by Elizabeth Turnbull
As incidents of gun violence in King County are set to hit a new record so far this year, a group of community members and government leaders gathered on June 4, 2021 — a date that King County declared as Regional Community Safety and Well-being Day — to announce a new collective that will work to prevent more shootings.
The collective, launched by Public Health – Seattle & King County’s Zero Youth Detention (ZYD) effort, is a pilot program called the King County Regional Peacekeepers Collective (RPKC). The RPKC is made up of a number of organizations including Alive & Free, Choose180, Community Passageways, Freedom Project, Progress Pushers, Renegades for Life Youth Outreach, and UW Harborview Medical Center.
“While everybody can’t do everything, everybody can do something and so this regional peacekeepers collective is just that,” said Derrick Wheeler-Smith, Director of ZYD. “It’s everybody coming together and recognizing ultimately that we are better together, that there’s trauma that has to be addressed, that we’ve got to heal and that we have to come together in order for that to happen.”
In the first quarter of 2021, the number of fatal firearm homicide victims in King County was up 36%, while the number of non-fatal firearm injury victims was up 24% compared to the four-year average of the first quarter of 2017 through 2020. While Black and African American residents make up only 6.8% of King County’s total population this is the highest represented demographic in firearm fatalities — making up approximately 50% of firearm homicide victims, according to a report by King County.
The collective is still in the beginning stages and ZYD is embarking on a 12- to 18-month planning period to co-develop a King County Regional Community Safety & Well-being Plan (RCSWP) to reduce gun violence.
As of now, the coalition is focusing on “go-first” strategy in response to gun violence, which entails intervening in situations to protect the people who are most at risk, preventing further violence in the lives of younger siblings, and working towards supporting families and their healing, according to the RCSWP’s information.
A crowd of roughly 50 people attended the press conference last week announcing the coalition. While energy is currently high among coalition members to begin working toward gun violence prevention in King County, Sean Goode, the Executive Director of Choose 180, said more resources are needed from the County if the coalition is to continue its work long-term.
“There’s absolutely more resources needed for this to be sustained over a prolonged period of time,” Goode said. “We have enough to get it going to demonstrate like, ‘This is what it should look like.’ But we’re going to need more support from the County, more support from the City and more support from individuals to undergird our organizations in order to push this thing forward.”
Community members such as Gregory Davis, the founding member of the Rainier Beach Action Coalition (RBAC) feel hopeful about the choice of organizations for the collective, but Davis has concerns about local government’s long-term efforts.
“Wrap-around coordination is critical and this is where my concerns arise,” Davis told the Emerald in an email. “We all experience the impacts of fragmented government structures due to the revolving door of elected officials and bureaucrats and this is where my doubts arise. I question the collective will of our municipalities over the long-term to stick to seeing these efforts through.”
While the coalition is still working to flesh out a plan for future efforts, members are focused on ultimately providing a support system for families and individuals impacted by gun violence as opposed to simply providing resources, according to Goode.
“Even if there’s a victims’ fund for people to get money when somebody’s been harmed — like that exists currently — but how do you navigate those waters?” Goode told the Emerald. “Who’s assisting you to procure those resources? Who are the people who are staying with you through the journey of healing? There needs to be support in place for that.”
Elizabeth Turnbull is a journalist with reporting experience in the U.S. and the Middle East. She has a passion for covering human-centric issues and doing so consistently.
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