by Curtis Kent
As Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s “Find It, Fix It” walks continue across the city, so to does the commotion amongst South Seattle residents surrounding their effectiveness at addressing crime in the city’s south end after an uptick of violence in recent weeks, including a drive-by shooting and multiple armed robberies, has flared community anxieties once again.
The walk series- announced in June as a part of the mayor’s effort to address public safety concerns and improve collaboration between communities and Seattle area law enforcement by direct engagement between city officials and local residents- have been concentrated in areas around the city designated as high frequency crime zones, or “hot spots” and got underway last month.
Three of the walks have been held in South Seattle neighborhoods- two in the Rainier Beach Area and one in the Othello neighborhood- and appear to have made good on the mayor’s insistence that they would act as a platform for residents to actively express community needs to the city, as they have been punctuated by frequent stops, so that urban blight- including graffiti, safety hazards and derelict buildings- could be brought to official’s attention.
“These walks are really important. We can’t sit behind a desk in headquarters and get a sense of what’s happening in the community. It’s important to get out and see it first hand and it’s important to meet people and hear their perspectives.” Said Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, who along with City Councilmember Bruce Harrell, and City Attorney Pete Holmes has been a consistent presence at the majority of South Seattle walks.
“People really take pride in their neighborhoods in this city, and South Seattle is no exception.” She added. “We want a plan in place for this community that comes from the bottom up, instead of dictating to the various neighborhoods here what their priorities should be. There’s a lot of work to be done, but we feel that this approach will help get us there.”
It is one that seems appreciated, and long overdue, by many south end inhabitants who have become accustomed to what they feel has been habitual inattention to their concerns from the city.
“These events are very good. They’re really once in a lifetime as far as I’m concerned.” Said Mohammed Keemo, owner of a local clothing store in the Rainier Beach area. “(City officials) being here in South Seattle means that they can now know the reality of our street. They can finally see what’s really going on. I love to finally have them here and I hope they continue to come.”
“This are the types of events we need more of, were the community comes together and takes a stand. It’s like I tell people, don’t just complain about the violence and the crime, come up with a solution. This is a solution.” Echoed Rev. Don Davis, who participated in a walk held at the Rainier Beach Link Light Rail Station.
Though the south end area walks have been fairly well attended as dozens of curious residents have flocked to them in order to gain an audience with local officials – despite the 7:00pm weekday start time for most of the walks -not every participant has held such favorable impressions as they have questioned the city’s actual intentions behind them.
“While I think it’s important that the media is out here, I think a lot of (the walks) are being done so that (city officials) can look like they’re doing something in this area, even though I don’t know if they actually are. Having media out here keeps them accountable. I hope.” Said Jacob Stuiksma, who is blind and who took part in a Rainier Beach neighborhood walk.
“I don’t understand why it takes walking around pointing out graffiti, even though it’s been here forever, to finally get it taken care of. When someone who is blind can tell you what’s going on with graffiti and trash because they’re tripping over it, and have been tripping over it for a long time while the city has done nothing, there remains an awful lot that needs to be addressed.”He added.
City officials say they are mindful of much of the criticism that residents of South Seattle have had in regards to the walks and are doing their best to address it.
“Most of the people who have come out to these walks in this area are very positive, but to be honest, yes we’ve run into people who are skeptical because, let’s face it, Mayor Murray has only been in office for a few months, so there’s still a feeling out period. But, I think people will begin to see that these walks are taking the community in the right direction.” Said Mayoral Aide Jacob Chin.
Though skepticism over the walks from South Seattle residents seems a long way from dissipating – unsurprising for an area that has seen its fair share of deflated expectations as a result of limited follow-through after promises of community improvement from past mayoral regimes- there remains many who are willing to be optimistic as to their impact.
“I know that some people are bagging on the mayor for the walks, but the guy isn’t out here kissing babies for a couple of seconds and then hopping into his Rolls Royce to hob knob in Magnolia. The officials out here are really listening to what the community has to say.” Said Karl De Jong who has gone on two of the South Seattle walks.