Capitol Hill has long been seen as Seattle’s most LGBTQ-friendly neighborhood. However, a spike in bias-driven crime toward members of the LGBTQ community has many wondering if the popular neighborhood is shifting away from its reputation as a safe-haven for Seattle’s queer community.
Councilmember Kshama Sawant will host a forum Tuesday night (March 3) on Capitol Hill to address the issue and search for solutions. The forum, she said, will be "A space where members of the public who are not often heard can come and say what they think the solutions should be.”
The panel will be moderated by Danni Askini, executive director of the Gender Justice League. The panelists include Zach Pullin of Capitol Hill Community Council, Lils Fujikawa of API Chaya, Raven E. Heavy Runner of Northwest Two-Spirit Society, Christie Santos-Livengood of Entre Hermanos , Shaun Knittel of Social Outreach Seattle and Marta Idowu of the Seattle Office for Civil Rights. The event is at 7 p.m. at All Pilgrims Christian Church, 500 Broadway E.
Seattle Police Department data from 2014 shows 10 reports of crime with a bias toward people who identify as LGBTQ and 18 investigations on Capitol Hill. Included in those numbers are a few high-profile incidents. On New Year’s Eve last year, the fire alarm at Neighbours went off, clearing the more than 700 people from inside club. It was later found that Musab Masmari had spilled a gallon of gasoline and lit a fire in an arson attempt. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison last June. In June, two young gay men, Dwone Anderson-Young and Ahmed Said, were shot to death in the Central District after dancing in Capitol Hill's R Place on East Pine Street earlier that night.
In addition to the statistics, anecdotal stories of discrimination have piled up. Local drag queen Jessica Paradisco told Crosscut last August that verbal harassment has become commonplace. Paradisco now walks home on well-lit streets like Broadway, avoiding places like Cal Anderson park.
Is this an epidemic or a random spike from previous years? It’s hard to know, in part because there’s no way to tell whether crimes are going unreported or not. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs suggests that only 45 percent of anti-LGBTQ violence victims report their incidents to the police.
But for Sawant, that’s almost beside the point. “I would say this conversation needs to happen and should have happened a long time ago,” she said. “It shouldn’t be motivated by a spike. If there are hate crimes period, that should be a cause for concern. That’s what we owe to the community, to allow people to feel safe and be safe.”
Late last summer, the Seattle Police Department increased patrols on Capitol Hill as a reaction to an increase in overall crime, not just bias-driven crime. A Seattle Times report suggested that SPD’s larger presence was paying off. However, SPD will not be present at Sawant’s forum.
The aim of the forum, said Sawant, is to focus on the root of the issue. “I think it’s important for us to understand,” she said, “that what might be impacting a large part of our community might be symptomatic of a larger issue that we all have a stake in.” Specifically, she pointed to issues of housing affordability.
Sawant is not the only one to suggest the crimes may spring from Seattle’s broader housing question. Recent #CapitolHIllPSA posters have read “Welcome to the neighborhood agro [short for "aggressive"] bro!” and “Tech Money Kills Queer Culture Dead.”
Sawant herself stops short of saying that the shifting economic landscape on Capitol Hill directly correlates with an increase in bias-driven crime. “I’m an economist, so I won’t say things unless they’re scientifically proven," she said. "I don’t think we’re ready to establish a causal link, but I do think they’re part of the same conversation.”