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Is Seattle Any Different Than Ferguson?

“Hands up, don’t shoot,” protesters chanted, their hands up as they streamed down Seattle streets on Monday night and Tuesday. “Black lives matter.”

They were protesting a Missouri grand jury’s decision to not indict a police officer in the fatal shooting of black teenager Michael Brown. As they protested, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray held a news conference, saying the city is committed to the goals of racial and social justice.

"We are failing our young African-American men," he said.

On Tuesday, KUOW's The Record devoted the full hour to discussing the ripple effects of the Brown case in Seattle. 

Host Ross Reynolds noted that a version of Ferguson happened in Seattle in 2010. That’s when Seattle Police Officer Ian Birk killed John T. Williams, a Native American woodcarver who was unarmed.

King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg did not pursue charges against Birk.

State Senator-elect Pramila Jayapal told Reynolds that Seattle isn’t Ferguson. Still, she said there’s a lack of trust between people here and the police.

“People are trying to figure out how you heal and change in the context of a system that feels like it hasn’t changed in a long time,” Jayapal said.

She said the bigger questions may be harder ones: “How do we actually invest in young people, particularly young black men, who are failing out of our schools at 52 percent?”

Throughout the show, Reynolds fielded phone calls from listeners.

One woman, who said she is married to a police officer, called in saying the press hadn’t focused on the officer’s perspective. “The problem is that he was armed with his fists,” she said of Brown. 

“I’m sorry he made the choices he made to lose his life,” she said. “But if you assault a police officer …

“That young man made a decision to disrespect law enforcement.”

Nick from Renton called in, identifying himself as a former African American police officer who worked in the Midwest.

“The black officer is between two worlds,” he said. “Believe me, in the Midwest, the thinking is that they’re still in 1965. I hate to go back that far, but I believe that’s where they are.

“The few officers in a small Missouri town report there truly is a disconnect, and that there has been no effort for community leaders to talk to the community.”

David Harris, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh, said it’s daunting for prosecutors to charge a police officer. Officers are good at testifying, and juries tend to be sympathetic to them, because they’re usually the good guys, Harris said.

“It’s very hard for jury to make that subtle mental adjustment,” he said.

Still, Harris said that St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCullough proceeded unusually.

“From the beginning, the prosecutor said, ‘I’m going to give them all the evidence and they can decide,’” Harris said. “It’s such a deviation from what prosecutors usually do. It sends a strong signal that the prosecutor was building himself some political cover.”

Toward the end of the show, Reynolds checked in with KL Shannon, a community organizer who was marching with thousands through downtown Seattle – including about 1,000 students from Garfield High School.

“People are very upset,” Shannon said. “They’re hurt, they’re frustrated, they’re angry. We are here to show not only Seattle but the world that we stand with the Brown family.”

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