Sunday, August 9, 2015


Matthew Erickson grew up in South Seattle and has been a vocal critic of police brutality, especially as it effects Black communities, communities of color, and working class/poor communities in the city. He is one of the founders of Seattle Copwatch (a group that films the police to ensure they do not harass or brutalize people). He was also a prominent member of the Decolonize/ Occupy Seattle movement.

Last year, Mr. Erickson was filming officers Chase and Clay at Westlake park as they were harassing a young man of color. While he was filming, the officers called over a crowd of youth, telling them it would be “dangerous for them” to have Mr. Erickson around. The youth began to threaten Mr. Erickson with weapons, demanding that he stop filming the police. It appears that the two officers incited the crowd; at the very least, they allowed the crowd to attack Mr. Erickson.

Fearing for his life, Mr. Erickson defended himself by holding a knife in front of him as he backed away from the crowd. He did not actually hurt anyone with the knife. The two officers arrested him at gunpoint; they did not arrest any of his attackers. He dropped the knife, and as he was arrested he covered his face and upper torso out of fear the cops might allow the crowd to attack him further. Indeed, video footage from the Pacific Place mall security cameras shows the officers rolling him toward the crowd, and at least one individual in the crowd stomps or kicks him as he is held down by the officers.

Because of this situation, Mr. Erickson was recently tried and convicted of resisting arrest and use of an illegal weapon, in a trial presided over by Judge Rosen. His public defender failed to argue the fact that his knife was indeed legal. There was not a single Black person on the jury, so it was not a jury of his peers. And Judge Rosen instructed the jury not to consider Mr. Erickson’s actions self-defense, claiming he should have relied on the police officers for safety instead of using his knife, even though there is evidence they incited the crowd and/ or granted them impunity to attack him.

Because Mr. Erickson is a well-respected member of multiple, diverse communities, dozens of people came out to his trial to support him. When people expressed spontaneous verbal reactions to the clearly unjust verdict, Judge Rosen had them arrested and slapped them with maximum contempt charges (30 days each for two people, and eight for the third). He also set a ridiculously high $50,000 bail for Mr. Erickson; his friends and supporters raised the bond for this on short notice.

To many of us, this is an unsurprising situation; it is a continuation of what Michelle Alexander calls the New Jim Crow regime, where Black people are disproportionally criminalized due to lack of adequate defense representation, and court procedures that favor the prosecution. To some, this may seem to be a bizarre incident; it might seem unbelievable until one watches the footage and hears the court testimony (which is available at

In either respect, this situation calls into question the city of Seattle’s claims to be a diverse and racially equitable city. It also calls into question the Seattle Police Department’s community policing initiatives, which officers Chase and Clay mentioned they were a part of during their trial testimonies.



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