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Garry Eaton, Canada

Safe Streets

It's afternoon, on August 30, 2010, and a North American native male about 5' 10" and 50 years old, quite thin, ambles with the light across the street at the corner of X&X in Seattle, in front of a police dashboard camera. The video shows he is wearing light blue khaki pants, a tan sweater, baseball cap and sandals. He moves in a straight line, not looking up, because he is intent on carving something from a block of wood.

His name is John, and he makes a meager living on these streets with woodcarvings he sells around Pike Place Market. They are small, painstakingly detailed, and often of high intrinsic value. However, cheap knockoffs based on native designs are flooding the market lately, and have reduced what he can now get for his work. He lives hand-to-mouth, sharing his income and his sad good humor with native friends more in need than he is. John is deaf in one ear.

According to the timer on the video, the carver, whose drinking and sense of frustration have accelerated in recent years, so that he recently threatened to urinate on the table at the community shelter where he lives unless he got more beer immediately, finishes the crossing safely, and reaches the sidewalk at 4:12:18 pm. The police officer behind the wheel of the vehicle puts it in park at the side of the street, exits and walks stealthily past the camera, with his gun drawn. At 4:12:27 pm, he steps onto the sidewalk behind the carver and disappears from camera view.

By 4:12:30 pm, we hear the recorded voice of the police officer loudly hollering. 'Hey!–Hey!–Hey! Put the knife down! Put the knife down!' then 'Put–-the–-knife–-down!', as if speaking to someone who either does not hear, or fails to understand.

Six seconds later, at 4:12:36 pm, the camera records a female pedestrian in the crosswalk suddenly jump, startled by loud, cracking sounds. She turns her eyes toward the police officer to her left, and her pace slows. She stops, seeing the woodcarver, whether shot in the chest or the back is still uncertain, fall dead to the sidewalk.

At 4:12:45 pm, the police officer in question calls a message into dispatch from the microphone on his lapel: '233-(location) Shots fired. Subject wouldn't drop the knife..."

Though there is an investigation, there is no charge of wrongdoing, and the guilty police officer resigns from the force within a month. Many of his colleagues do what they can to placate the native community, who demonstrate their righteous outrage for months afterward.

Thus ends, almost haphazardly and certainly without reason, the life of John Trouble Williams, native artist.

summer grass
a buffalo calf appears
from the wood


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