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Seattle forum on police conduct draws anger, demands for change

Protesters state their views on Seattle Police Chief John Diaz during a police accountability forum at city hall Thursday, Feb. 3, 2011, in this image from KOMO-TV.

Hundreds packed a Seattle forum on police accountability Thursday evening, an event which quickly turned into a showcase of public anger over recent incidents involving questions of excessive force against ethnic minorities.

The event, sponsored by Mayor Mike McGinn and The Stranger, was organized in the wake of tensions following the shooting death last year of First Nations woodcarver John T. Williams by Officer Ian Birk. 

Protesters held signs and chanted for Chief John Diaz to resign. Outside the city hall gathering were shouts of "Cops, pigs, murderers."'s Casey McNerthny reports:

The meeting Thursday night at City Hall was intended to de-escalate a tense situation regarding police accountability, but in less than an hour the dialogue broke down.

At one point Rick Williams, brother of the woodcarver who was killed, asked two angry protesters to leave the forum, and took down a sign calling Officer Birk a murderer, according to the PI:

"That's how you de-escalate," one woman said.

Williams' shooting last August was among many documented incidents bringing allegations of excessive force by police. Many have been captured on video surveillance cameras, a number involving African-Americans.

Diaz and McGinn promised to address public concern with better training. The Seattle Times' Steve Miletich reports McGinn took responsibility for public accountability on current police - community relations:

McGinn said while progress has been made on social justice, injustice continues."It's no secret the work is not complete. It's far from complete," McGinn said, adding that it would not be honest to say the Police Department is immune from that.

Miletich reports McGinn called on Seattle Police Guild leaders to commit to the effort, saying "We need the union in this." Guild president, Sgt. Rich O'Neill, said responded that the union is a "partner in the system." 

Earlier, O'Neill drew angry catcalls when he said that if the public were more compliant with police - even when police are wrong - there wouldn't be so many questionable incidents, according to the Times. That drew a quick response from panelist Nicole Gaines, president of the Loren Miller Bar Association, an African-American affiliations of lawyers and judges:

"To ask the public to always take the high road" when officers have a higher responsibility to show professionalism "is absolutely unacceptable."Diaz asked for patience while disciplinary procedures are being determined in high profile cases.

Longtime city councilman Nick Licata attended the event and said the meeting had the largest turnout he had ever seen in Seattle on the issue of police accountability.