Fatal shootings have police searching for clues, activists asking for cameras

Three people died in gun violence in Leschi and the Central District during April.
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Three people died in gun violence in Leschi and the Central District during April.

After three deadly shootings, Seattle police are urging community members to come forward with information that might help solve the crimes, and activists are asking the city to temporarily install surveillance cameras in areas known for gun violence.

Shootings have claimed three lives in Leschi and the Central District since April 19. Even though bystanders were near each of the crime scenes when the shootings took place, police are short on leads. "People are talking," said East Precinct commander Capt. Pierre Davis. "But they're not directly talking to us."

Davis joined a group of community activists who spoke during a news conference on Wednesday afternoon at Powell Barnett Park. Rev. Harriett Walden, founder of Mothers for Police Accountability, called on community members to take more responsibility for both preventing and solving shootings. Like Davis, she urged any witnesses to share information with the police and said parents should take steps to keep their kids out of trouble.

"If you find a gun in your children’s bedroom, you need to be able to turn that in," she said. "Everybody has to pull their weight."

Walden also said that she and others are asking Bruce Harrell, who chairs the City Council's Public Safety, Civil Rights and Technology Committee about whether the city could place surveillance cameras in crime "hotspots." The cameras, she said, would have a "sunset clause" and would eventually be removed, but in the meantime they might deter criminals. 

"We have to raise the level of what we're willing to do," she said. 

Harrell's office did not respond to a request for comment. But adding surveillance cameras could be a tough sell. Privacy advocates balked last year after the city installed over 30 police department surveillance cameras near Port of Seattle facilities and in other locations along the waterfront. The City Council later ordered the cameras shut off until there is a clear city policy in place for how they would be used.

For longtime community organizer Charlie James, jobs and job training are two important ingredients for stopping violence. If communities do not provide these types of opportunities, he warned, young people "are gonna eat each other up in the streets of our city and some of us are going to be victimized as well."

Raised in the Central District, Ellen Larkins lost a fiancé to gun violence 15 years ago. That crime was never solved. One of the recent victims, whom she did not know, was shot last Friday night outside her home. Larkins went outside after she heard the gunfire. She held the 36-year-old victim's hand as he died.

"They're getting all these weapons from somewhere," she said, referring to the gunmen.

The shooting near Larkins' home took place around 11 p.m. at 28th Avenue South and South Charles Street. The night before, a 20-year-old man was shot and killed around 6:45 p.m. just two blocks north. And on April 19th at approximately 2:35 a.m. officers responded to a shooting near 22nd Avenue and East Union Street in the Central District. The 24-year-old male victim was later pronounced dead at Harborview Medical Center. 

The East Precinct's Davis called the shootings "rogue" violence. He could not confirm whether the crimes were gang-related; he said police did not know where the assailants had obtained their weapons. One motive he suggested was that the shooters were settling scores over fistfights. The East Precinct, he said, would add foot and bicycle patrols in the areas where the crimes had taken place. He could not say how many extra officers would be assigned to the patrols.

Sitting on a folding chair in the park after the press conference was Larkins' 20-year-old son, Tre Owes, who is a youth engagement specialist for a group called the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative. He was unimpressed with what he had heard from the speakers at the event. African American himself, he wondered aloud whether race was a factor in the level of urgency the police directed toward cases like the recent shootings.

"I don't want to play the race card," he said. But he added, "I've had friends who died and it took years to find their killers, or their killers are never found."

Asked why he thought people were not providing the police with tips, Owes said: "They're not gonna come forward because they don't want to be looked at as a snitch."

Non-fatal shootings have accompanied the recent killings.

A man was shot during a robbery attempt around 1 a.m. on April 25 in the Central District, on Columbia Street near 25th Avenue.

The most recent shooting occurred on Tuesday around 1:45 p.m. when a man was wounded near Rainier Avenue South and South McClellan Street after a gunman opened fire on a passing car. 

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