Monday, June 06, 2011

A Right to Justice: Native Youth Theater Play about Police Brutality

Photo credit: Charla Bear, KPLU, Seattle

The young people in this photograph are Native actors in A Right to Justice, a play being done in Seattle on June 12th, 2011 at the Rainier Valley Cultural Center. Produced by Red Eagle Soaring, it isn't the play the group had intended to do...  They wanted to do a play about basketball but the young actors couldn't get into it because they are trying to understand police brutality:
This play (written by our students and their teaching artists Drew Hobson and Hannah Franklin) explores our relationship as Natives with police and other authority figures, and touches on the haunting tragedy of Chief Leschi, whose story still evokes the sting of injustice 153 years after his hanging. 
The brutality the play is about spans a great length of time.

On a summer afternoon in August, 2010, John T. Williams, a Native woodcarver, was shot and killed by Ian Birk, a Seattle police officer. An investigation by the Seattle Police Department found the shooting was not justified.

The police officer's dash camera was on during the shooting. In it, you'll see Williams crossing the street in the crosswalk, in front of the police car. As he walks, he is carving a plank of wood. He goes out of camera view.

Birk got out of his car and called out "Hey, hey, hey! Put the knife down! Put the knife down!" He, too, goes out of camera view, and you hear gunshots. The video lasts over six minutes, during which you hear Birk say that he told Williams to put the knife down and that he was using it to carve the board.

This shooting has been featured prominently in Native news media since then. I cannot imagine what it must feel like to Seattle's Native community to see this video. Watching it, I understand how the shooting would shadow the youth in the community, and, I'm glad to see Red Eagle Soaring's efforts to help them process what happened.

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