flashing. Three police officers crouched behind a white van gesturing feverishly to three other officers crouched farther up the hill. One officer ran to his car, opened his trunk, pulling out a yellow mat and a high-powered rifle. He returned to the van, throwing the mat and himself to the ground and taking aim at a brown building. Almost at the same time, the four police cars turned into 14, and the crowd doubled on all sides.

It was then that an ordinary, youngish black man in a white T-shirt and blue jeans emerged from one of the apartments out onto the balcony. Soon, he showed everyone that he had a gun.

You would think I would run, or be in fear of my life — but I was not. Knowing we were at a safer distance than most, my mental and emotional attention was focused on the fact that I knew I was seeing a man in his last moments….more.

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