SEATTLE (NNPA)–After five hours of deliberation, a jury found Seattle NAACP President Carl Mack not guilty of pedestrian interference when he led a peaceful group of demonstrators in downtown Seattle last October. The group was protesting the shooting death of Robert Thomas Sr., an African American, by off-duty King County deputy sheriff Mel Miller, who is White.
Mr. Mack was arrested minutes after giving a speech calling for a federal investigation into the April 2002 shooting. He took over the position at the NAACP in a landslide victory one month after his arrest.
The four-day trial, which drew many supporters, was viewed by many in the African American community as a waste of time and taxpayers’ money.
“To put $100,000 into a defense to prove a political point was a clear example of excessive government waste,” said Chris H. Bennett, chairman of the Z-Twins radio stations and The Seattle Medium Newspaper Group. “City attorney Tom Carr and his staff should be ashamed of themselves, and the City Council should hold them accountable from a budgetary standpoint to replace the frivolous political price that just occurred.”
The alleged infraction suggested that Mr. Mack intended to be arrested as he “zig-zagged” across a busy intersection in an effort to make a point. The city argued that he stepped into the intersection despite warnings from police that traffic laws would be rigidly enforced that day.
However, a videotape of the incident shows that Mr. Mack was arrested before he stepped into the street, and that he was attempting to legally cross.
If convicted, he would have faced up to 90 days in jail and a maximum fine of $1,000. The city offered to dismiss the misdemeanor charge if Mr. Mack paid a $75 fine, but he refused.
Mr. Mack said the trial came down to the words of a police officer who testified that it was “immaterial’’ whether he had a green light when he stepped into the street.
“That’s what this is really all about,’’ Mr. Mack said. “The law says that when it comes to Black folks, you can beat us, shoot us, kill us and it’s always immaterial.’’
Seattle Municipal Court Judge Kimi Kondo, who presided over the case, was not present in the courtroom to read or hear the verdict from the jury. Judge Kondo could have dismissed the case before it went to trial, but failed to do so, despite the videotaped evidence presented.
“I’m glad Mr. Mack didn’t pay the fine and I’m glad he did go to trial so the people can see how ridiculous the charges really were,” said Eddie Rye Jr., of the Black Chamber of Commerce. “When it comes to individuals who are outspoken, especially those who seek justice for Black folks, there is always an effort to bring them down to their knees, so that they can be rendered ineffective to the majority of the people.”
Charges against David Barfield, who was also charged with pedestrian interference during the protest, were dropped prior to the case going to court.
Attorney Alfoster Garrett Jr., vice president of the NAACP, represented both men at the hearings.