A year after a Seattle police officer took the life of John T. Williams, Native Americans in Seattle say they are still waiting for the Seattle Police Department to make promised changes.
On the afternoon of Aug. 30, 2010, Williams crossed a street in downtown Seattle carrying the tools of his family's tribal craft: a piece of carving wood and a pocketknife.
From a police car stopped at the crosswalk, Officer Ian Birk saw something different: a Native American and a weapon. He got out with his gun drawn, shouted at Williams to drop the knife and opened fire.
At the time Birk shot Williams, SPD was already battling bad publicity over videos of officers stomping on a Latino man and punching a black teenager. Native American and civil rights leaders marched in the streets, met with police and city leaders, and demanded a change in culture at SPD.
One year later, after dozens of meetings with police, Native American leaders say they have little to show for their efforts.
They asked SPD, in part, to add officer training in cultural awareness and de-escalation techniques, recruit and hire more Native American and minority officers and put more Tasers in officers' hands as an alternative to deadly force.
According to SPD spokesperson Sean Whitcomb, the department has only added 30 Tasers. There are now 405 in the field, he said, up from 364 one year ago.
After the shooting, Mayor Mike McGinn promised community leaders he would hire a Native American liaison for his office. Deputy Mayor Darryl Smith said the Office of Intergovernmental Relations is currently interviewing for the position. But the new liaison won't focus on issues affecting urban Indians, as Native leaders hoped. Instead, because Seattle's utilities fund 80 percent of the position's salary, the liaison will focus on land and treaty rights related to the city's power-generation and water needs, Smith said.
Last September, in a news conference at the mayor's office, Police Chief John Diaz announced an audit of SPD's training and a reorganization of his command staff to focus on neighborhood policing.
Since then, he said, commanders have completed a three-part training course called "Race, the Power of an Illusion." Sergeants will take the course next year and, later on, patrol officers.
As for new training, Whitcomb said the department is working with the sheriff's office and the state's criminal justice academy to create a new course called "Justice-Based Policing," in which officers will learn how to listen and inform citizens about the enforcement actions they're taking.
Diaz also said he wanted the department to start a pilot project with 40 body cameras, pager-size recorders that can capture an officer's interactions with citizens. But Whitcomb said SPD hasn't started the pilot because of privacy issues.
Just before the Williams' shooting, the department did restart its long-dormant Native American Advisory Council, said Tina Fox, council chair. But, in her opinion, its meetings have produced little or no results within the department.
"I think it's a whole lot of lip service," said Sheri Day, an activist with the American Friends Service Committee who has attended the meetings.
"I don't think the engagement between the police and the community has deepened in any way or changed significantly," she said.
In the days and weeks after Williams' death, groups of individual officers and commanders came to the Chief Seattle Club and talked with the often-homeless Native Americans who use the center's services, said Jenine Grey, the club's executive director.
Some officers have built real relationships, and that has helped create some healing, Grey said.
At the same time, she said, a contingent of officers stationed themselves around the club the same day that lawyers from the U.S. Department of Justice, which is investigating SPD's treatment of minorities, came to take statements. She also wonders if it's a coincidence that later that day police arrested two people who gave statements.
In the past few months, police officers have treated Native Americans on the street with a courtesy they never did before, said John Williams' brother, Rick, who has just finished carving two memorial totems for his brother at Waterfront Park.
But he doesn't think it will last.
"My opinion is it's a good show because the DOJ is here," Rick Williams said. "After they're gone, we think it'll go back to same ol', same ol'."