At 12th Avenue Arts Thursday night, the Northwest Network Pink Shield Project hosted a panel discussion on hate violence, policing, and gentrification in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.
Much of the conversation revolved around the connection between these three topics, including how greater inequality in recent years in Seattle has created a situation that breeds hate violence, whether it be against people of color or the LGBTQIA+ population.
“You have wealth to a certain community increasing, inequality expanding, poverty worsening, homelessness skyrocketing,” Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant, a panelist, said. “At the same time, you will see correlated with that, increase in violence, crimes, car break-ins, and house break-ins.”
In 2016, 6,121 hate crimes were reported, a 5% increase from the previous year, according to the FBI. Of those crimes, 1,076 were reportedly based on sexual orientation bias and 124 were based on gender identity bias. In Seattle, reports of bias crimes continue to climb, in part due to increased awareness and improved efforts to encourage reporting.
“These problems are not only not fixed, they are worsened,” Sawant said.
The city council member attributed this heightening tension to gentrification, the process of redevelopment and displacement. In the early 20th century, Capitol Hill was a traditionally mixed neighborhood, but the African-American population was pushed into the Central District by gentrification in the 1960s, according to panelist Roxana Pardo Garcia of the Seattle Community Police Commission.
Gentrification forces former inhabitants of a neighborhood to lose their sense of community, but the panelists posed a number of solutions for this problem, including stable, large-scale affordable social housing owned by the public and collaborations within the community to create safe spaces for marginalized populations.
“As survivors of hate violence, it’s important to have these places to break up the isolating effects that hate violence can have upon people,” moderator Essex Lordes said.
Intertwined with the issues of hate violence and gentrification then comes the policing of the city. Safe Place signage from the Seattle Police Department (SPD) is “being displayed by local supporting community members, businesses, schools and organizations that work closely with the Seattle Police Department in an effort to reduce anti-LGBTQ crimes, reduce LGBTQ student bullying and encourage the reporting of LGBTQ crimes,” according to the SPD website.
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The speakers said they see institutions such as the police department as a means to gentrify the neighborhood. Both speakers and audience members expressed their discomfort with calling the police for help.
“I see, you know, criminalization as another way of displacing our communities,” Lordes said. “Particularly, we know, that folks who are most vulnerable to violence are people who are most likely to be picked up and thrown in a cage.”
Panelist Viviene Mulcahy of Q-Patrol, a coalition of LGBTQIA+ community members working towards establishing a community patrol for Capitol Hill and the Central District, added to this point by saying those who have been prosecuted are much more likely to be evicted from their housing.
As CHS reported in 2016, SPD has revived a force of unarmed community police officers to “handle non-emergency incidents such as neighborhood disputes, investigations, and crime prevention.” This program, which was in effect from 1971 to 2004 as well, is meant to strengthen the bonds between police and the communities they serve. The program, however, remains on hold pending decisions from the Durkan administration and new SPD Chief Carmen Best.
The organizers of the event facilitate an outlet for reporting hate violence experiences online at pinkshieldproject.org.