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Welcome to The Seattle Times' online letters to the editor, a sampling of readers' opinions. Join the conversation by commenting on these letters or send your own letter of up to 200 words letters@seattletimes.com.

February 21, 2011 at 4:00 PM

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Officer Birk resigns, shooting ruled unjustified

Posted by Letters editor

SPD must provide a concrete plan

While Seattle Police Chief John Diaz’s honesty regarding Officer Ian Birk’s shooting of John T. Williams is commendable, the public must know exactly what the Seattle Police Department will do to ensure this tragedy doesn’t happen again.

Diaz says Birk “did not follow his training” when approaching Williams. Was Birk unprepared, afraid or unhinged? If he was unprepared, how will SPD improve its training programs to prepare officers for such situations? And, while the idea of an officer being undertrained is frightening, it’s far worse to imagine him acting out of fear or malice — in other words, mentally incapable of performing his job. If this was the case, how will SPD improve its screening process to make sure individuals like Birk are no longer given deadly weapons, backed by Washington state law to fire them at will?

Furthermore, Birk didn’t operate in a vacuum; he interacted with other police officers. How will SPD improve its culture so someone who notices a lack of training, fear or anger — whatever the case may be — would be compelled to report it?

While admitting wrongdoing is a start, we need more than platitudes.

SPD is losing our trust, and it will take a concrete plan to win it back.

— Kristin Anderson, Seattle

Event brought frustration and pity

The frustration, anger and ultimately the sadness brought about by the actions of a police officer, who seems to fear his own shadow if he is not holding a gun, may someday be less painful than it is today [“Officer Birk quits after SPD rebuke,” Feb. 17]. There are now a few important things to consider.

In First Nations tribal cultures, would someone who made a horrible mistake of the sort that Officer Ian Birk made (note: I am not calling this an “honest mistake” because it is clearly not) be jailed or face a death penalty? Or would it not have been more likely that he would be stripped of his possessions within the tribe, banished and be left in isolation for the remainder of his life.

Even this would not suffice to ease the emotional trauma suffered by the family and friends of the victim. But perhaps if Officer Birk apologizes, which I have not heard that he ever did, that might fractionally help, along with his banishment from this city, this county and this state.

I pity him in his fear of people with different complexions, but I pity him more for his ignorance and reckless disregard for human life. His actions will continue to be called into question, wherever he goes. In the meantime, those of us who do not see people with different complexions as those to be feared will continue to do the real work of both honoring and defending human dignity in all of its diverse expressions.

— Martha Kearns and Gabriel Lavalle, Lynnwood

Seattle’s finest above the law

No wonder some of Seattle’s “finest” act like they are above the law — because they are! That’s at least the interpretation of the law by Prosecutor Dan Satterberg.

I have looked at the 3-inch blade on my kitchen knife and wonder how a young, tall and beefy officer carrying a firearm would have reason to “fear for his life” seeing an old, short and half drunken man with a wooden box and carving knife — found closed — stumbling across the street, some 10 to 12 feet away?

Officer Ian Birk admitted he knew John T. Williams was intoxicated when he first encountered him and followed him to confront him. Evidence shows that he gave the man only four seconds to react to his command to drop the knife.

Anyone with a smidgen of common sense will realize that an inebriate person does not react as quickly as a sober one and that an officer who is determined to chase a harmless but inebriate street personality was out to get him off the street — one way or another!

Obviously, Birk was angry and had to show who is “boss.” If that doesn’t show “malice,” I don’t know what does.

— Elfriede H. Kristwald, Seattle

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