by Andre Taylor, De-escalate Washington organizer, ED of Not This Time, and brother of Che Taylor/ Gerald Hankerson, King County NAACP President/ Nikkita Oliver, the Peoples Party 2017 Mayoral candidate, artist and community organizer/ Tim Harris, Real Change Executive Director/ Violet Lavatai, Tenants Union organizer/ Keaton Slansky, Co-Chair of the Seattle Democratic Socialists of America/ Juan José Bocanegra, Volunteer Coordinator El Comité/ Rev. John Helmiere, Convener of Valley & Mountain (United Methodist Church)/ Sally Soriano, former Seattle School Board member / Emerson Johnson, Kshama Solidarity Campaign Organizer /Shaun Scott, Democratic Socialists of America/ Ty Moore, Socialist Alternative, Seattle Organizer /Brett Hamil, host of The Seattle Process /Sean Smith, Stop the Sweeps & Urban Encampments Union
Seattle shouldn’t pay the extortion money demanded by the cops who killed Che Taylor and who are now threatening a defamation suit against Kshama and the City.
The two Seattle police officers who killed Che Taylor, a black man attempting to comply with police orders as he was shot, are using the threat of a defamation lawsuit against City Councilmember Kshama Sawant to demand a big taxpayer-funded settlement. If the City of Seattle doesn’t pay up by April 2nd, Officers Spaulding and Miller intend to file suit against both the City and Sawant.
We stand united in completely opposing any settlement deal. The City of Seattle should reject this extortion and refuse to give one cent of taxpayer money to these cops. Any settlement would be used by the right wing and establishment voices to cast a shadow of guilt over Kshama, and to intimidate others from speaking out against police racism and violence.
This is about more than defending Kshama Sawant, one of the rare elected officials who dares to consistently speak out against police racism and brutality. It’s about standing united against attempts to intimidate and silence the wider movement for black lives and anti-racists activists everywhere.
In February 2016, SPD Officers Spaulding and Miller fired four shots into Che Taylor at point-blank range. The official inquest jury convened by County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, which had access to unreleased video of the incident, was unanimous in concluding that Che Taylor had his hands in the air and was attempting to follow orders when Spaulding and Miller shot and killed him. However, as is almost always the case when it comes to police killings, the prosecutor’s office chose not to file charges against the officers.
Protests erupted almost immediately, and on February 26th, 2016, Kshama Sawant was invited to speak to a rally demanding justice for Che Taylor outside City Hall. Kshama sharply called out the long legacy of police racism and abuse in Seattle, the importance of building the movement, and she condemned the brutal killing of Che Taylor.
Citing this speech, officers Spaulding and Miller filed their initial defamation lawsuit against Sawant in August 2016. Ironically, the second sentences of their Complaint said the officers “do not want one red cent of public money.” But after a judge demanded they amend their lawsuit to provide sufficient details to prove defamation, the officers instead withdrew the suit against Kshama and demanded the City of Seattle pay a settlement on penalty of re-filing their suit, this time against both Kshama and the city.
In a letter sent to Council President Bruce Harrell and City Attorney Pete Holmes on February 2nd, the lawyers for Spaulding and Miller urged a “quiet mediation” to work out a settlement deal by April 2nd, while threatening “a very public and costly dispute” if the City refuses.
Defamation lawsuits can drag out for years, and can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s hard to imagine officers Spaulding and Miller are paying for the lawsuit themselves. While we can only guess at the motivations of those secretly bankrolling their case, there are plenty of right-wing groups eager to silence anti-racist activists and politically undermine Kshama.
We fully expect these officers to refile their lawsuit if the city doesn’t settle. If that happens our communities needs to mobilize an all-out solidarity campaign. This lawsuit is designed to intimidate and silence Sawant, a prominent voice against police racism and violence, and to send a chilling message to the entire movement. We’ve seen how the NFL’s ability to end Colin Kaepernick’s football career in retaliation for his stand against police racism has made other professional athletes think twice about speaking out. Let’s not allow this lawsuit to send a similar message to the few allies our movement has among elected officials – those with the power to enact real reforms.
That’s why we’re supporting plans to kick-off a strong “Kshama Solidarity Campaign” on May 4th at 6pm at Washington Hall. We are appealing to all community groups and individuals who believe we need a strong and unbowed movement against police racism and brutality to stand with Kshama if this suit is re-filed, and to help us turn the tables on the officers and their financial backers. Together, we will demonstrate that whenever right-wing forces try to silence or intimidate voices of dissent, we’ve got each other’s backs.
Featured image by Alex Garland