Capitol Hill Community Post | Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that

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Brian Steen at Thursday’s Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence benefit

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. — Martin Luther King, Jr.

The horror in Orlando has rocked the LGBT community here and everywhere.

“All of us are on high alert,” says Brian Steen, a member of the local Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and staffer at Capitol Hill Housing. “We need to be aware of our surroundings at all times.” Steen planned to attend one of this week’s active shooter trainings on Capitol Hill.

A resident of seven years and leader in Capitol Hill’s LGBT community, Steen has experienced first-hand the violence that can stalk hand-in-hand with bigotry, especially when the bigots have been drinking. Two years ago, he was attacked and knocked unconscious on Pine Street near the parking garage owned by Seattle Central College. It was the middle of the afternoon after a Seahawks game.

But Steen is not one to be intimidated, and neither is the Seattle LGBT community. Steen says that Capitol Hill’s gay bars saw record numbers out this past weekend. “We’re not going back into our closets to hide,” he says.

Steen recounted conversations he had while out with friends on Saturday night. Most focused on how to help the victims in Orlando. Brian hosted a fundraiser Thursday to raise money for the Orlando Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, who will fund funerals for victims whose families won’t claim the bodies of their slain children.

Mayor Murray also was out last weekend along with Councilmembers Bagshaw and Burgess to show solidarity with the rattled LGBTQ community. “It was fun,” the mayor reported, “though most of the young crowd was just coming out (to the bars) as I was leaving.”

The mayor also appeared this week at a public safety forum hosted at Poquitos by the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce. Murray was there with Chief O’Toole and other city staffers. He spoke briefly about the city’s commitment to additional police, better lighting and “activation” of Cal Anderson Park, then wished everyone a “Happy Pride.”

More foot and bike patrols are definitely needed, according to Brian Steen. Lighting also is an ongoing problem, especially later at night as the bars are emptying and in and around Cal Anderson Park.

“We go around it,” says Steen about the Park. “Everybody does.”

Cal Anderson Park, named for Washington State’s first openly gay legislator and the primary open space for the Hill’s thousands of straight and queer residents, has developed a wide reputation as a scary place after dark. Earlier this year, Seattle Neighborhood Group (SNG) analyzed safety in and around the park using a framework called Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED).

According to the SNG study, City crime data indicates a dramatic rise in 911 calls between 2014 and 2015 from in and near the Park. Park users and neighbors interviewed for the study expressed “deep dismay at the amount of graffiti, trash, open drug and alcohol use, and the unpredictable and sometimes threatening behaviors of some of the site’s visitors.”

This is a sad legacy for an important figure in the City and region’s history. Not only was Cal Anderson Washington’s first openly gay legislator, he was a strong champion for LGBT civil rights and gun control. One must wonder if he would feel safe today on Capitol Hill or in the park that bears his name.

SNG’s report offers a set of recommendations for improving safety in Cal Anderson Park, which include creating a paid position for coordinating care of the park, increasing bike and foot patrols, improving wayfinding, quickly and consistently enforcing park rules and civil and criminal laws, activating the park especially in problem spots, and aggressively addressing the park’s bad lighting.

Last year, the Cal Anderson Park Alliance and Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce commissioned a master lighting plan to address the same issues identified in SNG’s CPTED study. That plan is now in the City’s hands. We hope that Mayor Murray will commit to implementing it and the other CPTED recommendations. These are concrete steps to make the neighborhood safer for everyone beyond this Pride weekend.

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