Brother of Slain Native Man Embraces Cop, She Kisses His Hand in Response, Forgiveness Begins

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Courtesy Nickolaus Dee Lewis/White Deer Crossing Community Crosswalk Project Rick Williams, older brother of Seattle police shooting victim John T. Williams, hugs Detective Denise “Cookie” Bouldin at the ground-breaking ceremony for the White Deer Crossing Community Crosswalk on September 11. This is the first gesture of forgiveness toward Seattle police Rick has made since the death of his brother six years ago.

 

“I’ve been telling these cops to stay away from me for six years.”

Rick Williams, older brother of Seattle police shooting victim John T. Williams, sat at a picnic table on the Seattle Center grounds with his son Thunderheart. The seventh generation master carver of the Ditidaht tribe was training his son and helping him sell beautiful, handmade, painted totem poles. As chilly autumn breezes polished the trees and pushed around leaves, Rick described how he recently hugged a Seattle Police officer.

“I thought that was an appropriate place to make peace with the cops, there at the White Deer Crossing.”

Rick Williams, a seventh generation master carver of the Ditidaht tribe, and his son Thunderheart, representing the eighth generation, sell intricate totem poles they carved from a location on the Seattle Center grounds. The Williams family has been selling carvings in Seattle since the early 1900s. (Photo by Frank Hopper)
Rick Williams, a seventh generation master carver of the Ditidaht tribe, and his son Thunderheart, representing the eighth generation, sell intricate totem poles they carved from a location on the Seattle Center grounds. The Williams family has been selling carvings in Seattle since the early 1900s. (Photo by Frank Hopper)

TheWhite Deer Crossingis at the corner of Boren and Howell, the location where Seattle Police Officer Ian Birk shot John T. Williams in 2010 and where on September 11 organizers of a planned memorial crosswalk in John’s honor held ground-breaking ceremonies.

Seattle mayor Ed Murray attended, as did Seattle Police Capt. John F. Hayes Jr. and representatives from Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods, the Seattle Indian Health Board and the John T. Williams Organizing Committee.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray speaks while Rick Williams looks on at the ground-breaking ceremony for the White Deer Crossing Community Crosswalk held September 11. (Courtesy Nickolaus Dee Lewis/White Deer Crossing Community Crosswalk Project)
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray speaks while Rick Williams looks on at the ground-breaking ceremony for the White Deer Crossing Community Crosswalk held September 11. (Courtesy Nickolaus Dee Lewis/White Deer Crossing Community Crosswalk Project)

As Williams described the event, his eyes filled with sadness. He spoke of how he and his family endured years of harsh treatment from Seattle police. He spoke of family members being roughed-up and intimidated simply for looking Native. He said he decided to make a gesture of peace with the Seattle police at the ground-breaking ceremony to create a more healing relationship with them and to stop them from harassing his family, friends and the entire Native community.

“I said, ‘Okay, let’s do this.’”

He showed me how he motioned for a nearby female police officer to join the healing circle. The officer, Detective Denise “Cookie” Bouldin, responded by kissing Williams’s hand, according to a Seattle Times account.

“I grabbed her and I hugged her and I said, ‘Welcome to the circle,’” he told me.

Rick Williams walks over the White Deer Crossing at the corner of Boren and Howell near downtown Seattle. This is the same crosswalk John T. Williams used just seconds before he was killed in 2010. (Courtesy Nickolaus Dee Lewis/White Deer Crossing Community Crosswalk Project)
Rick Williams walks over the White Deer Crossing at the corner of Boren and Howell near downtown Seattle. This is the same crosswalk John T. Williams used just seconds before he was killed in 2010. (Courtesy Nickolaus Dee Lewis/White Deer Crossing Community Crosswalk Project)

I first met Rick two years ago. I had just written an article about him and wanted to get his reaction. I found him at Victor Steinbrueck Park, unofficially known as Native Park because of the Native carvers who regularly work there.

Rick didn’t know who I was at the time and suspected I might be an undercover police officer. He was brisk and toyed with me for a while, rebuking me for using the word “Indian” even though I’m Tlingit. I left, feeling rejected and a little hurt.

But I remembered what I’d read about how people often saw him standing all by himself at the corner of Boren and Howell, lost in thought. I remembered how he had attended every court hearing and press conference regarding the shooting. I remembered how he held his family back from retaliating against the police. I remembered how he transformed tragedy into triumph by overseeing the creation of a totem pole for his brother, an honor totem, which hundreds of supporters helped raise near the foot of Seattle’s iconic Space Needle.

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