Sued for telling the truth about a police killing

June 26, 2018

Steve Leigh reports on the campaign to defend socialist Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant from a lawsuit by two police officers.

AROUND 100 people gathered June 23 to kick off a solidarity campaign for socialist Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant, who is being sued by two police officers that she denounced for the murder of an unarmed Black man.

Officers Michael Spaulding and Scott Miller shot and killed Che Taylor, an unarmed Black man, in 2016. An official inquest found that Che had his hands in the air when the police shot four times, but the officers were never charged with a crime.

At the time, Sawant spoke out against the police shooting, calling it “murder.” A police review board and later a jury inquest cleared the officers of any wrongdoing. Now the police are suing Sawant for defamation of character.

As the emcee of the rally in solidarity with Sawant said, “Che lost his life, but the cops are suing because their feelings were hurt.”

Seattle City Council member and socialist Kshama Sawant addresses a town hall on affordable housing
Seattle City Council member and socialist Kshama Sawant addresses a town hall on affordable housing

Sawant has used her office to build support for campaigns for the needs of the majority in Seattle — around housing and homelessness, a progressive city budget and against the building of a $160 million police “ bunker” and a new county youth jail building.

In the course of her political activity, she has drawn the wrath of developers, business owners, other politicians and the police. Apartment owner Carl Haglund sued her for defamation when she called him a “slumlord” for gouging tenants for rent while refusing to make needed repairs. He later dropped the suit.

Several speakers at the rally explained why they support Kshama against the lawsuit.

Matt, a Native activist, talked about her support for turning Columbus Day into Indigenous People’s Day in Seattle, which passed the City Council a couple years ago.

He also cited her support for the Native-led opposition to the natural gas fracking plant in nearby Tacoma. “She stands with the oppressed communities,” Matt said. “Because of this she is a target of Amazon, the slumlords and the police. If the cops don’t want to be called murderers, they shouldn’t kill people!”

What you can do

You can contribute to the Kshama Solidarity Campaign at GoFundMe.

Juan Bocanegra, an immigrant rights activist and leader of El Comité Pro-Reforma Migratoria Y Justicia Social, said,

It’s important that we defend our own. We need to defend people who stand up to the criminals. They are trying to make us kowtow to what they want. Trump is saying it is alright to incarcerate whole families as long as they keep the family together. As long as there are lying cops and lying politicians, we have to fight back!

THE KSHAMA Solidarity Campaign has been endorsed by several Seattle activists and organizations, including members of Socialist Alternative, the Seattle Democratic Socialists of America, King County NAACP, Tenants Union and Real Change.

A statement in solidarity with Sawant from the Seattle International Socialist Organization reads in part:

The U.S. faces an epidemic: Police violence against civilians. This year already, the police have killed nearly 450 people across the U.S...This epidemic has hit Seattle with the killing of John T. Williams, Che Taylor, Charleena Lyles and so many more. The Black Lives Matter movement has risen up to oppose this wanton racist slaughter...

This is an attack on all people who oppose the epidemic of police violence. This is an attack on all people who oppose racism and stand for equality. Everyone who wants a society where civilians don’t have to fear being killed by police needs to stand in solidarity with council member Sawant. Now is the time to rebuild the movement, not back off in the face of repression. Stop the lawsuit! Stop police violence!

At the rally, Sawant was one of the last speakers, noting:

This is not about solidarity with one person. It is about all of us. Lawsuits are a weapon of the ruling class against us when we have the courage to stand up to them. We will face more intimidation of all kinds as our movement grows.

Further Reading

From the archives