Shot in the back by Seattle police

January 23, 2019

Steve Leigh reports from Seattle on angry protests against another police murder, which are being led by family members of other victims of the department.

SEATTLE POLICE can’t seem to shake their addiction to murdering people of color.

The same department that has been the subject of a federal investigation and a consent decree claimed another victim with Seattle cop Jared Keller killed Iosia Faletogo, a 36-year-old Samoan man, on New Year’s Eve.

The killing was so outrageous that the Washington State Patrol decided to conduct an independent investigation, a step that had been called for by the Office of Police Accountability. Even the SPD agreed under pressure to this very unusual request. The OPA will also conduct its own investigation.

On New Year’s Eve, Iosia was stopped by the Seattle police for a traffic infraction. He ran from the scene. Officers — violating a ballot measure, Initiative 940, passed last November, which requires them to attempt to de-escalate the situation — shouted “Stop or I’ll shoot.”

Taking to the streets in Seattle against police violence
Taking to the streets in Seattle against police violence (Rick Barry)

When police caught up with Iosia, they tackled him to the ground. A gun he had slid away in the scuffle. To be sure police would have no excuse to shoot him, he shouted, “I am not reaching.”

In spite of this, with three cops on his back, Keller claimed Iosia was still a threat and shot him. Even the police video of the event shows clearly that Iosia was no threat when he was murdered.

Press reports have focused on Iosia’s criminal record, as if this somehow justified the cops’ action. This is the usual pattern when police kill people, especially Black people and other people of color. The press tries the victim of the police rather than the killer.

IOSIA’S FAMILY and other community members are not taking this lying down. They are grieving, but they are also organizing.

On January 18, over 100 people joined family members for a demonstration called by Not This Time, the organization that sponsored Initiative 940. Several members of other families who have had a relative murdered by police also spoke.

Andre Taylor, the brother of police murder victim Che Taylor and a leader of Not This Time, started the rally off, saying:

Sixty percent of the people of Washington voted for Initiative 940. They want to hold the police accountable for unjustified shootings. How can it be fair for law enforcement officers to investigate each other? We want full disclosure! The police shouted “ Stop or we’ll shoot.” If somebody yelled that at me, I would do whatever I could to get away. It’s self-preservation. They failed 940. They failed the community. They are saying that anyone who gets out of a car and runs is worthy of death. Don’t be tricked!

Iosia’s father Yamani spoke from his heart: “To the police union, you are saying things about my son. You don’t know my son. To the mayor and City Council, I hope you do the right thing.”

Carina, Iosia’s aunt, supported this: “How can a young man flat on his stomach not reaching for a gun get shot? The cops need to be questioned one by one. What was their mental state? He was defenseless. You’re trying to protect people at the top. You could have brought him in peacefully.”

Katrina Johnson, from the family of Charleena Lyles, who was killed by police in front of her children after she called in a burglary report, gave her support and solidarity to Iosia’s family.

“When Charleena was killed, I said that this was enough,” Katrina said. “What happened on December 31, 2018 is more than enough. We will get answers. We will get justice. You guys are fighters. Not accepting the narrative is the big thing.”

After the rally, demonstrators marched through downtown Seattle, chanting “No justice, no peace” “Justice for Iosia” and “I’m not reaching.” They gathered again at the starting point, pledging to continue the struggle.

As Andre Taylor said, “The worst thing is to have a child die before their parents.” But as long as this happens at the hands of police, the struggle will continue.

Further Reading

From the archives