OPINION: In the Aftermath of the Shootings at Urban League Village, How Do We Navigate the Complex Layers of Accountability?

by M. Anthony Davis

On Tuesday, February 9, Anais N. Valencia was murdered. She was 23 years old. Valencia, along with her best friend, sat in her car in the parking lot of the Urban League Village waiting for another friend who lived there when Gregory Taylor fired multiple gunshots into her vehicle. Valencia’s best friend, who can be heard in a chilling 911 call begging police to come to the scene where both young women had been shot multiple times, was left in critical condition. The friend they were waiting for came out of his apartment to find his friends in the car had been shot. Gregory Taylor, who worked for Coast Property Management, the private property management company hired by the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle to manage the apartments in the Urban League Village, was then shot and killed by officers from the Seattle Police Department (SPD). 

There is no way to view this other than tragedy, a senseless act of violence that will forever impact three young people and their families and the whole community caught in its wake. 

Originally, I thought I was going to write about community healing. After an event like this, how does the community move forward? How do we take care of the youth that were impacted? How do we address the tactics of Seattle police, who shot dozens of bullets into a park that sits in the middle of a residential neighborhood? There are so many layers to this story. It was hard for me to piece together where to begin. But early posts on Twitter answered that question for me. 

I saw a Twitter post from a group in Seattle about a rally and a march to take place in the Urban League Village parking lot in memory of Gregory Taylor because he was murdered by Seattle police officers. At the time I saw the tweet, it had 92 likes, 27 retweets, and 17 replies. I immediately felt sick to my stomach. 

Screen capture of a tweet that provides details for a memorial at Jimi Hendrix Park for Gregory Taylor. (Image: M. Anthony Davis)

Valencia died from gunshot wounds to her face, while her best friend, whose name has not been made public, ended up in the hospital in critical condition. While she was in the hospital, fighting for her life, activists planned a march to protest SPD for shooting Taylor. How can I objectively write an article on community healing, when it feels like the community is divided? I understand the optics of another Black man being killed by Seattle police, but this case doesn’t quite fit the narrative. Taylor had just murdered a young woman in cold blood and critically wounded her best friend. I felt this memorial should have been for them.

I went to the Urban League Village in the aftermath of these shootings. It is located above the Northwest African American Museum (NAAM) on 23rd Avenue South and South Massachusetts Street and alongside Jimi Hendrix Park. 

What I found made me feel even more conflicted. Gregory Taylor is no martyr. He is not a symbol for justice or an example of police killing unarmed, non-threatening Black people. Gregory Taylor is a murderer. However, as I walked around Jimi Hendrix park and saw how many bullet holes scattered the grounds, I couldn’t ignore the call for examining SPD’s tactics. I wondered if the bullet holes I was seeing had actually come from the shooting of Taylor, so I spoke with Mark Henesy who was present on the day of the shooting.

Henesy lives across the street from Jimi Hendrix Park. He heard the shots on Tuesday and took pictures as events unfolded and after. He showed me where the SPD officers who fired the shots had parked. We walked through the park following the trajectory of SPD’s shots and found multiple places where bullets struck. Police knew there was only one shooter. They were in the parking lot of a low-income apartment building that is adjacent to a public park. Anyone walking their dog, or playing hide-and-seek, or, in the case of one of the houses in the northeast corner of the park, sitting in their living room, could have been shot. As you can see in the photos, one of the houses had three, clearly visible bullet holes in the siding. Those bullets would have hit windows if they had been a few feet to the left. 

A bullet hole in the siding of a home adjacent to Jimi Hendrix Park. (Photo: Mark Henesy)

But I don’t want to talk about the police. I don’t want to talk about their tactics. That conversation has been happening my whole life and will likely continue when I’m gone. I want to talk about Anais Valencia. I want to know if the random act of violence that claimed her life was really as random as it appeared to be. 

The Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle (Urban League) is responsible for operating the building that houses the Urban League Village apartments and the Northwest African American Museum. They contract with Coast Property Management to manage the apartments. 

My first question: Why would an organization like the Urban League, who serves Seattle’s Black community, hire a white-led national organization to manage the 36 low-income units they have in a recently gentrified, historically Black community? This building was always meant to serve the Black community. Why would the Urban League not manage this themselves, or at least bring in a Black-led organization with ties to the local community and an understanding of the history Black folks have with displacement in the Central District? 

The Urban League initially refused to return multiple requests for comment. After several days passed, and still without issuing a public statement, Augustine Cita, their Vice President of Operations, finally reached out to comment. 

Unfortunately, my conversation with Cita didn’t provide clarity on any of these questions. He was sure to distance the Urban League from Gregory Tayor and assured me, “He [Taylor] does not work for the Urban League,” reiterating the stance of the Urban League by saying, “I don’t know the details of his [Taylor’s] employment. What I am saying is he is not an employee of the Urban League, and the Urban League doesn’t have any say over who the management company hired to do their work or what kind of work they do.” 

I asked Cita directly about the Urban League’s accountability to the community they are supposed to be serving, and again he reminded me the Urban League does not directly manage this property. 

I mention the Urban League in this way not to take shots at their organization, but to point out that they own the building that houses the Urban League Village and NAAM. The Urban League is distancing themselves from managing the apartments, and it appears they are also distancing themselves from NAAM, which has had protesters, led by activist Omari Garrett, occupying the front door of the museum since Juneteenth 2020. 

Garrett’s encampment has multiple tents blocking the main entrance to the building. He claims to be the rightful owner of the space and says he has paperwork to prove it. I bring this up to ask a critical question: What exactly is the Urban League doing with this building? The more I dig, the more it seems the Urban League has no real idea what happens day-to-day at a facility that they own. 

Garrett, along with another gentleman in his encampment I spoke with, say they have had many interactions with Gregory Taylor in the months they have occupied the space. While they acknowledge he has had some episodes that seem to be obviously related to issues with his mental health, he has never caused them significant harm.

Walter Jones, who provides assistance and security for Garrett, has observed lots of encounters with Taylor. Jones says he had never seen Taylor appear to be on drugs or alcohol, but he described Taylor’s personality as manic. 

“We had an incident a few months ago,” Jones explained. “There was a drug addict in the parking lot smoking crack. [The guy using drugs said] ‘I’m from Chicago, I’ll kill you.’ I’ll do this and that. And the guy who was shot by the police [Taylor] walked up on him and put his .45 to his head and said, ‘Excuse me, what did you say?’ And he [Taylor] was so calm about it. He wasn’t yelling, he wasn’t incoherent. He just put the gun to his head and said what he said, and the boy who was smoking the dope got scared and got in the car and took off.”

According to Jones and another protester in Garrett’s encampment, building management knew about Taylor’s behavior. For example, Jones remembered once seeing Taylor in the park between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m., in the rain, sliding across the grass as if he was on a slip-n-slide, screaming “I’m a Blood! I’m a Blood! But, the Crips raised me!” Jones said when he left, around 5 a.m. that morning, the police and an ambulance were pulling into the property. Someone called for help thinking Taylor was dead because he was laid out in the grass motionless. Taylor was okay, but this highlights an incident where police responded to a call regarding Taylor’s behavior.  

Seattle police behind a police line after the shootings at Urban League Village on Feb. 9, 2021. (Photo: Mark Henesy)

I point out these stories to show that, presumably, building management knew about potential issues Taylor had with mental health. SPD had previously responded to calls about Taylor. What I don’t understand is how he remained employed at the apartments without proper support for clear mental health concerns, or why past knowledge didn’t contribute to how SPD responded on this day. I also don’t understand how the Urban League, who owns this building, does not feel accountable for allowing their building management company to employ a groundskeeper and maintenance worker with known mental health concerns, who brought a gun to work. Why does someone doing these types of duties need a gun at work? 

LaKeith Asphy, community member and entrepreneur, has known Gregory Taylor for over 10 years and paints a different picture. Taylor worked as a bathroom attendant in local nightclubs and Asphy remembers seeing him often, even giving Taylor rides when they ran into each other outside of clubs. Asphy had never known Taylor to be a threat to the community. 

An Urban League Village sign at 2300 S. Massachusetts St. (Photo: Alex Garland)

Asphy was at the Urban League Village apartments on the day of the shootings and briefly spoke to Taylor. He says when he pulled into the parking lot the morning of the shooting, Taylor called his name. He stopped the car, and they greeted each other before Asphy parked and entered the building. By chance, Asphy is friends with the family of the young man Valencia would be waiting for when she was killed and was on his way to their apartment. 

Around 9 p.m. Asphy heard shooting outside. Minutes later his friend’s son came in to grab his backpack. “He was just going to grab his computer and head back out,” Asphy says. “He was pulling up with some friends to get his computer, then he was going to Tacoma for an overnight trip. While he’s up there, we’re telling him not to go downstairs because somebody outside is shooting and we know the police are about to be arriving.”

That delay may have saved the young man’s life. When he made it back downstairs to check on his friends, waiting in the car, he discovered they had both been shot. Asphy confirmed that the young women did not know Taylor and were not from Seattle. They were students and artists who came to pick up a friend and planned on heading to Tacoma for the weekend to work on music.   

The events that unfolded on February 9 were tragic. Two lives were lost and many more will be impacted forever. I can’t imagine the pain of Valencia’s family on learning she was killed, at 23 years old, without any answers as to why this has happened. 

SPD opened fire in a park and could have inadvertently killed residents while trying to stop a single suspect. I understand that Taylor was armed and dangerous, but I also understand police are supposed to be trained to handle these situations professionally with more efficiency than we saw in this situation. 

The question that lingers with me is: Was this preventable? How accountable should the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle be? This is their space. Gregory Taylor worked for the company they hired to manage this space. What is their accountability to the community that they are supposed to serve? How should the community feel now that it has been a week and they still haven’t issued a public statement?

There are so many layers to this story. But in the end, my thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Anais Valencia. She was only 23 years old. 

Candles spelling out Anais Valencia’s name, surrounded by red carnations, lay in the parking lot of the Urban League Village where the young woman was shot and killed on Feb. 9, 2021. (Photo: Alex Garland)

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

Featured image by Alex Garland.

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