It’s bad enough that, fast food and payday loans aside, chains and major retailers have shunned Southeast Seattle, which has the most immigrants, poverty, ethnic diversity, and public housing of the city’s districts. But Southeast residents are used to getting the short end of the stick in public services as well. They scarcely blinked when the state divested its liquor stores; it shut all three of its Southeast Seattle stores many years ago. (It later opened two new ones there, one just a year before the handover.) The state also closed its only Southeast driver’s license office, in Hillman City, but kept offices open in Greenwood and West Seattle.
Southeast residents still smart at the way Sound Transit sliced their district in two, displacing or shuttering many businesses, with a surface light-rail line down MLK Way (not to mention the badly misdesigned station and botched transit connections at McClellan Street and a nearly two-mile gap between the Alaska and Othello stations). Residents in, say, the Roosevelt and University districts would never stand for that, and they won’t have to. Sound Transit will tunnel under those neighborhoods.
In 2008, the Seattle Police Department performed what a spokesman calls some “minor” redrawing of the territories patrolled by its various precincts to prepare for an anticipated annexation of White Center that never happened. In this not-so-minor redistricting, two patrol districts, covering Georgetown and the Duwamish industrial belt, were transferred from the Southwest Precinct, which serves West Seattle and would have received the new White Center turf, to the South Precinct, which covers Beacon Hill, the Rainier Valley, and the adjacent lakeshore neighborhoods. The South Precinct also received all of SoDo south of Holgate Street, formerly in the downtown-based West Precinct. But it did not receive new officers to cover them; those who had patrolled these beats stayed in their original precincts.
The result: Southeast Seattle’s police got spread thin, even as its crime count soared. In 2007, it and West Seattle (which has a slightly larger population) reported a similar number of serious crimes, about 4,200. In 2008, with more turf but without more officers, the Southeast precinct suffered 5,822 crimes and the West Seattle precinct just 3,194. This disparity moderated somewhat after that, but continued.
You need only cruise Rainier Avenue and surrounding blocks, with their missing sidewalks and scanty crosswalks, to see the disparity in the way the city treats pedestrians and motorists here and in other districts. Traffic circles have proliferated like dust bunnies in Wallingford, Capitol Hill, and other neighborhoods to the north, but good luck trying to get one in the lower Rainier Valley. I did, at an intersection one block off Rainier that’s commonly used as an engine-gunning turnaround and cutover to Seward Park. The city would only proivide traffic circles at intersections where collisions had already occurred. Neighbors had seen several crashes there, including one in which a pickup smashed so hard into a small car carrying a mom and young child that they got out, sat on the curb awhile to recover — and then got in their battered car and drove off.
Sorry, said the Seattle Transportation Department’s traffic-circle coordinator— accidents must be reported to the police to count. None of the crashes at that crossing had. I passed that along to the neighbors, and at the next hit-and-run, one called the police. Were you involved in the accident? they asked. No, he replied. They declined to take the report. Catch 22.
I recounted this to the sympathetic traffic-circle official, noting the implicit discrimination: In a lower-income neighborhood, more drivers have issues with the law and fewer have insurance, and so fewer are likely to report accidents. She agreed but said she couldn’t do anything about it; that was the rule.
Southeast citizens who feel aggrieved at such disparities can of course seek to correct them at the polls. They can vote, and persuade their neighbors to vote, for candidates who promise more equitable treatment (or who at least know where Hillman City and Brighton Beach are). But even here they’ll find themselves at a disadvantage.
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