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A restorative circle in the wake of a police shooting

January 16, 2012

To focus the Restorative Circle, I worked with Rick Williams to explore what was said or done that he wanted to bring to it. In advance, everyone recognized and agreed that the subject and details of the shooting would be off limits: investigation of the use of force was underway, an inquest was planned, potential civil liability of the City of Seattle was at issue, and civil and criminal accountability of the officer remained to be determined — all of these were obvious barriers to open and direct communication. Yet, we realized we didn’t need to talk about the details of the shooting itself to address the dynamics and conditions that gave rise to it and continued after it.

Rick Williams decided to focus instead on interactions between the family and other police officers following the shooting that were symbolic of the tensions between them and the increased scrutiny, harassment, and lack of respect the family was experiencing from the police. For example, an officer said to Rick, “You people need to learn how to obey.” As another example, a teen-aged member of the Williams family asked an officer: “I am a carver and these are my tools. If I have this knife, will you shoot me, too?” The officer responded, “You don’t want to test that theory now, do you?” By choosing an action following the shooting, but symbolic of the underlying tensions, we found a portal through which to explore the deeper rifts and ongoing conflicts between the Seattle Police Department, the family, and the community.

Who needed to be present to resolve the conflict? Rick and Eric Williams, brothers and master carvers; friend and carver, Dan Martin, and his wife, Connie Sue Martin, another lawyer for the family; two leaders of the Chief Seattle Club, an agency that provides services and support to urban Native Americans; Police Chief John Diaz, as well as three key departmental officials in the chain of command above the officers (who were not present because they could not be identified); Sergeant Fred Ibuki, an officer Rick Williams trusted, who knew his father and three generations of Williams family carvers; and Kathryn Olson from the Office of Professional Accountability. Rick Williams’s children were invited but chose not to participate. I served as facilitator along with a co-facilitator, Susan Partnow.

On September 13, 2010, we held the Restorative Circle for over three hours at the Chief Seattle Club in a sacred space designed for traditional Native American healing circles. 

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