SEATTLE – “It is not a crime in America to get lost.” This was the comment of Rev. Harriett Walden, head of Mothers for Police Accountability, after the funeral of Robert Thomas, Sr.

Thomas, an older African-American man, was killed April 7, shot by Melvin Miller, a white off-duty deputy sheriff who lives in an overwhelmingly white rural community in south King County.

Thomas, his son and the son’s girlfriend were lost on their way to a late breakfast. Thomas parked legally by the roadside. Shortly thereafter, Miller, in plainclothes, approached the car on the passenger side and ordered them to “get out of here.”

Miller’s actions violated Sheriff’s Department rules, which prohibit a deputy from policing his own neighborhood except in life threatening situations.

Thomas, a friendly man, introduced himself and asked the man’s name. Miller did not identify himself. Instead, he pumped several bullets into the car, shooting through the son’s hand and lodging a fatal bullet in the father’s chest.

Rev. Walden told the World, “This was a throwback to Jim Crow. No European-American mother in America is crying today because a Black police officer killed her son. Mothers for Police Accountability demands a full, independent investigation.” Police and sheriffs in King County have killed nine African American men over the past ten years.

Before the funeral, a caravan of over 100 people drove to the killing site where they mourned and placed flowers. The caravan consisted of many family members, the hearse, clergy and members of motorcycle clubs in Washington, Oregon and California.

In an impassioned eulogy during the funeral at Mt. Zion Baptist Church, the largest church in Seattle’s African-American community, Rev. Leslie Braxton, Mt. Zion’s pastor, called out: “You arrest us. So we are put in jail. So we stay in jail.” His remarks, suggesting upcoming civil disobedience, were met with thunderous applause.

Religious leaders led a post-funeral march to downtown Seattle. The marchers left the expected route and entered the I-5 freeway in heavy rush hour traffic. Later, some marchers sat down and blocked traffic.

Following the march, Braxton told the media, “We told the police we were going downtown. We just didn’t say how we were going. We will no longer play by the rules in our demand for justice.”

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org

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