Justice now for police-slain Korean adoptee, Michael Layton Taylor
Justice now for police-slain Korean adoptee, Michael Layton Taylor
This petition is a call for an expedited independent investigation into the slaying of Michael Layton Taylor. Michael was shot by police on October 11, 2016 during a "sweep" of the Seattle homeless encampment known as the Jungle. He was someone who had experienced periodic homelessness, a person of color, an adoptee, and a victim of a highly questionable use of lethal force. His family and friends, who dearly loved him, deserve to know why he was killed, and the explanations offered so far have defied common sense and believability. The circumstances of Michael's death is also of grave concern to a public that has grown tired of seeing the city continuously fail in dealing with the intersecting issues of homelessness and biased policing. This petition calls upon Mayor Ed Murray and the Seattle City Council to impel the Seattle Police Department to publicly disclose all details surrounding the incident, including the accounts of all eyewitnesses — including outreach workers, both police officers at the scene, and the former Jungle resident who Michael was reportedly arguing with before Michael was shot multiple times by Sergeant Heidi Tuttle. An explanation should be provided as to why there has been no body camera footage of the incident that has been shared with the public. And an unbiased, independent agency — rather than the SPD's Force Investigation Team — should be utilized to investigate and make a formal determination into whether an inappropriate use of lethal force was used and, if so, to ensure Sgt. Tuttle is held fully accountable for her actions.
This petition also calls upon the mayor and city councilmembers to speak out against the pattern of rhetoric and media reporting that continues to perpetuate dehumanizing stereotypes about the homeless community. Such rhetoric feeds and validates a bias held by some community members who, for whatever reason, remain unmoved by the psychological and mortal fallout of encampment sweeps and by the conditions of homeless citizens in general. In the case of Michael L. Taylor, this manifested in local news coverage of his death that engaged in a tacit character assassination of Michael and pre-emptive justification of the police in their use of deadly force. The only major news outlet to provide a counterpoint to this bias was KUOW, which reported that Michael, indeed, was well-regarded among residents of the Jungle, who insisted that he was not prone to violence.
As illustration, on October 12, the Seattle Times ran a story entitled, "Man Fatally Shot by Seattle Police ‘Had a Good Heart,’ Father Says". While it granted space for Michael's father, Larry Taylor, to express his disbelief and shock at his son's death, the article also alluded to Michael's past criminal activities (including intimidating another with a weapon,) making an implicit connection between those past offenses and the likelihood he could act in a manner that would justify his being killed by police. Those who work directly with the homeless will often attest that there are very complex reasons people of lower socioeconomic status tend to have more negative encounters with the law. So, it was especially unreasonable here to draw any conclusions from a list of crimes without their full context. Nonetheless, the article implied they were pertinent to properly framing the shooting incident. The same article also included a crime scene photo of Michael's knife, which was presumably being brandished before his death. The entire Seattle Times story comes across as an ostensible attempt to be evenhanded by featuring Michael's father, but ultimately, through insinuation it portrays him as someone who is actually out of touch with Michael's "true" violent nature. It reads as a calculated attempt to discredit Michael's integrity before an investigation has even taken place. Furthermore, as Michael was not actually a resident of the Jungle at the time, the characterizations play upon the controversial notion that the Jungle attracts dangerous, outside criminal elements, even while the majority of its actual residents have managed to foster a sense of community and organization.*
Considering the information available thus far, many things do not add up. The Jungle resident that Michael was supposedly arguing with had sustained a hand injury by Michael's blade according to reports. However, the crime scene photo shows a perfectly clean knife with no apparent traces of blood. So far, there has been no clarification as to what they were actually arguing about, which seems highly odd, considering the police would have certainly questioned the hand injury victim on the matter, if not at the scene, then at Harborview Medical Center where his injury was treated. The KUOW article that covered Michael's shooting underscored that his friends in the Jungle categorically do not believe the police account of what happened. His friends feel that his death was completely senseless and the idea that Michael was violent incomprehensible. Furthermore, a write-up on the South Seattle Emerald news blog describes how Michael's father has not been provided with any more details on the shooting since the initial reports in the press and has little confidence that more illuminating information will be forthcoming. Larry emphatically insists that Michael, while mentally and emotionally challenged, was not the thug the media and the police would have us believe he was and that his being killed was irrefutably unjustified. He wants and deserves answers, something which would at least give him the hope of finding closure to this tragic loss.
Apart from the ongoing controversy over biased policing happening nationally, the citizens of Seattle have their own reasons to doubt the SPD's account of the shooting. Michael's death is eerily evocative of another incident that occurred in Seattle in 2010, that is, the shooting of homeless Native John T. Williams by SPD Officer Ian Birk. Like Sgt. Tuttle, Birk resorted to an escalated use of force largely based on Williams' possession of a knife, a knife that turned out to be used by Williams solely for woodcarving and was never brandished. Following the uproar over this incident, Officer Birk delivered what many would argue was a highly coached testimony in an attempt to convince an inquest jury he had believed Williams posed an imminent threat, something the inquest jury ultimately refuted. Still, criminal charges were never brought against Birk, an outcome this country has grown all too familiar with in other similar cases since that time.
A lack of police accountability fosters distrust and unresolved tensions between the police and the general public, especially for those communities of color that are disproportionately victimized by police. Michael L. Taylor's death cannot be swept under the rug. His life mattered**, and we as a community cannot go on acting as if it did not. It is imperative that every police-related death be investigated fully, expeditiously, and with complete transparency. Our city government and our police department should not count on public apathy and dizzying news cycles to allow potentially grave injustices such as these to fade from memory. We, the petitioners, implore you to take action now.
*Biased stories about the homeless community such as these have become all too common in our local news, and by all appearances — to those of us who are following the homelessness issue closely — they come across as veiled efforts to justify the more brazen, stringent approach this city has adopted thus far in dealing with homelessness.
**Read the full South Seattle Emerald write-up to learn more about Michael's life as related by his father. It is a portrait of a life made up of trauma, struggle, perseverance, and ultimately tragedy.