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Best of 2012: How Seattle decides to let its young die in the streets

Except when confronted with a tragedy like the Cafe Racer and Town Hall murders, most of the city tends to ignore the crime and the unmet need for more police officers that South Seattle endures constantly.
Seattle Police vehicles (in Belltown, 2008).

Seattle Police vehicles (in Belltown, 2008). Dmitri Fedortchenko/Flickr

An interpretation of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

An interpretation of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs Factoryjoe/Wikipedia

A portion of the Seattle Police Map display of just the crimes against people Jan. 1 to June 7, 2012 in south Seattle using the address of a Union Gospel Mission facility serving as a reference point. To use the mapping function, go <a href="http://web5.seattle.gov/mnm/policereports.aspx" target="_blank">here.</a>

A portion of the Seattle Police Map display of just the crimes against people Jan. 1 to June 7, 2012 in south Seattle using the address of a Union Gospel Mission facility serving as a reference point. To use the mapping function, go here.

Editors' note: Each day during the holidays, Crosscut will revisit top stories from the last year in a specific category. Today's focus is on neighborhoods. This article was originally published June 8, 2012.

The recent mass murders at Cafe Racer and Town Hall, a homicide in north Seattle, the death of a father on Capitol Hill, and the shooting of a bystander to a gang dispute at Folklife have finally galvanized the attention of “The Rest of the City” to street violence.   The Rest of the City is the part of Seattle north of I-90 and west of SoDo.

Unfortunately, if history is any guide, The Rest of the City will draw the wrong lessons and insist on the wrong policy prescriptions for the social ills that South Seattle faces every day.

Seven people have been shot in a four-block section of Rainier Beach since Jan. 1, presumably making it one of the deadliest pieces of real-estate in the United States. Last September, another man was shot in the same area after police emphasis patrols ended.

Referring to last summer’s extra bike patrols centered in Rainier Beach, local resident, Lucy Jarosz asked, “Why can’t we get the City to provide additional police patrols? Preferably high-visibility, pro-active, foot, bike, or horse patrols, that stopped this in the past.”  

The answer is electoral politics and the culture of Seattle’s progressives. The emphasis here is on “Seattle” and not “progressives.”  With the possible exception of voters in South Seattle, and a few other electorally insignificant pockets of the City, voters until last week did not see more policing as an issue, and judging by comment threads and letters to the editor, still may not. City Council members, in candidate forums outside of South Seattle, hear a preference from voters for funding other things.  Council members listen to those voters from The Rest of the City. Problems of street violence for almost 80 percent of Seattle’s electorate have been, until last week, “over there”, and I fear, absent some new horror, the perception will quickly return.

These voters tend to see police as a necessary evil that detracts from their social justice funding priorities. Unlike liberal, progressive voters in San Francisco and New York City, they pit public safety against human services funding as a zero sum game, rather than seeing public safety funding as a synergistic complement that improves the outcomes, for people of color and the poor, from human services funding.

Meanwhile ethnic minorities, geographically compartmentalized away from voters in Seattle as a whole, continue to be slaughtered by people demographically similar to themselves. Even when the bullets aren’t connecting to their targets, The Rainier Valley is often a shooting gallery that un-nerves and keeps people off the streets. The very people that voters all over the city want to help with the human services funding, with the hope that it will promote social equity and upward socio-economic mobility, don’t achieve the hoped-for social outcomes. It’s a well-intended, politically correct, but feckless gesture toward improving the lot of Lesser Seattle: the city’s poor and people of color.

It is not safe enough to walk the streets of South Seattle to access human services programs. More significantly, the culture of violence and incivility in South Seattle overwhelms the messages and means that social service programs like the Youth Violence Prevention Initiative, Boys and Girls Clubs, after-school tutoring, etc. are supposed to provide to insure upward mobility for Seattle’s poor and communities of color. 

The well-intentioned voters forget that Maslow’s Pyramid of Human Needs is built on safety. Without security and protection from crime, South Seattle’s citizens can’t work on noble virtues such as love/belonging, esteem, or self-actualization.

In a city that elects its City Council at-large, rather than by district, voters outside of South Seattle determine what elected officials' budget priorities are.  


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