photo by Brian Smale
UPDATE: The post below is about the May 2021 project addressing people killed by the police. To learn about the June 2023 project in support of trans lives and trans kids here.
Justice means they would still be alive today.
May 25 marks the anniversary of the murder of George Floyd, a watershed moment that has re-energized an ongoing nationwide movement and sparked an urgent conversation about the role of policing in our state. In Washington, about 40-50 members of our communities—disproportionately Black, Brown, Indigenous, and AAPI—are killed each year by police officers. That must change.
Beginning on May 25, the Saint Mark’s cathedral building will become a public monument. With the approval of the Vestry, and in collaboration with the ACLU of Washington State, the names of citizens killed by police will be projected onto the façade of the cathedral, in letters over three feet high. With the exception of George Floyd, all the names will be people from Seattle and Western Washington. In this way, Saint Mark’s will use its most visible asset—the cathedral building itself—to “say their names” in this extraordinarily public way, in order to spark discussions and move towards meaningful change in our own community and region.
In the 2021 legislative session, ACLU-WA collaborated with the Washington Coalition on Police Accountability, a coalition which centers the voices of impacted family members whose loved ones have been killed by police. Their work seeks to bring us towards justice by preventing the unnecessary and unjust killing of others by police. Through lobbying, organizing, and policy efforts, the Washington state legislature passed 14 bills on policing, aimed at reducing police violence.
Special thanks to Spokane Community Against Racism (SCAR) for designing and building our equipment.
This article contains reflections by Dean Thomason on meeting the family of Herbert Hightower Jr., who visited the cathedral to see their loved one's name projected on May 26.
Victims and Dates of Light Projections:
INFORMATION ABOUT THE NAMED INDIVIDUALS
Click photos to enlarge
Charleena Lyles weighed 100 pounds. She was 14 weeks pregnant with three of her 4 children at home when she was killed by Seattle police. Police allege she was holding a paring knife. They had recently been to her apartment and were aware she struggled with behavioral health issues.
- Herbert Hightower Jr. was killed in 2004 by Seattle police while experiencing a mental health crisis. Police claimed Herbert had two knives when they approached him and have changed their story multiple times, first stating that Herbert was walking towards them and they were remorseful for not using non-lethal weapons, then changing it to he was running towards them and they were no longer remorseful. The family learned one of the knives claimed to be found on the scene was a round-edged butter knife. The family still does not know what happened, and no one has been held accountable. Herbert was only 25 years old.
Tommy Le was shot and killed by police in Burien in 2017. The King County Sheriff's office initially claimed that he was shot while charging at the police with a knife. They later admitted the no knife was involved at all, and that he was shot in the back. An autopsy suggests that he was in fact lying face down on the ground when he was shot. He was 20 years old, 5'4" tall, and described by his family as "nerdy." Office of Law Enforcement Oversight found "serious gaps" in the investigation into the killing, and King County settled a lawsuit with his family in March of 2021.
- Mi’Chance Dunlap-Gittens was 17 years old when he was shot in the back while running away from plainclothes police officers in Des Moines, WA, in a botched sting operation in 2017. Mi'Chance was completely innocent of any crime whatsoever—the police were attempting to arrest another teenager (who, as it happens, was also innocent). It is unclear if he ever knew that the men attacking him were police. King County apologized for the killing, and the case led to the implementation of body cameras and dash cams by the King County Sheriff's Office. But the chain of blunders on the part of the police that led to his death should never have occurred.
- Joel Nelson’s death in 2016 should not have occurred. Joel was unarmed and police de-escalation should have been used in his incident. The Thurston County Sheriff needs to learn from Joel’s case and implement a transparent process for investigations. Five years later conflicts of interest proving family relationships involved in the Sheriff’s office are still a major role in investigations.
- Billy Langfitt was 28 years old when he was killed by a Pierce County Sheriff Deputy near Graham Washington, in 2018. Billy was experiencing a mental health crisis and was unarmed when he was shot. The deputy made no effort to de-escalate or use less lethal force.
Iosia Faletogo was shot by Seattle Police officers the afternoon of December 31, 2018. He was pulled over for a traffic stop and fled the scene on foot. Six officers chased him, tackled him, and held him down. He had a gun on his person, and complied with commands to drop it and not reach for it. One officer shot him point blank in the head, although the officers heard Iosia say “not reaching.”
- Samuel Toshiro Smith was severely impaired by drugs and alcohol and holding a knife when he was shot by a police officer in Seattle in 2015. Body camera footage shows that he was killed less than two seconds after being given a warning by police. He had no chance to respond. No attempt was made to calm, de-escalate, control, or simply evade the situation. Non-lethal weapons were not employed. The officer's choice to end Sam's life was not inevitable.
John T. Williams was a seventh-generation woodcarver of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation. On August 30, 2010, a Seattle police officer saw him walking across a street in downtown Seattle holding a small pocket knife, which was later found to be closed at the time. The officer shouted "Hey! Put the knife down!" and less than five seconds after the first "Hey," the officer shot him dead.
- Stoney Chiefstick was killed in a crowd gathered for a fireworks celebration on July 3, 2019, in Poulsbo, Washington. The officer who killed him made no effort at all to de-escalate and instead rushed him and killed him. There was no conversation, no effort to move the crowd, no use of alternatives. He was alleged to have had a screwdriver. Stoney Chiefstick’s death was unnecessary.
Renee Davis was killed in her own bed in October of 2016 by two King County deputies. Those deputies were called for a welfare check and were there to make sure she was safe during a mental health crisis, yet they killed her in the presence of her children. The officers had their guns out before approaching her door, did not de-escalate, take time, or secure the safety of anyone involved before they kicked her bedroom door open and killed her. The officers’ actions were found reasonable.
- Cecil Lacy Jr. was killed September 2015 by a Snohomish County Sheriff Deputy and Tulalip tribal police. He was walking, unarmed, committing no crime, having no criminal history. He died from asphyxia while prone, cuffed, with the deputy sheriff on his back. Cecil’s last words were “I CAN’T BREATHE.” Cecil was killed on his own reservation. Cecil left three kids, a wife, mother, grandchildren.
- Daniel Covarrubias was killed in Lakewood in April 2015, holding a cell phone when he was killed. The officers took no effort to use de-escalation tactics. He was in a mental health crisis. He was killed within seconds of officers arriving on the scene. The shooting was deemed justified by the department.
- Jackie Salyers was killed by Tacoma Police Department, the officers shooting at the vehicle she was allegedly driving towards them, claiming their lives were in danger. This death and cover up in early 2016 illustrates the failures of police investigating police, and the disregard for Native Americans. Native Americans have the highest rate of fatal encounters with police.
- Bennie Branch was checking on his mother who was living in her vehicle at the time, when Bennie was shot and killed by Tacoma Police Department. This shooting in September 2019 has so many facts in dispute, it needs an independent investigation, and a jury to weigh these facts. Bennie was unarmed and shot in his back while running away.
- Leonard Thomas was unarmed, holding his son, when a SWAT sniper shot him in Fife Washington on the porch of his home in 2013. Three of the officers involved in killing Leonard were found civilly liable in federal court and a jury found that their egregious actions were directly responsible for Leonard’s unnecessary death. All three of these officers have been promoted and still have their badges and jobs.
- Said Joquin was killed during a Lakewood traffic stop in 2020 by one of the same officers who had been found responsible for the wrongful death of Leonard Thomas seven years earlier. Said was suspected of rolling through a stop sign. Police justified the killing by claiming he had "lowered his hands" after being ordered to keep them in air. The man who was in the passenger seat during the killing says that this is a lie. Officer Mike Wiley should have been removed from the police force after his misconduct in 2013.
- Jesse Sarey was killed in Auburn, WA, on May 31, 2019 by Officer Jeff Nelson, who had multiple complaints of excessive force. Jesse was the third person he killed. The King County prosecutor has filed second degree murder and first degree assault charges and the officer was arrested. Jesse was only 25 years old.
- Isaiah Obet was, according to claims made by the police, attempting to commit a carjacking in June of 2017, armed with a small knife. Officer Jeff Nelson arrived, ordered his police dog to attack, and shot Isaiah in the chest. While lying on the ground, having been mauled by a dog and with a bullet already in his chest, Isaiah posed no threat. Nevertheless, Officer Nelson stood over Isaiah and fired a second shot directly into his head. The Auburn Police Department awarded Officer Nelson its Medal of Valor for thwarting the carjacking. The City of Auburn settled a lawsuit brought by Isaiah's family for $1.25 million.
- Brian Scaman was the first of the three people shot by Auburn Police Officer Jeff Nelson, killed during a traffic stop in 2011. The officer claimed that he was being attacked, and yet Scaman was shot in the back of the head.
- Enosa “EJ” Strickland was shot by Auburn police in May 2019 while waiting with police for a ride to pick him up. No crime had been committed. According to the police, Strickland allegedly obtained a knife belonging to one of the officers, although it remains unclear how that happened. The officers claim they were unable to deescalate or restrain EJ, and instead fired a single shot into the back of his head.
- Giovonn Joseph McDade was killed in Kent in a traffic stop in June 2017. He was not committing a crime and was unarmed when he was killed. The vehicular pursuit was unnecessary. He was 20 years old. An officer standing beside Giovonn’s car shot him twice.
- Matthew Folden was killed in Wenatchee in a grocery store parking lot in July 2017. Matt was agitated and is alleged to have threatened people with a pocket knife. He was killed within 13 seconds of the police arriving on the scene. Matt was 31 years old, had a history of drug use and co-occurring mental health issues, was a local musician and tattoo artist, and was a father and part of a loving family.
- Patrick West was a loving husband, father, son, brother, and friend who suffered from bipolar disorder. Police were called to his home in Montesano in April 2019 for a welfare check when he was experiencing a mental health crisis. Patrick was alone in his own home and had not committed any crime. The local police activated a multi-jurisdictional tactical response team, which surrounded his home with armed officers, snipers, and an armored vehicle. Patrick was shot in the back and shoulder after tactical officers breached the door to his home with a battering ram. He was holding a piece of steel from his workshop.
- Ryan Smith was killed in May 2019 after his girlfriend called 911 saying, "He needs help." Rather than providing help, police broke the door down, and six second later he was shot 12 times, as his girlfriend yelled "do not shoot!" Seattle's Office of Police Accountability concluded both officers had acted in a "lawful and proper" manner.
- Damarius Butts was shot and killed by Seattle police following a report of an armed robbery at a downtown convenience store. Nineteen-year-old Butts and his 17-year-old sister reportedly stole doughnuts, chips and a 12-pack of beer, showing the clerk a handgun on the way out. According to police, officers chased him, and a police officer was struck in his protective vest with a round. Butts died from multiple gunshot wounds. His family believes that they have never found out what really happened.
- Che Taylor was given conflicting demands by Seattle Police, and he had his hands up when they shot him and left him to bleed to death. He was unarmed. Che was killed in February 2016, and his brother and sister founded Not This Time to advocate for other families facing the difficulties of navigating the system after a police-involved shooting.
- Shaun Fuhr was holding his child and running away from police when he was killed in Seattle in April 2020. It appears that deadly force was not necessary and it was used in a reckless and indifferent manner. There were other alternatives that day that would have kept Shaun alive.
- Kevin Peterson Jr. was shot in the back in October 2020, while running away from Clark County Deputies. Kevin was 21 years old. He did not fire a single shot, yet police claimed he fired first, and immediately posted this misinformation on their website. Officers included these lies in their report. Kevin’s life mattered, and the truth matters.
- Carlos Hunter was shot and killed in March 2019 while seat belted in his car, dragged to the ground, handcuffed. He was left to bleed to death. The police use the traffic stop to serve a warrant; and the police found no evidence of a crime in their search of his home or car. Carlos was the third Vancouver, Washington resident killed in a three-week stretch.
- Clando Anitok was killed in January 2020 in Spokane after an officer attempted to stop him for a missing headlight. A traffic stop turned into a car chase. The officer claims he attempted to use a Taser, but it "malfunctioned." Clando was unarmed. He was shot once in the head.
- Juan Rene Hummel was killed in July of 2020 after policed received a call reporting someone slashing tires. (It remains unclear whether Juan or anyone else was actually slashing tires.) He was killed within seconds of encountering the officer. He was 25 years old.
- Clayton Joseph was 16 years old when he was shot and killed in Vancouver, WA, in February 2019. He was holding a knife at the time. Non-lethal means of stopping him were not attempted.
- Oscar Perez Giron was killed by a King County Sheriff’s deputy after being removed from a Sound Transit light rail train for failing to pay fare in June 2014. Police claim he pointed a handgun at the police, but his family disputes this version of events.
- Michael Pierce was killed in February 2019 in Vancouver, WA, while holding what police believed were handguns. The guns turned out to be fake—the officers were never actually in danger. He had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and was living on the street.