One-third of the Seattle City Council, half a dozen city department officials, and the deputy chief of the Seattle Police Department met with a crowded room of Central District residents Thursday evening as they outlined the city’s holistic approach to addressing the recent spate of gun violence in the neighborhood that has left citizens worried.
Lorena González brought herGender Equity, Safe Communities, New Americans, and Education Committee committee to the CD for a special meeting In collaboration with the African American Community Advisory Council at the Seattle Vocational Institute in what has been the most significant official response to concerns about gun violence and a deadly shooting in the neighborhood.
On a Friday afternoon in mid-May, 19-year-old Royale Lexing was found dead by police outside Swedish Cherry Hill where he was rushed by private vehicle after multiple shooters exchanged fire in a chaotic scene along E Union. This was the first fatal shooting in the community in the first six and a half months of a year since 2014, according to SPD.
SPD claims this year is far from an outlier in terms of year-to-date shootings for the Central Area and Squire Park neighborhoods, however. From January 1 to June 17, there were seven shootings and shots fired incidents reported to SPD, up from six last year during the same period but down from nine in both 2016 and 2017 and a seven-year high of 15 in 2015, according to the police department. Five of the seven cases this year were for shots fired, another for a non-fatal shooting in which someone was struck with a bullet and the fatal shooting of Lexing.
In response to an uptick in gun violence in the Central District, SPD added both bicycle and foot-beat emphasis patrols in the area of 23rd Ave and Union, 23rd and S Jackson St, and the 900 block of 21st Ave, according to Deputy Chief Marc Garth Green. This amounts to a nearly 25% increase in officer proactivity in the neighborhood over the last four weeks.
In addition, there will be continued nightlife emphasis patrols through the summer.
SPD’s strides are not the only short-term public safety improvements being carried out by the city however, as both the city’s Department of Transportation (SDOT) and Seattle City Light are working on physical upgrades in the area.
SDOT has worked to trim trees and excess vegetation to increase street lighting and improve sightlines on 21st Ave and add a load zone in front of Union Market in hopes of eliminating U-turns on that street, according to deputy director of maintenance operations Rodney Maxie.
The department is also designing a crosswalk and flashing beacons for the east side of Union at 21st, which could be fast-tracked and completed sometime this summer after a push by citywide council member González to move the original construction timeline from this fall. District 3 council member Kshama Sawant seconded González’s request.
“We’re here to support, we’re here to listen,” Maxie said. “We’re here to do whatever we can for this community to hopefully reduce these unfortunate incidents.”
SDOT can also sponsor placemaking and Play Streets projects, in which roads are temporarily closed to vehicles so children can have more space during the summer. However, as council member González noted, the majority of shootings take place in the evening, not when these projects would be taking place.
Maxie noted that traffic data does not support traffic calming at 21st between Union and Marion St. According to González, the Central District will have an initial environmental design report released in July with proposals.
As for City Light, Maura Brueger noted that LED light deployment was completed in the Central District in 2013 and 2014, but they do have four targeted light additions in the works. The two closest to completion are on the south side of E Union west of 22nd Ave and on the southwest corner of 22nd and Cherry. Meanwhile, the department is still awaiting a field survey for a light on the northwest corner of 21st and Marion and is currently investigating lighting at Barclay Ct between Cherry and Jefferson. Brueger did not have a timeline at hand for the implementation of these projects.
“When we start talking about that kind of harm and we start talking about stripes on the sidewalk, or LED lights, or things like that, they seem somewhat removed, but I just want to impress upon you that, as a policymaker, as a city council member, we’re trying to look at everything,” said council president Bruce Harrell, who is not seeking re-election this year.
In terms of long term strategies to stop the tide of gun violence in the first place, several departments offered youth-centered approaches to empowering children.
“There isn’t enough for the youth to do. We invest some in youth, but we need to do more,” González told reporters before the hearing. “We are a city with great prosperity; we are a city with some of the most famous and popular employers. We should be asking them to help us find jobs for youth who need those jobs to keep them out of a life of crime.”
“We can always do better by our youth both in investing in more education and investing more in career opportunities.”
The Human Services Department provides free meals at over 100 sites around Seattle from July 1 through August 23 for people under 18-years-old as well as providing advancement opportunities in several ways, according to the department’s Tanya Kim.
Additionally, Seattle Parks & Recreation offers summer camps and other outlets for children, including the Garfield Teen Life Center. The department is also trying to remove and prevent graffiti and activate local parks, according to recreation division director Justin Cutler. Cutler also mentioned that Medgar Evers Pool on 23rd is set to reopen in less than two months, on August 5.
The city also sees community and business development as key to stemming gun violence in the area, with the Office of Economic Development’s (OED) Bobby Lee stressing its assistance to small businesses, which he says act as “the eyes and the ears” for the community, during construction and its business revitalization plan with the Central Area Chamber of Commerce.
OED is also working with the Historic Central Area Arts and Cultural District to activate 23rd.
“The neighborhood as a whole suffers when you have these small businesses disappear,” Sawant said.
Lastly, the Department of Neighborhoods is reaching out within the community to engage with residents and make investments with such programs as community gardening with P-Patches and others, says Sarah Morningstar, the department’s deputy director.
“It’s about place and community and feeling safe and feeling a sense of belonging,” instead of just reacting to violence, Morningstar said.
During the public comment period, one resident noticed the lack of discussion around trauma for children that witness gun violence shortly after a woman mentioned that, having previously witnessed a shooting, she felt scared to walk around her neighborhood having had her past trauma reignited recently.
“The idea that our kids are going through some amazing, imaginative stuff that traumatized them and there’s no — I didn’t hear anything today that really talked about that trauma,” he said. “The families are broken.”
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