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Che Taylor shooting causes divide on Seattle council

The 2016 officer-involved shooting of Che Taylor in Seattle caused controversy over police shootings, and even media coverage of the incident. On Monday, it caused a divide on the city council.

“Unfortunately, this council has played very little to no role in holding the police department accountable for this incident,” said Seattle Council member Kshama Sawant at the council’s Monday briefing.

Related: Che Taylor family says law allows police to ‘murder without accountability’

But Sawant further called out her council colleagues for taking no action after the Che Taylor shooting in February 2016. She pointed to an email she sent Lorena Gonzalez days after the shooting requesting the committee she chairs — the Gender Equity, Safe Communities, and New American’s Committee — take up the issue.

“It is unfortunate that this committee has not held any agenda item on the killing of Che Taylor and urging city officials to take an active (role) in the investigation and keep the police department accountable,” Sawant said.

But Gonzalez quickly pointed out that she has held such a meeting, which included Che Taylor’s family.

“I did, in fact, have a meeting related to issues surrounding Mr. Taylor’s death,” Gonzalez said. “It may have not been structured in the way Councilmember Sawant would have liked, which might explain why she didn’t attend the meeting.”

Gonzalez said that the meeting included Taylor’s brother, Andre, and his family, and their lawyer, James Bible, who is a former president of the NAACP. She noted that there is currently an inquest underway, managed by the King County Prosecutor’s Office.

“I’ve been told repeatedly that while that inquest is ongoing it would be unreasonable and imprudent to have a public conversation about the actual evidence related to that piece of litigation,” she said.

More revealed in Che Taylor shooting

Taylor, 46, was fatally shot by Seattle police in February 2016. Limited video of the incident has failed to provide a clear picture of what happened. What is clear is that Seattle officers shot and killed him. Since the shooting, some witness accounts have been released to the public. Taylor was shot multiple times and fell behind a white car, out of view of police dash cams. The shooting has since been determined to be in line with Seattle police policy. Local organizations, such as the NAACP, have called the incident an “execution,” and “cold-blooded murder.”

As reported in Crosscut, recently released video of the officer-involved shooting shows the full encounter between Taylor and police. The footage was previously not provided to the public. Taylor still cannot be seen in the full video, which appears to show that police officers waited more than seven minutes before providing aid to the man they just shot. Officers left Taylor on the ground for about three minutes before placing him in handcuffs. At 6.5 minutes, an officer puts on gloves. At seven minutes, an officer begins administering CPR to Taylor. After 11 minutes, Taylor is transported into an ambulance that arrived on the scene.

Councilmember Gonzalez also commented Monday that she found the video “disturbing,” especially from the perspective of a civil rights lawyer who had represented victims in police misconduct cases.

“… it is pretty clear from my perspective on Constitutional law that officers are required to provide aid as soon as the scene is secure and they are able to safely provide aid to a person subjected to any type of use of force that results in visible injury,” Gonzalez said.

“I find it incredibly disturbing that it seems as though that might not have been done,” she said. “We will follow up with the Seattle Police Department to inquire as to why that wasn’t done …”

Gonzalez also wants to find out if any action was taken by the department’s Office of Professional Accountability related to “the failure, from my perspective, to provide aid to Mr. Taylor that could have altered the outcome for him in this case.”

“It is absolutely unconscionable to wait that long before providing aid,” she said.

But Sawant wants more. Despite Gonzalez’s remarks about respecting ongoing inquests into the shooting — and another comment made by Councilmember Bruce Harrell that he has attended other meetings focused on the shooting with the victim’s family — Sawant is urging the council to organize a public meeting involving the NAACP and the Not This Time Coalition. The coalition is organized by Che Taylor’s brother and currently seeks to change Washington law that makes it difficult to prosecute officers who shoot citizens.

Sawant said that waiting for investigation results doesn’t matter because Taylor was “indicted in the media” after the shooting.

“We have to take into account the actual fact that Che Taylor was painted as a criminal even though he was murdered by the police, even before any investigation results were released,” she said. “In light of that, it is absolutely appropriate for the council to hold a very open, public discussion where members of the public are invited in a very active manner.”

Sawant said that if Gonzalez’s committee doesn’t organize a meeting, or doesn’t “feel inclined” to hold it, she will be up to the task.

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