by M. Anthony Davis
Last Wednesday, Mar. 17 the community was shocked to hear about a shooting at the Emerald City Bible Fellowship on Rainier Avenue South. There are a lot of rumors and a lot of unknowns. What we do know is that someone lost their life, someone took a life, and a community is left grieving in the aftermath of violence.
On the day of the shooting, Community Passageways was holding an orientation meeting at the church. Harvey Drake, the pastor of Emerald City Bible Fellowship, says the suspected shooter was looking for the victim, since identified as Omari Wallace, and confronted him during the orientation meeting that was attended by about 15 youth. Wallace was in his 20’s. Pastor Drake believes the shooter was as well.
These stories are difficult to discuss. At the Emerald, we have contacts in Community Passageways, but understandably, they are not speaking to the media in any level of detail. With the shooter still at large and a group of youth who witnessed this tragedy — especially mainstream media, which often takes every chance available to push the narrative that our communities are unsafe — the choice not to engage media makes sense.
But we do know that Community Passageways routinely hosts orientations around gang violence prevention. I’ve spoken to enough community members and visited enough Facebook neighborhood group pages to have heard the rumors that the shooter and the victim had previously been involved in gang activity. And along with that rumor there’s been a familiar narrative emerging about “dangerous Black youth.”
Even if it can be verified that the two people had a history of gang violence, this stereotypical narrative is just as destructive as what happened last Wednesday. The narrative that I see when hearing these rumors is that we are trying our absolute hardest to prevent violence in our community. We don’t need false narratives of “dangerous Black youth.” We need more support and more resources for organizations like Community Passageways, who are in the community every day working hands-on with our vulnerable youth and trying to steer them away from gangs and away from violence. My heart hurts for this organization. I can imagine how it feels to have these youth trying to take steps away from gang life only to have a tragedy like this fall upon them.
I spoke with Derrick Wheeler-Smith, director of King County Zero Youth Detention, about how communities can heal from acts of violence, and he answered with an insightful revelation from his own life about how compounded trauma has affected him and many other Black men he knows. He spoke on the idea of vulnerability and safety and he realized that compounding trauma throughout his life has led him to normalize the idea of never truly feeling safe.
“I was in some facilitation and a triad. And we were having a conversation, and the conversation centered around this idea of vulnerability … and ‘how can I be more vulnerable?,’” Wheeler-Smith explains. “And I’m realizing that I’m not vulnerable, because I don’t feel safe. Then I started thinking about what are the things that actually create safety? That messed with me. Because I racialized it, and I asked myself, ‘as a Black man, where do I feel most safe?’ That messed me up because I realized that I’ve normalized not feeling safe.”
Over the next 48 hours, Wheeler-Smith contacted 46 Black men he knew. They came from all walks of life including professional athletes, college professors, men with PhDs, sanitation workers, and more. He asked them all two simple questions: Where do you feel most safe? Where do you feel least safe?
The data Wheeler-Smith collected was shocking. He says some of the men were upset. For the first time in their lives, they were realizing that they had never felt truly safe. Even myself as a journalist, as I reflected on those questions, I learned that I do not have a space where I truly feel safe. How can this be? How do we as Black men all have this similar experience where we have learned to live out our normal lives, and despite varying levels of professional success, academic success, or even financial security, we all exist with an inherent understanding that we are never and will never truly feel safe.
This brings me back to Community Passageways. This brings me to every organization we have in our community doing similar work to Community Passageways — these organizations that are dedicated to youth and young adults and finding alternatives to incarceration and more importantly, doing the work of crime and violence prevention. These organizations are filled with individuals who have literally dedicated their lives to trying to create a world where our young men don’t have to grow up normalizing the idea that no matter how hard they work and no matter what they become in life, they will never feel safe. If these organizations are successful, future generations of Black men will escape trauma and achieve a level of inner peace that so many of us will never have.
When I reflect on the events that took place at the Emerald City Bible Fellowship, my heart goes out to the family of the victim, to the family of the shooter, and to the youth that will live the rest of their lives unable to shake the feeling that even in a church, they are not safe. But I also think about the movement to defund police to reallocate these funds into our communities. Over-policing our community did not stop this tragedy from occurring. Police presence alone will never be as effective as community crime prevention. If Community Passageways and all of their fellow organizations had adequate funding and the full support of our City, our youth would have a much better chance to escape the cycle of violence and the trauma that lives within us for the duration of our lives.
Our communities need support. Our youth need resources. Our children need access to education and social services so that they don’t grow up believing gangs are a way of life. We need better options, and for that our community organizations need more support.
King County Zero Youth Detention will hold a Regional Community Town Hall Sunday March 21 at 5 p.m. on all Converge Media platforms to discuss violence prevention in our communities.
M. Anthony Davis (Mike Davis) is a local journalist covering arts, culture, and sports.
Featured image: Emerald City Bible Fellowship (Photo by Alex Garland)
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