When dedicating public moneys and public land in honor of a single individual I thought I knew what would qualify someone for such recognition. Erecting a statue, or naming a bridge or school or merely placing a lasting plaque for public display would typically require that the so-honored individual be someone who benefited the general populace in some worthwhile or at least memorable way. The honoree should be someone of whom many if not most would want to emulate. While not perfect, the person being honored should have led a life of mostly positive virtue.
With the City of Seattle‘s actions this past week I no longer know what qualifies a person for such high public honor. In fact, I am now stupefied as to what would disqualify someone from public adoration and affection. For the Northwest’s largest and increasingly most backward city has determined a prominent place in its most visited public place is suitable location to erect a memorial to a homeless, alcoholic drunk who’s only notable contribution to society was keeping police occupied.
Sunday a collection of people carried a 33-foot tall, 5000-thousand pound totem pole from Seattle’s Pier 57 to Seattle Center where the traditional native carving was erected at the base of the Space Needle, only Seattle’s most recognized symbol.
Mayor Mike McGinn was on hand presiding over the dedication. The totem pole was carved and erected in memory of “wood-carver” John T. Williams.
Williams was shot and killed by Seattle Police officer Ian Birk in 2010. Birk shot Williams after having three times yelled at the man to drop a knife Williams was carrying. The shooting was determined to be “unjustified” by a Police Review Commission. However, King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterburg in February 2011 chose not to file criminal charges against Birk, saying “a jury would find him not-guilty”. Birk later resigned from the Seattle Police Department.
The 50-year old Williams was unknown to Birk. He was not unknown to Seattle Police. Williams had been convicted of criminal wrong doing more than 30-times. Many of those convictions were for indecent exposure. Shortly after his death the Seattle Times newspaper wrote of Williams: “Williams had been a chronic alcoholic drifting in and out of homelessness, detox centers, hospitals and jails for decades. From Des Moines to Sedro-Woolley, police officers dealt with Williams time and again. He was arrested and charged more than 100 times in the city of Seattle alone since 1985, for a slew of misdemeanor offenses: disorderly conduct, criminal trespass, drinking in public.”
I get that his shooting was probably unjustified. I also appreciate that the police officer was not criminally charged in the case. I absolutely don’t get creating a publicly recognized honor for a man so weak as a human being and completely dependent on the public dole for his mere survival. If a man like this can qualify for memorial on public lands who do we disqualify?
One of the Northwest most famous natives was Ted Bundy. Among his many accomplishments was that he was a Husky, having studied at the University of Washington. Perhaps that’s the place we should dedicate a statue to the serial killer. We could erect it on Greek Row where he found some of his victims. It could feature Bundy wearing the sling he was known to use as a fake ploy to lure his victims. Or does killing multiple people disqualify one from public adoration? Seemingly, that’s the only disqualifier.
I suppose if Whitney Houston is worthy of a 5-hour televised public funeral and of flags being flown at half-staff in her home state of New Jersey a totem pole being erected for Williams isn’t off the charts. In fact on the scale of justification it sounds just about right. Williams should have recorded some music during his life, perhaps then his picture could be hung in public schools. I suppose on the scale of honoring victimhood it’s perfectly in line, and I should fall in line and be accepting of it. In doing so I’m only left with the question of how to properly pay homage to Williams next time I’m at the Seattle Center with my family and come across his memorial. It seems in keeping with Williams life and his memory the only appropriate thing to do would be to urinate on it. It’s probably what he would have done.
Thanks for visiting. Comments are welcome.
- Totem pole to honor slain Seattle woodcarver (thenewstribune.com)
- John T. Williams Totem Erected at Seattle Center This Sunday (slog.thestranger.com)
- New totem pole is raised in honor of slain carver John T. Williams (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- No federal civil-rights charges for former SPD Officer Ian Birk (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Justice Dept.: Seattle police used excessive force (seattletimes.nwsource.com)