Black youth protestors carry black banner with white raised fists and text that reads "We Want To Live."

OPINION: City Response to Gun Violence Spike Lacks Compassion, New Ideas

by M. Anthony Davis

The City of Seattle hosted a press conference on the morning of Tuesday, Aug. 31, in response to six shootings over the weekend. City leaders, including Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz, City Councilmember Alex Pedersen, and Rex Brown of the City of Seattle Human Services Department (HSD) were present. 

Diaz spoke on many of the recent shootings, including an incident where a man was shot and killed Tuesday morning in Capitol Hill during an alleged attempted robbery. According to Diaz, there have been 100 more shootings in the city compared to this time of year in 2020, and 150 more compared to 2019. 

Instead of using those statistics to argue for new creative solutions to keep communities safe, however, Diaz and Pedersen used the upticks in gun violence to advocate for more Seattle Police Department (SPD) officers. 

“To address the serious spike in gun violence, I believe our City Council needs to partner with both our police department and community nonprofits, for a multipronged response with effective violence prevention programs,” Pedersen said. 

Pedersen, who represents District 4, where two people were fatally shot over the weekend in Lake City, did not go into detail on how a “multipronged” response would work, or how current efforts between SPD and nonprofits could be strengthened or further supported to ensure safety in our communities. He said that he hopes fellow councilmembers crafting the midyear budget “recognize the reality of the police shortage crisis” and work with the community to recruit and train new officers. 

In addition to saying he would be sure to call on City Council to support increases to the police force, Pedersen also commended Mayor Durkan on her commitments to “reimagine public safety by expanding social service investments,” through HSD. 

Brown, who began in his role as the first director of the Safe and Thriving Communities Division of HSD in July, said this division was created in response to the Black Lives Matter protests in summer 2020 and that since then HSD has invested $20 million in community-based organizations. According to Brown, as of June, community organizations have responded to 39 critical incidents and convened 19 meetings to discuss system coordination that included a liaison from the SPD. 

But we have seen a significant increase in gun violence over the last two months, and leaning on solutions created in 2020 does not fully address the current trends we are seeing, nor do they lead the public to believe we are headed in the direction of safer communities. 

When Kevin Schofield from Seattle City Council Insight asked Brown whether the HSD investments are actually new, Brown responded by noting that while these investments have been discussed before, the implementation is new. He said that urban family training, ongoing support for critical incidents and hotspots, and monthly community engagement trainings are all new and innovative solutions. 

“We sometimes become accustomed to perhaps a rapid change, as opposed to an effective change,” Brown said.

But is it fair to say that “we” are accustomed to rapid change? Gun violence is still on the rise, and the spikes we see continue to affect those from marginalized communities at the highest rates. The commitments we received in the wake of George Floyd and 2020’s summer of protest are starting to come to fruition now, but we are currently in the midst of yet another year of increased gun violence. This doesn’t feel like “rapid change.” 

And while Brown speaks on behalf of an individual city department, where is the new commitment from the City as a whole? Diaz spoke of SPD’s current community involvement, but where are the new and innovative ideas from SPD to combat gun violence? When will SPD put forth ideas that go beyond more cops? 

It was a nice idea for the City to host a panel in the wake of yet another violent weekend in Seattle, but in the face of this recent violence, it would have been better to hear new solutions. Instead, we learned HSD is now implementing ideas from last year, Diaz needs 1,400 officers to patrol the city, and Pedersen’s only concrete solution is to ensure the police have sufficient budget for recruiting and retaining new officers. 

What we did not hear from this press conference was compassion. We did not hear any fresh or new ideas that can address the current state of our communities. We did not hear any new financial commitments to nonprofits working to stop violence or new forms of community engagement from SPD. No one addressed how the need for housing and resources relates to crime and how we can expect these upticks when so many in our city are in need of housing. 

Instead, we heard year-old commitments and never-ending calls for supporting SPD’s budget. My heart is heavy for the victims and their families.

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

📸 Featured Image: “We Want to Live” rally held in South Seattle on June 7, 2020. (Photo: Alex Garland)

Before you move on to the next story …
The South Seattle Emerald is brought to you by Rainmakers. Rainmakers give recurring gifts at any amount. With over 1,000 Rainmakers, the Emerald is truly community-driven local media. Help us keep BIPOC-led media free and accessible. 
If just half of our readers signed up to give $6 a month, we wouldn't have to fundraise for the rest of the year. Small amounts make a difference. 
We cannot do this work without you. Become a Rainmaker today!