Church meeting

Tempers flare as the death of Aaron Roberts raises memories of past shootings.

WHY ARE these people so angry?

"I don't want my taxes paying for killer cops!" shouts sister Nancy, one of many sisters and brothers—as both black and white speakers were called—who stepped up to question Mayor Paul Schell and Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske at a public hearing in the Central District's First AME Church last week.

"Shame on you, Mayor!" a brother calls out from the crowd of 300. He is livid.

But why?

Of the 39 people who have died at Seattle police hands—shot or choked to death—since 1980, 22 were white and 17 were minorities, according to a new Seattle Weekly compilation.

What was brother Kelly of the Urban League referring to when he took to the podium and said it's time to "stop the killing of African Americans"?

Six out of the last nine people shot by Seattle police were minorities. Just two were armed with guns.

Brother Jeffrey of New Hope Baptist said a similar thing earlier, and was mad enough to lead a boycott of Starbucks that served to spark a public debate and dialogue.

Antonio Dunsmoor, 31, Filipino, was the first of the six. Mentally impaired, he waved a toy gun and was shot 19 times by eight police officers positioned behind their cars at Garfield Community Center in 1995.

They were so mad that time limits and restraints had to be applied to each speaker. But that didn't stop some of the church crowd. "You suckered out!" sister Brown yells at the chief. "That's because you a coward!"

Edward Anderson, 28, black, was second, shot to death point-blank in his back surrendering in a Central District backyard in 1996 by a Seattle officer who said his gun went off accidentally.

Brother Schell was saying he was out walking in the community, seeking people, dropping in at barbershops and stores. "I haven't seen you!" a riled audience brother interrupts.

Third was Bodegard Mitchell, 84, black. Mentally troubled, he wounded a housing worker and a police officer in 1996 before he was killed, in a case that evolved into charges against a white detective for allegedly taking $10,000 from the crime scene.

The mayor said he had confidence in the police department and promised justice for the community. "We know what happened to the Walker kid!" shouts an indignant audience bro.

No. 4, David John Walker, 40, black, also mentally impaired, was shot to death last year while surrounded by police when he supposedly lunged with a knife at an officer.

"We don't trust you," brother Clifford booms into the mike. "We don't trust people who shoot the mentally ill."

Fifth, Daniel del Fiero, 25, black, died in a shoot-out with police last year after robbing a bank allegedly with Aristotle Marr, who became a fugitive and now faces trial.

"When you said there was racism in the community," asks brother Taylor-Canfield of brother Schell, "were you at the same time also acknowledging there was racism in the Police Department?" The mayor hesitates, then nods yes.

And sixth, Aaron Roberts, 37, black, a traffic offender, was shot May 31 after trying to flee in his car while also reportedly holding onto and dragging a police officer. His shooting prompted the church meeting.

The officer could not just shoot out the tires, says brother Kerlikowske. "That works on television." Hoots and catcalls follow.

Not included in that list of six are black nonshooting victims Michael Ealy, 35, who died in 1999 from a struggle with police and ambulance attendants, and Andre Stapleton, 33, who was on drugs when he died in 1996 while being restrained by police. Counting them, eight of the last 11 to die by police hands were minorities.

"I've been stopped by the police, and they say do you mind if we search you?" says brother Jerry, trying to stay civil. "Of course I mind . . . but you've got the gun, you've got the power, and I want to live until tomorrow, so do what you want to do."

Community members are still troubled by deaths of the recent past, such as the 1988 shooting of William Tucker, 44, killed during a drug raid at his Central District home even though he was surrendering.

"I was told by one of your sergeants that Seattle is not that bad," hisses sister Jackson. "Well, how bad does it have to get?"

That same year, Erdman Bascom, 42, rose from his couch when police broke into his nephew's Rainier Valley apartment on a drug raid (no drugs were found) and was instantly shot to death while holding a TV remote in his hand.

Sister Nesbitt bellows, "I'm a taxpayer and I'm sick of it!"

With the exception of the pending Roberts inquest, all the deaths were found justified by coroner's inquest juries, as they have been for decades under a judicial process tilted in favor of police.

"I hear the anger tonight," says brother Schell. "I ask you that we move to the level of healing."

"Healing?!" stews an audience sis. "Don't he know how we feel?"

randerson@seattleweeky.com

For more on the Roberts shooting, see "Black and Blue," and Geov Parrish's column.

 
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