The story of police brutality continues as Reverend John Michael Helmiere, a Seattle pastor, was brutally beaten during a protest. Believing his constitutional rights were violated, the pastor filed a civil rights lawsuit against Seattle law enforcement. Helmiere said this is less about individual officers and more about the system as a whole.
The incident took place outside of Harbor Island pier during a protest in December 2011. The United Methodist minister alleged he was subjected to excessive force, wrongful arrest and malicious prosecution. He was dragged by cops, thrown to the ground and viciously beaten by the officer. Helmiere was left bloodied with bruises and cuts on his face.
The Yale Divinity graduate said he feels obligated to tell his story and to hold those who have pledged to protect accountable. Helmiere said Jesus, who is his example, confronted injustice when he saw it in hopes of working towards a peaceful and just society. He believes police brutality goes way beyond racial issues and is by far and large a societal problem. The pastor stated:
I understand and appreciate the role that police officers play in keeping people safe, but not everybody feels safe with police. Your social status should not determine your experience with regard to safety.
Helmiere has been involved in the Port of Seattle’s worker rights issues since he arrived in Seattle four years ago. The concern on the day the arrest took place was pay rates for short-haul truck drivers that transport cargo from the Port of Seattle facilities to warehouses nearby. The drivers, hired as contractors, believe they should be provided benefits like full-time employees. Currently they are denied and do not feel this is fair.
There were nearly 400 demonstrators outside Terminal 18 aimed at temporarily closing the port by blocking traffic. Helmiere attended with the West Coast Occupy movement as a chaplain. He did not expect to be violently confronted in the manner in which he experienced. The pastor was calling for peaceful action as he perused the crowd adorned in clerical attire.
The protest began with a march from downtown Seattle to the Port in a coordinated attempt by the movement to expose the exploitation of workers at major Pacific ports, in addition to other concerns. Once they arrived the crowd spread out to picket and block entrances. The pastor said he joined a small group of about 40 to picket a side entrance, however they did not stop anyone from entering or exiting.
During the protest bicycle police began to start conflict with those who were demonstrating. Law enforcement used their bicycles, according to Helmiere, to push people back in attempts to clear the street. This is when one of the officers allegedly attacked the pastor from behind and threw him on the ground. The lawsuit claims the officer repeatedly punched Helmiere in the face causing a large gash on his forehead which bled profusely.
The minister was placed in handcuffs and led into a police van where he remained caged for 30 minutes. He was alone initially with a few more occupiers joining him right before they were transported to a holding facility. Helmiere alleged they were then split into pairs and left in small concrete rooms for several hours. The rooms had no windows, restroom facilities or seats.
Eventually they were taken to the county jail and finally relived of their handcuffs after four long hours. Afterwards, they were dressed in thin cotton uniforms and left, without explanation, in a freezing cold cell for the next eight hours. Helmiere asked staff and officers multiple times to see a nurse and was consistently denied. He was also refused basic necessities such as water and food. Finally, at 5 o’clock in the morning they were all released after committing to appear before a judge at a future date.
This is just another example of police brutality which plagues this nation. Reverend John Michael Helmiere has filed a lawsuit after allegedly being brutally beaten during a protest. The Seattle pastor said this is more about the system and less about individual officers.
by Cherese Jackson (Virginia)
Photo courtesy of John Helmiere