St Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle is projecting the names of people who have been murdered by police. George Floyd’s name will be centered, along with 35 other names of people who have died in Western Washington at the hands of police.
Today, June 5, the projection will read, for part of the day: “Patrick West should still be alive today.”
I wanted to post this today, because Patrick West was from my community.
There is a lawsuit in federal district court right now, filed by his wife and daughter.
Because the prosecutor ruled that his death was justifiable, even though he was shot in his own home, in the back, as a response to a mental health crisis.
Because case workers, usually with very little training in rural areas like this, called for backup during a mental health crisis, and the county’s police forces responded with a SWAT team and armored vehicle and a sniper.
Because, a father and husband and friend is dead.
His wife told me that she watched the protests that swept Minneapolis after George Floyd’s murder with tears, in part because, in this community, she was too often met with ridicule and hatred by other community members.
When we held a vigil to remember both George Floyd and members of our community like Patrick West, men with guns screamed at us that Patrick deserved to die.
What kind of self hatred must a community have to believe that one of their own deserved to die in the middle of a mental health crisis?
A few weeks ago, during Derek Chauvin’s trial, I was talking to a white guy who is homeless and he wondered out loud; “Why don’t we ever show up in the street when white people are killed?”
Fox News routinely points out that more white people are killed by police than Black people. They do this, however, not to express sympathy or solidarity, but to say; “See, white people die more by police and we don’t care.” This ignores the fact that, while there are more white people killed in sheer numbers, black people are far more likely to be killed. For example, while police violence is the 6th leading cause of death for young men 25-29, Black men are 2.5 times more likely to die than white men.
In this community, where poor white people and poor Native people and poor Asian and Black people all struggle together, it is hard to believe that anyone really does care.
It is also hard to push back or to show up in the streets or to take action for accountability.
There are many reasons, I think. It is safe to say that poor people in rural areas are more likely to believe their poverty and their mistakes and their illness are entirely their own fault. Our communities are also fragmented. Respectability politics play a large role: if you make enough to get by, you do not want to identify as poor or as in need of any kind of help.
It is also dangerous. Small communities, as fractured as they are, as divided as they are between classes, have less opportunity to publicly protest state violence, whether on the street or on a blog post. I will likely get threats on my life for even posting this. Small, struggling communities are not much different from dysfunctional and abusive families: you don’t talk about the unpleasant things. You keep your mouth shut.
There are whole systems that keep us in our place, as we die of untreated illness, medical neglect, drug overdoses, suicide, police violence, gun violence. To speak out is dangerous. To speak out costs something.
And, if we do, we are not guaranteed an audience. Lawmakers, even in liberal Washington state, are not all that concerned about what happens here on the edge of the earth.
But, today, Patrick West’s name is on the Cathedral in Seattle. And a federal lawsuit is filed by his brave family members, who want to see some accountability for his death.
Along with the names of Black men and woman shot by police like Charleena Lyles, who was also shot in her own home in Seattle, and Native men and women, like carver John T Williams, and so many others.
Patrick West should still be alive today.
All my love and respect to his family.