Community Leaders Will Meet to Discuss Solutions to Increasing Gun Violence in King County

by M. Anthony Davis

A shootout last Friday in South Seattle near Emerson Elementary School sent five people to the hospital. According to reports, more than 70 shots were fired on a residential street. Then, later that evening, more gunshots were fired on Seward Park Avenue South. That shooting left one person dead at the Atlantic City boat ramp. According to police, witnesses saw a car fleeing the scene before hitting and killing a pedestrian at the intersection of Rainier Avenue South and Martin Luther King Jr. Way South. 

Gun violence is on the rise throughout King County. In Seattle in 2019, there were 18 gun homicides. In 2020, there were 17 by the end of July. If this trend continues, we will have a record year for gun homicides in Seattle. Local officials such as  King County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant Ryan Abbott, quoted in the KUOW article linked above, blame “warm weather” and juveniles “not being in school” during summer months as reasons for the increased violence. 

Critics say local politicians and police have failed to curb gun violence in our communities. By and large, police are only involved in the back end of gun violence — they are called after the shooting has already occurred. In the demands of those calling to defund police, part of the reallocated funds are needed to support community efforts to stop gun violence on the front end — by strengthening social services and engaging youth before any violent crimes are committed. 

Omari Salisbury, local journalist and founder of Converge Media, is hosting a roundtable discussion on gun violence at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 8, in partnership with the South Seattle Emerald and local stakeholders and community members. 

“You see this continued escalation here, and the number of shootings are just off the chart,” Salisbury says. “That’s when you know there’s an opportunity to bring people together.” This won’t be the first time Converge Media has used their platform to discuss gun violence in the community. Converge recently hosted a show, Good Game Alert, with Willard Jimerson Jr. of United Better Thinking that brought in guests to discuss issues including violence in our communities. Salisbury sees this roundtable as an opportunity to reconvene with community members like Jimerson to discuss ways in which the current climate of gun violence can be tempered.

The Seattle Police Department (SPD) hosted a community talk on gun violence in 2019 at Seattle Vocational Institute (SVI) during an African American Community Advisory Council meeting. The event included a “special presentation of strategies to address gun violence in the Central Area” by Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez and presentations from multiple City departments including SPD, Seattle Parks and Recreation, and the Department of Neighborhoods. The upcoming roundtable planned by Converge will include interim Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz and will also include a panel primarily consisting of community advocates and families of victims. 

“I think the difference might be that we really hold people’s feet to the fire for results,” Salisbury explains. “16 months ago, they did basically the same thing at SVI. They had a big meeting in the CD, the brass was there, City Council members, and everything else. And we find ourselves here 16 months later with a 21% increase [in gun violence].” Salisbury hopes that a discussion led by community media instead of politicians will yield ideas that bring significant results to the affected communities. 

Sean Goode, executive director of Choose 180, who will be a member of the roundtable, believes that defunding the police and investing in communities to provide necessary support for young people is a viable solution. “I think it’s imperative that folks understand how these conversations go together,” Goode says. “An investment in law enforcement historically hasn’t kept our community safer. We still have young people who are shooting each other, even though we have added millions on top of millions into the police budget.”

Goode knows first-hand how gun violence affects families in our community. Before his work with Choose 180, Goode led an outreach and engagement effort for youth involved in gang and group violence in south King County. During that time, he also served as a minister in the community. Goode remembers multiple occasions where he supported young people and just weeks later supported their families by presiding over their funeral services.

“After doing that work for a period of time, it became clear to me that there are a variety of different intersecting moments in a young person’s life where you can help them pause, pivot, and commit to a new direction,” Goode recalls. “I needed to find another pivot moment that was a little bit earlier on to intervene, and that is the heart of the work of Choose 180.” 

When community demands that the City divest from police and invest in community programs to support youth, Choose 180 is an example of the type of program they’re asking for. At Choose 180, young people are engaged once their behavior trends toward being problematic, and the program provides them with support in order to understand and redirect their behavior. This work is done in partnership with prosecuting attorneys: young people who have entered the criminal justice system are sent to Choose 180 and have the opportunity to avoid criminal conviction. So far, 90% of youth have not returned to the criminal legal system within 12 months of engaging in the program. 

These are the types of ideas and programs that will be represented in the roundtable discussion. The community will also have the opportunity to speak from experience and present their expertise in ways that support collectively ending the violence harming our youth and families. Chukundi Salisbury, who represents the 100 Black Parents group, will also participate. His organization focuses on getting kids out of the city with trips to Camp Orkila that help show youth that there are more choices in life than gangs and violence.

Reflecting on the issue of gun violence and the importance of this roundtable discussion, Chukundi Salisbury says, “This issue is so important. It’s literally life and death … a lot of times, if someone’s not blowing a whistle, then it’s an issue that falls through the cracks because it might not necessarily impact an elected official in their specific constituency or their specific district. This is something that we, the people who are deeply impacted, and the city as a whole, need to take upon ourselves.” 

Youth Gun Violence: Community Voices

Thursday, October 8, 2020, 6 p.m. 

Panelists: Willard Jimerson, Jr. (United Better Thinking), Sean Goode (Choose 180), Dre Franklin (B.U.I.L.D), Chief Adrian Diaz (Seattle Police Department), and Chukundi Salisbury (100 Black Parents), as well as victims’ families and advocates.

M. Anthony Davis (Mike Davis) is a local journalist covering arts, culture, and sports.

Featured image: June 7 We Want to Live March and Rally in South Seattle (Photo: Alex Garland)