More than 100 on hand as city honors slain woodcarver

More than 100 on hand as city honors slain woodcarver »Play Video
Over 100 gather to honor John T. Williams as city declares day in honor, Feb. 27, 2011.
SEATTLE -- The room in Pioneer Square bristled with activity: drumbeats, chanting, prayer.

A carved totem pole is dedicated and delivered. A song - centuries old - wafts among the crowd. Many close their eyes, and raise their hands toward the heavens.

It's the way John T. Williams would've wanted it, friends say. A way to bring unity among the masses. Something he couldn't find in life, but he found in death.

"It’s an unfortunate incident that we come together under these circumstances," said Chief Jack Thompson, one of many Native Americans who participated in Sunday's celebration.

The songs and ceremonies were part of a three-hour dedication of John T. Williams Day in Seattle. Mayor Mike McGinn proclaimed the day - Feb. 27 - in honor of the woodcarver, who was gunned down by a Seattle police officer in August. Sunday would've been Williams' 51st birthday.

"The mayor’s office was asked to be a part of the healing process and to build bridges," said Deputy Mayor Darryl Smith, who read the city proclamation on McGinn's behalf. "This was the very least we could do."

Smith, along with Seattle police Chief John Diaz, received a red scarf and a ceremonial blanket from members of the Chief Seattle Club, who hosted the ceremony. The scarves, club members say, are red, to represent blood shed on city streets.

Williams, a seventh generation woodcarver, was shot and killed by Officer Ian Birk on Aug. 30, 2010. Birk told investigators he fired shots after Williams refused commands to put down a knife. A police department review board found the killing was unjustified, but the King County prosecutor's office decided not to file criminal charges against Birk.

"This has been a tragedy for everyone and there's much rebuilding that needs to happen," said Police Chief John Diaz, who sat next to the Williams family during Sunday's event. "I couldn’t ask for more than for you giving me the honor of coming to this today."

The event came on the heels of a violent protest targeting police Saturday night. Rioters attacked Seattle police with fireworks, flares, and fire extinguishers at the intersection of Boren Avenue and Howell Street, where Williams was shot six months ago. Officers also found obscenities scrawled in the street, spikes designed to flatten tires, and makeshift paint bombs. Police arrested three people on suspicion of rioting and obstruction charges.

Sunday's ceremony, however, was noticeably more peaceful and ceremonial, as the Williams family - and other Native Americans - try to heal.

In declaring Sunday John T. Williams day in Seattle, the city's deputy mayor also announced that leaders will provide designated space for carving for a totem to honor Williams. The carving at Seattle Center on March 1, and will continue with a second phase of on May 1 at Waterfront Park.

"I don’t want them to forget him," said Williams' brother, Rick. "I could go on forever telling stories of them, what it was like to carve with him. Who we are. First people."