Being Black in Seattle: Rewards and Challenges

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“Seattle Skyline” (© Maureen Evans)

 

 

 

 

 

About 4 years ago, I moved from Prince George’s County, Maryland, (65% black) to Seattle, (66% white), the fifth whitest city (among comparably large cities) in the US. I’m white. My transracially adopted children, all adults now, grew up and still live in Prince George’s. My daughter, adopted from Ethiopia, is considering moving to Seattle with her daughter. We’ve given a lot of thought and discussion as to what this move could mean for both of them.

I recently attended a program, held at the Bush School in Seattle’s Central District, called “The Rewards and Challenges of Being Black in Seattle.” The talented Tonya Mosley led the program, which included a wonderful panel: C’Ardiss Gardner Gleser of Rainier Scholars, William Witt of the Seattle Police Department, Jonathan Cunningham of the Experience Music Project Museum, and Daudi Abe of Seattle Community Colleges. The program was part of the Bush School’s Intercultural Speaker Series.

In 2013, Tonya Mosley produced the powerful series “Black in Seattle.” Please take the time to listen to the series here. She used her interviews and statistics as a jumping off point for “Rewards and Challenges,” which proved to be energizing, sobering, and, I’d argue, optimistic.

IMG_7512At the “Rewards” program, Tonya encouraged an “unfiltered discussion of what it means to be black in Seattle.” I’m guessing 80% of the audience was white. While some joined in the discussion, most of the conversation was among the panelists and the black people in the audience.

Here are some of my takeaways. I’ve included some Background notes, including links to more information on topics that were briefly addressed at the program.

Yes, Seattle is filled with liberal, well-educated people. That may backfire sometimes, insofar as white, well-intentioned, bright people might view themselves as non-racist, but have no black friends, no interactions with black people, and thus do not know their stories, their truths, their individual experiences.

Gentrification plus issues of housing and affordability have resulted in many black people moving south of Seattle, to Auburn, Kent, and Federal City.

(Background: The Seattle Times in November reported that “While Seattle’s median household income soared to an all-time high of $70,200 last year, wages for blacks nose-dived to $25,700 — a 13.5 percent drop from 2012. Among the 50 largest U.S. cities, Seattle now has the ninth lowest income for black households.”)

Compared to the racism and racial incidents that have occurred in some other cities, Seattle could be seen as a better place to live. That, the panelists suggested, may be due to inertia. There remains a sense of isolation and alienation for many black people in search of a connection with others who look like them.

Seattle has a culture of not wanting others to feel uncomfortable. (This manifests at intersections where drivers gesture to each other “No, you go.” “No, you.”) The liberalism can be seen in our having a gay mayor, in legalizing marijuana, in “feeding free range chickens food from the organic compost pile,” as one black woman said. How could we then have a problem with race? Because, she said, white people don’t understand the realities of being black. The white people are tolerant and not overt racists, for the most part. But neither do they understand.

Panelist CC Gleser explained the challenge as a parent of a black child, when the Ferguson decision was announced. They’d talked about it in their home. Would white teachers (and most teachers across the US are middle class white women) understand how that child feels the next day in school, and what might be on his mind? And what is it like for the child when no one else looks like him in his classroom, but while significant race-related events are dominating the media?

One comment from the panel: “Who knew pre-schoolers could be expelled?” There was discussion of children suspended for “objective” reasons (drugs, weapons) as opposed to “subjective” reasons, such as attitude and disrespect. Black children are suspended in far greater numbers than white students in Seattle. Being a white ally on these issues, said panelist Daudi Abe, often means more than having “keyboard courage.” It’s white privilege that allows white people to choose to be offended at the daunting statistics. Who has to live with the stats in real life, and what is that like, for both parents and children?

(Background: Here in Seattle, “African-American students are suspended from school more than three times as often as white students from elementary schools to high schools. More than one-fourth of black middle schoolers have received short-term suspensions every year since 1996.” There is currently a federal investigation into this reality. More information from the Seattle Times is available here. Read about preschool suspensions here.)

Many of the black people now in Seattle are African immigrants. There have been challenges, panelists said, in Africans and African-Americans working together in Seattle, and I have heard that in other cities as well. Tonya Mosley said she had done some work on this issue for her “Black in Seattle ” series, and it needed to be a whole separate segment: a lot of complexity. There are discussions currently of creating an “Africa Town” in Seattle’s International District. I had the thought about how often Africa is referred to as if it were a country, rather than a continent of 50+ countries. What would Africa Town look like here?

(Background: According to the Seattle Times, “Seattle’s overall black population has held steady in number, at around 47,000. But the composition of that population changed dramatically with the arrival of a new wave of émigrés from Africa — particularly Ethiopia and Eritrea — who settled mostly in Rainier Valley. In 2000, just 13 percent of blacks in Seattle were born outside the United States. Today, it’s 30 percent.”)

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“Rowers at Sunset” (© Maureen Evans)

 

Beyond any creation of an “Africa Town,” panelists and black audience members talked about the lack in Seattle of a black part of town, with restaurants and churches as there are in many other cities. There was an audible groan at the news that the Kingfish Cafe is closing, the latest of many black-owned, black-run restaurants to close. Having a “home place,” a gathering place with other black people where, as one black woman said, “I don’t have to explain my hair,” provides nurturing and sustenance that helps folks deal with the isolation and alienation.

(Background: I don’t know if the speaker was referring to this, but there is a children’s book called “Home Place,” by Crescent Dragonwagon. A white family hiking in the woods (Seattle!) comes across an abandoned home. The book imagines the black family that might have once lived there, planting daffodils and sitting by the chimney. If it was not the intended reference, now you know about a beautifully illustrated children’s book that does have some connection with this complicated subject.)

All of this gives you, I hope, a sense of the discussion. I haven’t yet mentioned everything that was discussed, such as policing and racial profiling, as well as the National Brotherhood of Skiers. This was a 2 hour program, and it was wonderful. It was real, as Jabali Stewart, the Bush School’s Director of Intercultural Affairs, said. “We heard things we liked, and things we didn’t like. And it was just a start. What are we going to do now?”

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering Mothers, Remembering Hana

I was blessed to have a mother who loved me unconditionally, who believed in me fully, and who was steadfast in her love for and devotion to my children as well.

Mom with her youngest grandchild, about 22 years ago.

Mom with her youngest grandchild, about 22 years ago.

Mom died over 10 years ago, and I miss her every day. She would have been crazy about her great-granddaughter, who’s now 7 years old. While I sometimes can’t believe I’m a grandmother, I know how fortunate I am.

I’m incredibly fortunate to be the mom of 4 amazing young people, whom I love beyond words.  I am their mom through adoption, and I hold their first mothers tightly in my heart. I’m especially proud on Mother’s Day of my daughter Aselefech, who is a wonderful mother herself.

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I’m thinking today also of Hana Alemu, born in 1997 in Ethiopia. She was brought to Washington state in the US for adoption in 2008, and she died, three years ago today, on May 12, 2011.

Hana Alemu (Williams)

Hana Alemu (Williams)

An amazing story of hope and beauty has emerged from the tragedy of Hana’s passing.

David Guterson, the acclaimed novelist who lives on Bainbridge Island in Washington state, attended nearly every day of the trial last summer of Hana Alemu’s adoptive parents, Larry and Carri Williams. The Williamses are now each serving lengthy prison sentences for Hana’s tragic death.

David is writing a book about Hana, and traveled to Ethiopia in March for research. He met Hana’s best friend and cousin there, a young woman named Haimanot. Haimanot was struggling with a brain tumor. Wiithout surgery, she would lose her vision. David arranged for Haimanot to come to the US in April.

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Haimanot had surgery to remove a pituitary tumor at Swedish Medical Center. It went well. She had some headaches and low energy afterward, but is now feeling great.

Swedish did everything pro bono and will continue to provide treatment for Haimanot as needed. Rep. Derek Kilmer (6th-WA) opened the door for the visa. The Ethiopian community has provided room and board, and there has been lots of support from the Seattle Ethiopian Community Center.

My mom would have loved this story.

I’d like to also remind folks about another positive recent development: the excellent resource Ethiopian Adoption Connection, a website to connect Ethiopian original families with their children adopted around the globe. After only a short time, they’ve already been able to connect adoptees with their Ethiopian families. There are also many resources listed on the site, which is in Amharic and English. Keeping families connected is a gift beyond words.

May we all have hope that good can come from tragedy.

May we hold in our hearts those who have died, and honor their memory.

May we treasure those who love us and care for us. May we not miss an opportunity to help others, with kindness and compassion.

 

 

Calling NPR–KUOW: Who’s Missing from Today’s Transracial Adoption Discussion?

Today’s NPR Sunday Morning Edition show (broadcast locally here in Seattle on KUOW) is about transracial adoption. The guest is Rachel Garlinghouse, the white adoptive mother of three black children, all of whom are under six years old. Rachel seems like a lovely person, has a very popular blog, wrote a book about transracial adoption, and dispenses lots of advice about transracial adoptive parenting. The headline is about the double takes the family gets. Let me assure you that’s the least of what transracial adoptees go through, yet that’s apparently the big draw to advertise the segment.

So who’s missing from today’s discussion? The people most affected by the topic.

While I don’t dismiss Rachel’s perspective, I am deeply disappointed that Yet Another Show about transracial adoption features Yet Another Nice White Adoptive Parent, this one whose kids are preschoolers.

She lives in a predominately white area in Illinois, and has hired a black, Christian woman to be a mentor for her children. Hired.

She says on her blog description of herself: “I really wish I lived on the beach. Except sand and Black hair don’t mix well.” Oh my.

What do all those folks in the Caribbean do?

My gentle jabs here at Rachel are nothing compared to what her children may face later, as black Americans in what remains a racist society. She clearly deeply loves her children, but she can only imagine what lies ahead for them.

Look at most NPR segments on international and transracial adoption, and who are the guests? Nice white adoptive parents. And often nice white adoption agency executives and lawyers (who are often adoptive parents).

NPR lost, yet again, an opportunity for listeners to hear from those most affected by transracial adoption: adult adoptees. Angela Tucker was passed over. She writes a blog called The Adopted Life. Yes, the bright, warm, perceptive African-American adult adoptee, raised in Bellingham, WA, by white parents, featured in the powerful documentary Closure (about her search and reunion with her original African-American family in Tennessee), now living in Seattle–the NPR producers decided not to have her on.

Other transracial adoptees that might have provided an “unexpected side of the news,” as the Sunday Conversation describes itself, would be the Ethiopian adoptees mentioned in Kathryn Joyce’s recent Slate article “The Tragic Death of An Ethiopian Adoptee and How It Could Happen Again.”

Another would be Chad Goller-Sojourner, an African-American transracially adopted adult, “a storyteller, solo-performer and recipient of a distinguished Washington State Arts Commission Performing Arts Fellowship. Most recently he served as the 2013 Ohio University Glidden Visiting Professor, where his work focused on the social, political and historical dimensions of multi-identity construction and intersectionality. In 2011 he was awarded both an Artist Trust Grant and Creative Artist Residency to further develop his sophomore solo show: Riding in Cars with Black People & Other Newly Dangerous Acts: A Memoir in Vanishing Whiteness.” You can read more about Chad and his other plays and work here.

In May 2013, NPR (and KUOW) did have a Sunday Conversation on adoption that included Nicole Soojung Callahan, a US adult adoptee in the Washington, DC, area, and an adoption attorney, to discuss legal issues in adoption searches. Nicole is an insightful, smart person, and as usual did a wonderful job discussing the story of her search. She had written a great piece in Slate about her search; click here  to read it. The segment was not about transracial adoption, though Nicole could have talked on that subject, on today’s NPR show. You can listen to the May 2013 show here.

Who are the people most impacted by transracial adoption? I’d argue it’s the adoptees, for whom transracial adoption was not a choice, for whom other people decided that transracial adoption would be best. Adoptees who do not remain children, as sweet and wonderful as they may be as preschoolers. Adoptees who grow up and can speak genuinely of their experiences with racial discrimination, of what their parents did and didn’t do successfully to prepare them for adulthood as people of color, and of what “transracial adoption” really involves. Other great people to talk about transracial adoption could be found via Lost Daughters, Gazillion Voices, and many other resources. Many have written books, just like Rachel Garlinghouse.

Rachel Garlinghouse’s 3 little African-American children are all placed as open adoptions, meaning some form of ongoing contact with their first/original parents. It would have been interesting if any of the those parents were also on this show. As best I can tell, none of the 6 is included.

Sadly, NPR’s approach today is nothing new for NPR or other media outlets. First parents are very marginalized in discussions about adoption, as are adult adoptees. We white adoptive parents are almost always the first picks for shows about adoption, and that has to stop. I wrote about this very topic last September: “To NPR, PBS, HuffPo, News Media: Don’t Quote Me, Don’t Ask Me.” 

You can link to the NPR show, and comment on it, here.

After the Sentencing: Larry and Carri Williams, the Adoption Agency, the Children

I’ve written a lot about Larry and Carri Williams, about the murder and assault charges against them, about the 7 week trial, and about their sentencing hearing October 29. This may well be my last post about them, though I will continue to write about adoption reform.

Gina Cole, a reporter for the Skagit Valley Herald, covered the trial from the first day of jury selection. She’s done a great job. Follow her on Facebook. Her most recent article, “Decades in Prison for Williams Couple,” is available here.

Here’s an excerpt from Gina’s article:

Tuesday’s (October 29, 2013) sentencing hearing was a chance for the public to help argue for a harsher or lighter sentence. A few people addressed Cook in person; others, including the two oldest Williams sons, submitted letters.

“This incident regarding (the adopted children) was the result of the total unpreparedness of my parents to take in two children who were entirely unfamiliar with our nation, culture and way of life,” wrote Joshua Williams, who is stationed in Korea with the U.S. Army. He pleaded with the court to reunite his family. “… Is it not punishment enough to watch helplessly as your entire life crashes down around you?”

Joshua’s plea, arguing that his parents were totally unprepared, is haunting. (Referring to the abuse, torture, assault of Immanuel and death of Hana–Joshua’s siblings–as “this incident” startling as well.) Did the adoption agency, Adoption Advocates International of Port Angeles, WA, fail to educate Larry and Carri fully about the possible challenges of international adoption? AAI is licensed in Washington state, is a member of the Joint Council on International Children’s Services, and is accredited by the Council on Accreditation for Hague Convention adoption. That COA accreditation is time-consuming and expensive; it is supposed to be rigorous and thorough. There is a place for public comment on the COA link above.

A lot of people have asked if the adoption agency was punished as well in this case. My understanding is that there is no legal reason or process for that. Hana and Immanuel’s adoptions were finalized–they were the full legal children of Larry and Carri Williams. As such, the adoption agency no longer had any legal responsibility for them. Larry and Carri, like any other adoptive family, did not have to talk with or answer to the agency after finalization.

Once the adoption is finalized, and the long process is over with, most families want to be treated like other families, without intrusive oversight or invasions of their privacy. For most families, that works, because they aren’t abusive.

In the case of Larry and Carri Williams, we may never know why they did not seek help when things started going so badly. Did the agency not make the case effectively for parents to call on them for post-adoption services? Did the Williamses make a conscious decision not to interact with other adoptive families or with the Ethiopian community, who might have been resources for them, Hana, and Immanuel? Was the AAI preparation process rigorous enough? Did the Williamses’ isolation as a home-schooling family mean they did not want to reach out for help?

So many questions. My hope is that, while the adoption agency does not face legal recriminations for the placement, that all international agencies will look long and hard at their screening of prospective adoptive parents, at having a rigorous pre-adoption education program, and at working as diligently as possible to encourage parents to get post-adoption help without shame or difficulty.

In response to Joshua Williams’ plea, Gina Cole notes, in her article, the judge’s response:

Judge Susan Cook saw it differently.

The Williamses’ track record, she said, was this: one child dead, one with PTSD, and seven who thought the kind of degrading treatment the other two endured was acceptable.

A tragedy all around.

Carri Williams is now in the Washington Corrections Center for Women, in Gig Harbor, Washington, about 115 miles from her Sedro-Woolley home. She is Department of Corrections Inmate 370021. Larry Williams is in the Washington Corrections Center in Shelton, Washington, about 150 miles from Sedro-Woolley. He is DOC Inmate 370101. Both have indicated intent to file appeals. Unless they can make bail, both will remain in jail as their appeals go through the legal process. Carri’s bail is set at $1.5 million; Larry’s at $750,000.

I have heard via the Facebook page Remembrance of Hana Williams that the parental rights of Larry and Carri Williams were terminated for Immanuel. I haven’t seen it verified anywhere else, but I believe it to be accurate. I wish Immanuel good things in his future: healing, strength, safety. He struck me during the trial as a remarkably resilient young man.

I posted yesterday about Hana’s Fund, Hana’s Grave Marker. May we keep Hana and Immanuel always in our hearts.

Hana, the Ethiopian Community, and Ethiopia Reads

Sometimes we American adoptive parents can forget the feelings of our children’s fellow citizens about the loss of their children.

I’ve known many Ethiopians who are grateful to be in the United States, because there are truly far more economic and educational options here for them. I know many Ethiopians here in the US who are working hard to bring their relatives to the US, and who send money back to their families in Ethiopia, hoping to help them in small and large ways. I’ve had many Ethiopians express gratitude to me for adopting my girls. And I believe that when Ethiopians express gratitude to me for having adopted two girls, their thanks are tinged with wistfulness and sorrow that the girls had to lose their culture, their family, their language, their heritage, their people to be here.

The trial of Larry and Carri Williams in Washington state captured attention around the world, as people shared sorrow and outrage, hearing what happened to young Hana Alemu, an Ethiopian adoptee, and to Immanuel, both of whom were adopted by the Williamses. The Williamses were convicted on August  of homicide by abuse, manslaughter, and first degree assault of a child; their sentencing is now scheduled for October 29.

As an adoptive parent of Ethiopian twin daughters, my heart ached for Hana and Immanuel. In the course of watching the trial unfold, I shared a number of conversations with adult international adoptees, as we sought to understand, grieve, and listen together. I also talked often with members of the Ethiopian community in Seattle and in Skagit County. Their grief was especially poignant.

In some ways, there is no understanding what happened in the Williams family. It is a tragedy for everyone involved. And it may seem simplistic or fatuous to suggest that any good can come from this harrowing case.

Yet I believe that good is indeed possible. I wrote about Hana’s Legacy here, and that gives some ideas for change and hope.

I have had a long-standing connection with the beautiful, complex, ancient country of Ethiopia for nearly 2 decades, as a result of adoption. I’ve long been interested in literacy and I love libraries, so my connection with Ethiopia Reads makes sense. Ethiopia Reads promotes literacy in Ethiopia, provides books in local languages, and has planted libraries in every region of that large country. I’ve been on the Ethiopia Reads Board, I’ve visited the Awassa Reading Center and other libraries, and I remain committed to the idea that with literacy can come empowerment and possibilities, especially for children, especially for girls.

Two talented Ethiopian artists, both of whom now live in the Seattle area, have also been wonderful, powerful friends of Ethiopia Reads. Both have also, like so many members of the Ethiopian community in Washington state and around the globe, grieved for Hana and Immanuel. Yadesa Bojia is an amazing artist and musician. Please take time to learn about him here. Sultan Mohamed is also an accomplished artist. You can read more about him here.

Both of these men have supported the work of Ethiopia Reads (and other important Ethiopian causes), through their time, their good hearts, and their incredible art.

Here is one of Yadi’s newest paintings:

Original artwork by Yadesa Bojia

Original artwork by Yadesa Bojia

To me, the painting shows the fire, the power, the light that can be created through reading. It’s a shared joy and gift between mother and child. It’s the mother’s knowledge of what reading and education can mean for her children, who have so much potential, given the opportunities.

Here is one of Sultan’s:

Original painting by Sultan Mohamed

Original painting by Sultan Mohamed

Note the photo of Hana, surrounded by Ethiopian faces, perhaps angels, but certainly reminding us she is neither alone nor forgotten. Amharic writing engulfs her as well, ensuring us that she remains connected with her roots, her language, the sounds and words of those who loved her in Ethiopia and beyond.

These talented artists, these good men, have donated their paintings to an upcoming event (December 14, in Seattle, information provided below) to raise funds for Ethiopia Reads. I am in awe of their generous hearts, and of their deep commitment to children whose lives can change through literacy.

It may seem paradoxical that adoptive parents should work to ensure that fewer children need to be adopted, but it’s true. May we continue to move toward a world where all children can read, and thus be empowered in this world. May all children have safe, loving families, who can keep them and provide for them all that they dream of.

Information about Ethiopia Reads and the December event is available here. If you are looking for a small, effective organization that has opened libraries across Ethiopia where there were none, that has trained and employed Ethiopian teachers and librarians to sustain the libraries, that has worked with the local community in a respectful, transparent way, please look into Ethiopia Reads.

July 24 Update: The Williamses’ Trial

Another long day of jury selection.  The lawyers focused in the morning on issues of reasonable doubt, burden of proof, and spanking, asking the jurors their thoughts on these subjects. The afternoon included discussion (in a general way, no specifics have been introduced about the case yet) of homeschooling, religion, spanking (again), food deprivation, and the possibility of looking at photos of a dead child and of the child’s autopsy. Many jurors were visibly moved by the discussion, especially those who hadn’t known about the case and were now getting a strong sense for what could be ahead.

There are still about 50 potential jurors left. In closing comments at the end of the day, Judge Cook said the plan was to start tomorrow (7/25) with jury selection at 9:30am and finish by noon. That will mean 12 jurors and 2 alternates will be agreed upon by both the prosecution and defense attorneys. The jury would then be sworn in and sent home. Motions by the attorneys will be heard by the judge tomorrow afternoon and Thursday (7/26.)

The lawyers will give their opening statements starting at 1pm on Friday (7/27), and then testimony will begin on Monday (7/29). All of this will take place in Skagit County Superior Courthouse, Courtroom 2.

While this timetable could change, my sense is that the lawyers and judge are ready to get going. It will be a long road ahead of 4 to 6 weeks of witnesses, testimony, and evidence.

I am guessing more media will appear on Friday, and I am hoping folks from the Ethiopian and adoption community will join us in the courtroom as the trial begins. The right side (as you face the judge) is the prosecution side. It’s not a huge courtroom; plan to arrive early.

Hoping for justice for Hana.

Update on the Williamses’ Trial: July 23

Voir dire (jury selection) continued all day today. The jury pool is now down to about 80 people. Jurors were dismissed today for various reasons  such as financial hardship from potentially being on a jury 4-6 weeks, and physical hardships (one man had recently had a severe unexplained hearing loss, one woman was 75 years old and didn’t think she could sit for 6 hours a day).

The judge read the list of the 70 possible witnesses, such as an area pediatrician, various law enforcement officers, relatives of the Williamses, people who went to the Williamses’ church. Jurors would not be automatically dismissed for knowing these potential witnesses. The repeated question was, Can you be impartial about this person?

The lawyers then each had 30 minutes to ask direct or general questions to the jurors, who had completed a lengthy questionnaire the day before. The defense lawyers tended to ask specific questions: “Juror 129, you wrote on Question 4 that you believe the Williamses are guilty.” They’d go back and forth a while, talking about how the juror had heard about the case, and what (if any) impact the media had on their view of the case.

The fundamental questions ultimately asked were: “Even if you had heard about this case before today and formed an opinion, can you wipe the slate clean and view the Williamses as innocent until proven guilty?” and “If you were the defendant, would you want you on the jury?” Many people paused thoughtfully before answering these questions.  Of those who had heard about Hana’s life and death prior to being called for the jury, many viewed the Williamses as guilty; most of them were dismissed.

Later, discussion turned to how jurors felt about spanking, per the questionnaire they had filled out. There was some discussion about what Washington state law allows in regard to parental discipline: spanking is allowed, though children can’t be harmed as a result. Like other states, that policy is a bit vague.  Jurors were asked whether, regardless of how they felt about spanking, they would be able to uphold the law. Further, there was discussion about the difference between spanking and abuse. People had a lot of strong feelings about all this, unsurprisingly.

The prosecutor, in the last half hour of the day, raised the topic of torture, an element of this case, asking jurors to define it. They were not looking at this specifically in light of children, at least initially.I would guess this discussion gave the jurors, especially those unfamiliar with the case, a deeper sense of what the trial might be like. Sobering stuff.

Jurors have been firmly told not to engage in social media about the case or to discuss it with anyone–standard jury instructions. Tomorrow the case moves to the main Skagit County Courthouse Building, Courtroom 2, at 9:15am. My guess is that maybe jury selection will continue through the day tomorrow, and then the lawyers will discuss even more motions before the judge. All of this means that the trial will likely not begin until Friday, or even Monday.

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Update on the Williamses’ Trial: July 22

Hana Alemu (Williams)

Hana Alemu (Williams)

Carri and Larry Williams

Jury selection began today (July 22) at 9:30 am for the trial of Larry and Carri Williams, accused of homicide by abuse and manslaughter of Hana Alemu. Since she was a minor at the time of her death in May 2011, Hana was referred to as HGW (for Hannah Grace Williams, her adoptive name) during this morning’s process. Over 160 potential jurors were called in today; they will be whittled down perhaps by tomorrow to 12 plus 2 alternates.

Skagit County Superior Court Judge Susan Cook, who will preside over the trial, spoke to the potential jurors about the charges against the Williamses, and about jurors’ responsibilities. Larry and Carri Williams were both in the hearing room where jury selection was taking place; each of them has 2 lawyers from the public defenders office. The lawyers for the state of Washington–the prosecutors–were also there.

Since Larry is still in jail, he attended with 2 police officers always at his side.  He wore a suit, rather than a prison uniform. Carri is out on bail. As best I understand, all of their children are in foster care and have been since the Williamses were arrested almost 2 years ago.

This trial is expected to last for 4-6 weeks. That makes jury selection (a jury of the peers of Larry and Carri Williams) complicated at this time of year with vacations. And of course, it’s hard to find people who are able to serve for that long a time without undue hardship.

Nonetheless, the “voir dire” process will begin tomorrow–that’s the questioning and filtering of jurors by the lawyers and the judge, to try to find unbiased jurors that are acceptable to both the prosecution and the defense. This process is expected to take place tomorrow and possibly Wednesday.

Around 11:30am today, while the potential jurors were filling out forms, I attended another hearing that took place before Judge Cook. Larry and Carri were present there, with their lawyers. The defense lawyers had dozens of motions about what evidence could be presented at the trial, what videos could be presented, what photos would be allowed, what witnesses would appear, what words could be used (“crime scene”–no; “scene”–yes). The judge ruled on the motions, after the prosecutors responded with comments. Tomorrow, they hope to finish with the defense motions, and move on to the prosecutors’ motions. There may well be a lot of prosecutors’ motions.

There are some 70 potential witnesses for the trial, including the Williamses’ children, their neighbors, doctors, adoption agency staff, Child Protection Services workers, and various experts in abuse, assault, and torture. Many of the motions today had to do with which witnesses might be excluded, so that there is not a lot of duplication of information.

One of the witnesses will be Immanuel Williams, the other adopted Ethiopian child. There is an agreement that he will not testify for more than two hours a day, and that he will have court interpreters proficient in American SIgn Language (Immanuel is deaf). The Williamses are accused of assault and abuse of Immanuel, referred to at jury selection as IW.

The schedule of witnesses at the trial is not clear yet.

My sense–and I am not a lawyer–is that the defense (the lawyers defending Larry and Carri Williams–will argue that the Williamses were strict parents, following their Christian faith beliefs.  It is up to the state–the prosecutors–to prove to the jury beyond a reasonable doubt that the Williamses caused Hana’s death through abuse and torture.

It was a long day. Tomorrow looks to be the same. The trial itself–opening arguments–will probably begin Wednesday or Thursday.

Real-life trials are nothing like those on TV shows. Trials are full of documents and details, questions and comments and meetings among lawyers. Murder trials are not common occurrences in Skagit County, about an hour’s drive from Seattle. The judge is working to ensure that all goes fairly. It’s frustrating in many ways, our legal process, though my hope is that the case will proceed well and that there will be justice for Immanuel and Hana.

I encourage other adoptive parents and anyone supporting justice for Hana to attend the trial, if at all possible. It would be wonderful to show how the community has not forgotten nor will forget her.

I truly hope this trial is a wake-up call for adoption agencies, a call that brings about          much-needed changes in pre-adoption preparation and post-adoption services.

My recent previous posts about Hana are here, here, and here.

Hana Alemu Trial

Hana Alemu (Williams)

Hana Alemu (Williams)

In 2 weeks, if all goes according to schedule, the trial of Larry and Carri Williams, adoptive parents (and alleged murderers) of Hana Alemu (Hannah Williams) will take place: Monday, July 22, 2013, at 9am at the Skagit County Courthouse in Mount Vernon, Washington.

Jury selection will probably take 2 or 3 days, so the opening statements might begin on Wednesday July 24 or Thursday July 25. Additionally, there is a meeting among the lawyers scheduled for July 16, for last minute maneuvering. As I hear any news, I will post an update.

Please spread the word encouraging others to attend this trial if at all possible.  I plan to be there, to bear witness for Hana, in the hope that justice will be served.

For background information, please see my previous posts Update on Hana AlemuOn Mother’s Day, and In Remembrance of Hana.

The Williamses are accused of homicide by abuse: this charge means that they caused Hana’s death (May 12, 2011) due to a pattern or practice of abuse or torture. It’s apparently a difficult charge to prove, as a jury must believe beyond a reasonable doubt that a pattern of torture or abuse existed, and that the pattern caused Hana’s death. If the Williamses are found guilty, the average sentence is 23 years.

The Williamses are also accused of 2 other crimes. One is first degree assault on Immanuel, the other Ethiopian child they adopted. The charge means that they caused him serious bodily harm.

While much attention has rightly been placed on Hana’s death, Immanuel was certainly a victim here as well. May we all keep him in our hearts. What that child has apparently been through–terrible abuse by his adoptive parents, as well as witnessing Hana’s abuse and death–is wrenching. He will likely be called to testify at the trial. I have heard he is doing well in his foster home, where his foster mother is deaf (as is Immanuel) and is teaching him sign language in a safe environment. I wish him healing, strength, and justice.

The other criminal charge against the Williamses is first degree manslaughter of Hana, which means recklessly causing her death. That carries a sentence of 7.5 years.

I’m not a lawyer. It’s been over 2 years since Hana died, and the trial is only happening now. Her body has been exhumed and reburied. No doubt there have been dozens of meetings and hearings and other legal actions. No one knows what the outcome of the trial will be. We can hope for justice for Hana.  Whatever happens, we will not forget her.

And let’s remember Immanuel always as well.

Update on Hana Alemu: Trial in July

Hana Alemu was an Ethiopian adoptee found dead outside her adoptive parents’ home in Washington state over two years ago.  Many people–Ethiopians, Americans, adoptive parents, adoptees–were enraged and deeply saddened by the circumstances of Hana’s death.  I’ve written about Hana before, here and here. This Facebook group honors Hana.

Hana Alemu (Williams)

Hana Alemu (Williams)

A Brief Recap

Hana Alemu died May 12, 2011.  A report on her death cited by the Seattle Times said she died from “a culmination of chronic starvation caused by a parent’s intentional food restriction, severe neglect, physical and emotional abuse, and stunning endangerment.”

Her adoptive parents, Larry and Carri Williams, were charged with her death in September 2011. In November 2012, they pled not guilty to the charges against them: homicide by abuse and first degree manslaughter by domestic violence.

Carri and Larry Williams

One reason perhaps for the delay in getting to trial has been Hana’s age. She was thought to be 13 when she died.  Also in November 2012, the judge agreed to the prosecutor’s request to exhume Hana’s body to confirm her age. The exhumation took place in January 2013, but the findings were inconclusive. Lawyers are now trying to track down Hana’s Ethiopian uncle, who may have been present at Hana’s birth, and could thus verify her age.

Hana’s age matters because the “homicide by abuse” charge applies only to children younger than 16. My understanding is that the penalty for homicide by abuse is more severe than that of manslaughter by domestic violence. The prosecutors, on behalf of Hana, will argue for the Williamses to get the harsher sentence.

Update

On June 7 2013, a brief hearing was held in Skagit County to work out administrative details for the upcoming trial, expected to begin July 22, 2013. It could last for weeks. I expect it will get a lot of media coverage.

Many people from the Ethiopian community and the adoption community will be there, to honor Hana, hoping that justice will be served for her. I will be among them. We can’t forget her.