by Kelsey Hamlin
(Updated 4/26/2017 at 8:58 pm)
I was interviewing a young woman on the University of Washington’s Red Square when people started running. We were talking about a man who ripped through the middle of her pro-immigrant banner. Within seconds, the atmosphere turned from public forum to survival. Fear spread across the faces of the crowd. Their eyes were wide open. It was like watching fish scatter after dropping a rock into the water: fast, scared, and reactionary. I didn’t understand why people ran for ten more minutes. I never heard a shot ring out.
The echo of gunfire wasn’t the only thing missing. What’s also been absent, throughout the entire UW shooting incident and investigation, is the UW’s accountability — before and after.
The UW shooting showed me, yet again, how screwed up the systems are. The political system, the legal system, the administrative system, the educational system, the capitalist system. But perhaps what’s more frustrating about the shooting is how it’s emblematic of a much larger problem. Everyday people are taught to, and in fact often do, blame each other — people in the very same boat who are just as much afraid of it going under, just by different names — rather than blaming the systems that perpetuate their burdens and limit their upward mobility.
Those embroiled in conflict blame everyday individuals for the way things are, and this time it culminated in a protester gunned down. The only difference, really, is the form of action each group takes to somehow absolve the blame, the frustrations and the issues. Some decide to take action through activism while others place trust in a broken system. America teaches us to place our remedies in the political and legal status quo. So it’s not to say those who do are gullible. Rather, they’re distinctly American-trained. American™. And the convenience of being American™ is that there’s Others to blame, which allows the system to evade focus and scrutiny, thereby perpetuating its faults.
All of that being said, let’s get some background here. The UW College Republicans planned for months to invite right-wing speaker Milo Yiannopoulos and chose Jan. 20 specifically because they thought presidential candidate Hillary Clinton would win. Event planners anticipated the opportunity to undermine, not validate, the election. That night, someone was shot by would’ve-been-attendee Elizabeth Hokoana, according to her attorney.
After the UW engagement, Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak at U.C. Berkeley, where riots erupted as a result, causing the university’s president to cancel the event. Ironically, the national media picked up that fire-ridden story, despite being devoid of serious injuries, while downplaying the shooting at the UW. Even Seattle’s very own local media wasn’t on top of the incident. Most outlets didn’t even have reporters outside with protesters and Yiannopoulos supporters that night. The broadcast news stations that did mention the protests aired only Yiannopoulos supporters.
Most people are more upset about the UW investigation and administration, however. Many are angry it’s taken nearly three months for the police to finish their investigation, considering UWPD released the two suspects the same night they admitted to the shooting. People blame the department because they want results. Certainly, every police department has various struggles. It’s been taking this long, though, because UWPD wanted to make sure they got their investigation right. The police also received copious amounts of response and videos from those present in the crowd, which required vetting. There was a critique that no attempt was made to preserve the crime scene, however, and that’s a valid contention.
When it comes to the UW community’s reaction, it’s a hodge-podge of fear, unbelievability and unawareness. Many of the crowd members impacted weren’t a part of the UW community, but of broader Seattle’s. Some of those people are antifascists, or antifa, which you can read about and better understand what a range of people they are through my previous piece.
While the community remains divided on the shooting, UW’s administration is struggling with the aftermath. Despite UW president Ana Mari Cauce telling the ASUW Student Senate that the administration distributed emails the next day for resources, it simply didn’t happen. The week of the shooting, there was no UW-listserv email sent out to students and employees regarding counseling or resources for students.
There was, however, a lengthy email from Cauce sent on Jan. 21 about why Yiannopoulos was allowed to speak on campus. She essentially stated there would be no credible threat: “My team and I consulted extensively with UWPD and Seattle Police beforehand, and while no credible threats were received, I gave serious consideration to the calls and emails and consulted with legal scholars and the UW division of the Attorney General’s Office.” Legally, this makes sense. No one, especially not public officials or governmental entities, can revoke someone’s right to free speech before they’ve had a chance to use it, not even based on the likelihood it will be hate speech. For similar reasons, police can’t arrest someone just because they think they will do something before it happens.
The University didn’t bother relaying resources in an email like they otherwise do in events of suicide, beatings and other traumas. Students who reached out themselves haven’t gotten results. Many people — both students and faculty — have reached out to me, explaining how the UW wasn’t helping them at all, and they didn’t know where to go. Their expressed mistreatments stem from political ideologies: Doxxing, in-class beratement of faculty and students, and threats to TAs and professors. Unfortunately, all of the people who reached out to me would only discuss on-record if granted anonymity for fear of reprisals. Talking with my editors, that just wasn’t an option.
There is one student, however, who chose to speak out: Michael Weatherford. He’s a UW graduate who has been doxxed, which is online stalking and harassment coupled with disseminating private information to encourage real-life endangerment. After being jostled between campus resources without action, SafeCampus reportedly told him they “hoped the attackers would just move on to another student.”
At one point, I wrote an article with my university newspaper, which published in tandem with a longer article on the same matter in the Emerald. I discovered Marc Hokoana was a UW student on Jan. 29 after his name came back with an email and phone number in the UW directory. Only UW students and faculty are put in there, and it’s optional to display their info when searched.
So I wrote about one of the suspected shooters being a UW student. Unfortunately, I also relied on hearing UWPD Steve Rittereiser say, “the Student Conduct Code Office has been notified,” which would mean one of the suspects was a UW student. Rittereiser, however, insists he never said that, but rather he said the office would be notified if the suspect was a student. I later discovered Elizabeth, however, is a graduate and the university banned her from campus on Jan. 23.
Later, Rittereiser called my editor at The Daily to express his contention of my reporting late at night. He also relayed a situation where I cut him off in conversation so I could get back to the class I left to take his call (which Rittereiser later made sure to tell me he relayed).The editor ended up taking the article down without contacting me at all to discuss the matter, alerted me the next morning, and immediately ran a “Letter from the Editor” about my reporting.
Using my article removed from The Daily, UW president Cauce sent an email to the UW’s American Association of University Professors listserv alleging my article was wrong, pointing out that it was taken down, and using the letter from the editor as proof to somehow validate whatever stance she was trying to make as an administrator. In it, she also alludes to some “violent revolution” she thought would take place.
I still love the UW, but mostly, if not only, because of its students and professors. My love for the UW isn’t because of its administration. Since the incident, students and faculty worked tirelessly to seek solutions and make preventative efforts for the future. While the administrators aren’t even necessarily bad people, the system they perpetuate isn’t so great. The UW shooting really exemplified that.
As a reporter, I got the chance to watch Cauce climb to her presidency. I watched her grow, sometimes even collapse under pressure, but she’s certainly not a bad person. We’ve had many conversations, and she’s always welcomed my interviews despite how often I cover things critical of the university.
The reality is, Cauce is between a rock and a hard place with all the students want, what was done, and what the UW tells her she can do. Where I previously could pull her aside and interview her, I discovered at the ASUW Student Senate meeting her assistant wouldn’t even let us talk for five minutes — despite the president’s very clear willingness to do so. Thrice her aid had interrupted our conversation to say Cauce didn’t have time to talk with me. I would have to make an appointment.
Then there’s a separate but related issue: the media’s spines and hearts when reporting on the shooting.
The Seattle Times was the first to publicize the name of the victim, Josh Dukes. The paper did this despite his lawyer’s explicit request not to for his safety and recovery. They’ve also incorrectly reported Dukes was an organizer that night — he wasn’t. Just the day prior to the event, he was in Hawaii for his grandmother’s funeral. The Times also used an anonymous inside source with, I’m assuming, either SPD or UWPD who gave them a false lead on Marc being the shooter — it was in fact Elizabeth, which I had a hunch on and so did the antifa community. The outlet then relied on an anonymous source in one of the departments, again, to determine felony charges before the records became available (I filed requests for them April 12 at 4:10 p.m., before the release of their piece, and just got the records April 25). To be clear, the prosecuting attorney decides whether or not charges will be dropped — which happened yesterday — not the police department.
A Times reporter also berated the victim’s family, according to Dukes, his lawyer, and his partner, for simply having Facebook profiles, in which he could see information only because he shared a mutual friend with the victim.
A year ago, I had another issue with this very same reporter. The Seattle Times reporter said a source had no comment, and I had no luck with the source’s lawyer so I stopped pushing and followed suit with the “declined to comment.” Then the source himself told me he tried contacting the reporter, received disrespect with no solution, and that the reporter lied. I decided to give The Times the benefit of the doubt — honestly, sources can be overdramatic sometimes. Yet, in my genuine curiosity and inquiry to hear the reporter’s side of the story, I got a very curt and rude response.
The moment reporters stop learning, caring, or being open to correction, we’ve stopped doing our job. But enough issues about Seattle media’s heart — which isn’t an issue only attributable to The Seattle Times — let’s get to the lack of spine.
One of my own editors told me publishing Elizabeth’s name could be libel. I insisted it couldn’t be because she was a suspect in the warrant. My editor remained reluctant. This is a frequent trait of modern media because we just simply can’t afford a lawsuit. (Check Terry G. Bollea [Hulk Hogan] v Gawker, a case backed by vengeful billionaire Peter Thiel that won when it had really no legal precedent or ground to do so.)
But all of this genuinely surprised me because, before this incident, I had a lot of faith in Seattle’s local media. We were rugged, we were underpaid, and we were scrappy. Or so I thought.
A different editor at another publication was told I “incorrectly” labeled a student supporter the night of the protest as a Trump supporter — even though he wore a MAGA hat and stood amongst Yiannopoulos supporters. He threatened my editor with libel, resulting in the removal “a Trump supporter.”
Honestly, if a political affiliation is basis enough for libel, maybe it’s time to reconsider your values.
I’ve found the entirety of this incident, as full-time UW student who reports on not-just-the-UW-shooting, tiresome and frustrating. But it’s been worth it. And I will continue to do follow-ups. Shoutout to whoever requested to my editor I write a first-person take on these things. And stay tuned, I interviewed Dukes, the victim, and am working on the piece. Additionally, charges were just made public today, so look out for my piece on that too.
I am also incredibly thankful to the Seattle community for both the incredible amount of criticism and support I’ve received while covering the incident and its aftermath. During times of doubt, you were the drive telling me I had to keep pushing, no matter how much others were pushing back. Thank you.
Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the University of Washington did not alert students to the shooting through the school’s alert system via email and text. The University sent 4 texts and email alerts the night of Jan 20th.
Kelsey Hamlin is a reporter with South Seattle Emerald, and interned with the publication this summer. She has worked with various Seattle publications. Currently, Hamlin is a University of Washington student, and the President of the UW Chapter’s Society of Professional Journalists. Hamlin is a journalism major at the University of Washington with interdisciplinary Honors, and a minor in Law, Societies & Justice. Find her on Twitter @ItsKelseyHamlin or see her other work on her website
Featured image is a Wikimedia Commons photo