OPINION: No Duty to Retreat as History Repeats

by Alvin Horn

Here in the south side of Seattle, and mainly the Skyway area, we have seen an erosion of moral code or street codes of civility that once kept violence away from citizens. However, the legacy of violence in America is a divisional tool injected into our communities. Chickens have come home to roost. From house to house, streets to avenues, and in open areas leading to our school halls, we have become desensitized to commonplace gun violence.

We turn on the news and/or social media and read of gunshots near our blocks, our elderly, our kids, our way of life. It is easy to look at the trigger-pullers as wholly responsible for their actions, and they are, but we are also culpable. We all have a part in violent America. The perspective is a matter of who is doing the reporting and who may be coloring the news for harmful reasons. We can only fix our gun violence problem by embracing truth, not media-manipulated fiction. 

In a process much like the colonization of invading another country or region, leaders or loud voices condition us to choose certain people over others. Whether it is government or private organizations, history shows one side was allowed weapons. The invaders/controllers call the opposing side names to justify their control. Often, those names use racial connotations to define the enemy as “less than” worthy of our consideration. 

At some point, we believe the invasion or war is over. We become comfortable with the narrative that the boots on the back of the disenfranchised and the maltreated are okay. We look for justification and think harshly of the “others” — “No, they found a gun(s), bought a gun(s), stole a gun(s), came into possession of a weapon and have a retaliatory mind-set.”

Many people still remember the person who pushed them down in grade school, while those who bullied have forgotten the pain they inflicted or minimize it and say, “Oh, it was a long time ago, so let it go.” That newscast of propaganda misleads and denies created factions that eventually filter into our communities. Childhood seeds of distrust and anger lead to simple disputes from door to door and car to car turning into mini-wars from age-old slights and perceived disrespects leading to “no duty to retreat.”

There are many historic examples of this intergenerational duty. The Scottish and Irish shot and blew each other up for decades. Spanish-Portuguese Wars — neighbors who spoke the same language but looked the same killed each other very little. African tribes fought many times because Europeans pitted one side over the other. One side was empowered, and the power was European weapons. America fought over slavery, and it was more about the money-making of slavery than the morality of the enslaved merely being human. We still live divided by an electoral college resulting from an attempt to placate slave owners who were losing their human property. The wild west was painted in smoke-screen signals on our black and white and colored TV screens and history books; stories of American “settlers” who had to “fight off” Native Americans — demeaning them as “savages.” The south side of Seattle was a Native American village, once home to threatened or violently misplaced Suquamish and Duwamish tribes. How proud we are that we can pronounce Native names for the many towns and cities.

Does one feel bad about the grass one waters and the morning fog that cars speed through on the way to work in South Seattle-Skyway? Conversely, does one feel anger and frustration when one hears of another shooting near our block?

One asks “what does that have to do with drive-by shootings in South Seattle-Skyway?” We place blame so easily when we are misled by race. Personal prejudices let our minds escape responsibilities. The educational system and extreme bias in policing have taken People of Color and Black men out of their homes and communities. Economic controls such as being forced to live in certain areas, limited jobs, and scarce opportunities hurt some more than others. Biased reporting colors certain groups as more violent when the statistics say something else.

Let us remember the Central Intelligence Agency’s Iran-Contra policy resulted in guns and drugs dumped into the Black and Brown communities and then imprisoned those who bought and used them. We call it Black-on-Black crime. One does not hear of Black and Brown people going into white neighborhoods and stealing guns. It is rare. What we have now are guns dropped in Black, Brown, and lower economic hoods to 15- to 25-year-old young men. For about $100, a 9mm can be held and the trigger pulled. How did that come about? Gun manufacturers grease the backdoor with their leftovers and ship them into hoods as a form of money laundering. Publicly traded corporations write off a tax loss as stolen goods — goods they lost with a purpose.

These young men feel they have no other choice than to fight to survive. Oftentimes this means they put themselves at greater risk of being swept up in our criminal punishment system. In trying to fix the situation, we have taken generations of Black and Brown and other POC men out of their communities, leading to leadership and mentorships drains.

Across the bridge, over the hill, and elsewhere in other urban to suburban and rural valleys: The under-reporting of life under siege and murder in communities with fewer people of color cannot hide the facts when choosing to look. Systemic Racism can trick mindsets into thinking one group of people is better than another. America has over 230 million white people living in predominantly white neighborhoods, which casts a utopia. FBI statistics list those “hoods” with having as many murders as any other.  Here are the stone cold facts: Rates of homicides, gun killings and illicit-drug fatalities are highest in areas where nine in 10 residents are white.

The news reports tend to whitewash (literally and figuratively) these killings away as individual failings, rather than cultural deficiencies. This treatment is of course not extended to hoods where people of color and Black people predominate. Unless we view all neighborhoods with the same moral and political mentality we view some neighborhoods, our current cycle of violence will continue.

There are many reasons why violence and crime come to where we live. There are many approaches to stop drive-bys; they come with hard choices. This kind of wild wild-west shoot-em-up was going on in the ‘80s right here in south Seattle/Skyway. We are still gumming our gums over what to do and who ain’t doing it. It will take a lot, since shouts of “they need to stop” have not worked. 

Got a ten-point plan? How about a five-point plan? We do not need to read about another regurgitated panel to study violence. Here is a plan. 


Number one: Hit parents hard and heavy, no exceptions! We have to change the code on the street: no more dead couples shot up in a car near the front and back doors, along walking paths and schools. We are reading about these types of incidents regularly, desensitizing us to the next time. We do not have to like the victim, or care about the color of their skin, or if they pay taxes just like us. Their right to live was taken from them by somebody’s badass kid(s) who may be an older immature adult. If one helped to produce a child, whether one acted like a mother or father or not, if at all possible one must help to pay for the damage caused. I believe that can lead to teaching basic principles: do not dare touch a gun — have a duty to retreat.

Number two: No matter the age or whether rich, poor, white, Brown, or Black, if one uses a gun, has a gun and does not have a permit, or is in the procession of a stolen gun, they should receive automatic jail time. If one shoots a gun, whether anyone is hurt or not, they must pay for public disturbance or damage. What goes up in the air comes down. We have to stop the mind-set “it causes no harm.”

One might think this direction of change is too harsh. Try holding the hand of a cold body for ten minutes, and you will feel the pain of the need to make a change. This message is coming from a registered, lawful gun permit owner.

Number three: One cannot withhold evidence or knowledge of the gun-related crime or they will face a charge. I understand if they believe their life might be in danger if they come forward. We must tread lightly, so I welcome your ideas on how to make this work.

Number four: No public funds should go to any city or county entertainment, fairs, or sports teams, teams until all of our communities have been funded equally via a participatory budgeting process. 

Number five: Any police officer who acts with less or equal response than an average citizen must face the same charge as a citizen. Our tax dollars should only go to the best, and the best should get the best training, and the best should handle any conflict better than the average untrained citizen. Drug test police, and drinking limits should be in place, much like those that apply to airline pilots. Cops drink a lot! They drink to take the edge off, as I’m told.

Number six: Take the police departments out of any politics. Taxpayers pay police salaries, and we should dictate how they operate. Oh, by the way, all those mobile commander motorhomes we paid for should be sitting in high crime corners and areas. Why are they collecting dust? Please do better with all the equipment provided. Do not tell us there is no money because if that is so, then they shouldn’t have been bought! Police tell us that they do not have the workforce to cover high crime areas but want to buy more big boy militaristic toys — no!

Number seven: Churches should stop telling us, “If that child had parents who went to church, he might have turned out better.” We have heard that same tired sermon since we had church down by the river and we used to beat our kids like the slave master. Time for the church to buy the preacher a Buick instead of a Cadillac SUV and put that money back into the communities in youth programs.

Number eight: Cities must fully fund youth programs and after school programs. Bike paths should be less of a priority and, for sure, no more important than our youth. Build new schools from inside out instead of just building new buildings.

In all, if we make no major changes, history will repeat, as no one will retreat from gun violence.

Alvin LA Horn is a multi-award winning bestselling author with Simon and Schuster Publishing and 2012 National Billboard Winner for spoken word. He lives in Rainier Beach.

Featured image: Who’s Next, We Want to Live Rally by Susan Fried