More than 49 days after the death of Tommy Le, questions remain unanswered about why Kings County Sheriff Deputies near Seattle shot and killed a 20-year old man with a pen.
The family this week attended a traditional Vietnamese ceremony commemorating the 49th day of his death, reports Crosscut. The 49th day marks the end of 49 days of prayer so that the dead can be reborn into the next life and help make the world a better place.
When deputies shot Le, they originally said he was carrying a knife. A week later they admitted Le was not holding a knife, but a pen.
“He was not a violent kid,” said Uyen Le, his aunt. “Everyone was really shocked to hear this happened to him.”
It was the first public comments Le’s family had made about the incident. Buddhist practice calls for the family to remain quiet while mourning.
The family described Tommy as kind and gentle, someone who would not harm even an insect.
“If he were still alive, he would want to take care of grandma,” said another aunt Xuyen Le.
The night of his death, authorities had received reports from neighbors of an Asian man who was making threats with a knife.
Deputies arrived and said he refused orders to drop what they thought was a knife. They fired tasers at Tommy, but they say the tasers had no impact on him. A deputy shot and killed him when he said Tommy moved towards him.
During a community forum in July, the International Examiner reported members of the Vietnamese community expressed concern.
Many wanted to know how a pen was mistaken for a knife.
They also questioned police accounts that Tommy had a knife earlier, but later went home where he put down the knife and grabbed a pen.
They were also asked why the tasers didn’t work. The department had no answers.
“The bottom line in general they are told to back off,” Sheriff John Urquhart said. “There was no opportunity in this particular case for them to do that.”
Urquhart described Tommy as being in a “mental crisis.”
Frank Arango, a veteran, wondered aloud why even if officers thought Le had a knife, why couldn’t they take that away from him without shooting?
“Are King County departments trained how to take away a knife at hand to hand combat,” Arango also asked, “which isn’t hard. Everybody in the army can do it.”
A Vietnamese veteran also took the mic and spoke with the help of a translator.
“It’s disheartening that we are at a state of war with our people,” Tuan Nguyen said. “It looks like a pair of military organizations. The community is not a battlefield and [police] are not the soldiers. You cannot apply the same community standards. Every officer needs to be trained in proper attitude and unarmed tactics. Discharging a weapon and hurting and killing someone is an awesome responsibility and one that will eat at your heart and your soul for the rest of your life.”
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