by Ben Adlin
Weeks after gunshots broke out during a youth football game at Judkins Park on Sept. 25, sending families fleeing for cover, a coalition of organizers and trained intervention professionals met amid football practice at Garfield Playfield on Tuesday, Oct. 12, to call on government officials to invest $10 million annually in community-led efforts to prevent gun violence.
“Violence is the result of failed systems our politicians and local officials created,” said Dyneeca Adams, a community and safety specialist with YMCA’s Alive and Free program, who helps youth and young adults access essential services. “In fact, they nurtured violence by exacerbating the very thing that drives it, including poverty, underfunded schools, gentrification, and failing to provide adequate funding to community-based organizations.”
Alive and Free is one of a handful of local groups that together make up the Regional Peacekeepers Collective (RPKC), a program launched under a King County pilot program earlier this year in response to shooting rates that have been on the rise since 2018. The coalition takes a public health approach to gun violence, working to provide a range of services such as counseling, housing, and school enrollment to prevent shootings, and coordinated care to address the damage they cause to individuals and communities alike.
“We understand that gun violence is not indicative of bad people, but the negative health outcome from continuous exposure to many risk factors,” Adams said. “Gun violence intervention, prevention, and support efforts must be resourced, racially just, and equitable.”
While shootings in Seattle remain relatively low compared to other large U.S. cities, the region has seen a rise in gun violence that’s mirrored a recent trend across the country. According to data released Wednesday, Oct. 13, by the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office’s Shots Fired Project, the number of both homicides (73) and nonfatal shootings (283) through September of this year have already broken last year’s totals (69 and 268, respectively).
What hasn’t changed is that shootings in King County disproportionately impact People of Color, especially Black people. Of all shooting victims through September, 81% were People of Color — up from 76% in 2020 — and half were Black, despite Black people comprising just 7% of the county’s population.
“The importance of supporting these lives needs to be reflected in the city and county budgets,” said Saleem Robinson, founder and executive director of the nonprofit Renegades for Life, another member of the RPKC. “A budget is a moral document informing us of your values and what you care about. And we need to care about the lives of young people that we’re losing to gun violence, which is a preventable cause of death.”
In addition to Alive and Free and Renegades for Life, RPKC partners include Choose 180, Community Passageways, Freedom Project WA, Progress Pushers, and UW Harborview Medical Center. It’s the region’s first and only partnership dedicated to reducing gun violence, organizers said.
“The Regional Peacekeepers’ approach to this crisis is to provide intervention, prevention, and restoration,” said Orlando Ames, a lead interventionist with RPKC and the reentry director for Freedom Project WA. “We are the experts in this field and the boots on the ground to provide real community support for the communities that we come from and the communities that we reside in and the communities that we live in.”
As part of Ames’ work with RPKC, he provides community support either on-scene or at the hospital after a shooting. He urged local politicians to approach the crisis of gun violence with the same commitment they’ve brought to tackling COVID-19.
“Dow Constantine declared gun violence as a public health issue,” Ames said, referring to the King County executive. “This health crisis in our community needs to be addressed and invested in the same way as the global pandemic.”
So far the coalition has received nearly $3.5 million in funding from Seattle and King County officials, including about $2 million from the City and a roughly $1.4 million initial investment from the County.
David Heppard, executive director of Freedom Project WA, said the coalition is appreciative of the funding so far, but added that “expecting the community to continue to do more with less isn’t sustainable or conducive to us being successful.”
“We need the people who hold the resources to fund peace, not continue to feed the fictitious wars on drugs, superpredators, or whatever the latest generation of a group that always ends up being predominantly Black and Brown,” he said, adding that City and County law enforcement receive hundreds of millions of dollars in annual funding.
“The difference between a community with a lot of violence and a community with no violence isn’t more police, it’s more resources,” Heppard said. “All we ask is that you adequately fund peace and the brilliance and expertise in our community so that we can help solve the problem that we are uniquely positioned and qualified to be able to solve.”
Another speaker, Eugene Youngblood, said part of the reason officials have struggled with how to address gun violence is that they’ve been viewing the problem as a political one rather than as a matter of public health.
“They think that they’ll enact some kind of law or put something in place to put some folks in jail to support the tough-on-crime initiatives,” he said. “But we all know that that ain’t true and that don’t work.”
The community isn’t losing a battle to gun violence, Youngblood said. “The battle we’re losing is against the streets with our young people.”
“We’re not doing a good enough job to help them understand that that’s not the answer,” he continued. “And that has to come from us, it has to come through us. And the way it comes through us is when we get the support we need from county and state governments.”
Adams, of YMCA’s Alive and Free program, said that a holistic approach to gun violence is long overdue and is warranted given leaders’ longtime neglect of historically BIPOC communities.
“We must address the root causes that created violence in our communities,” Adams said. “It’s only right that our local and state officials fund peace. They must put as much time, effort, and money into funding the King County Regional Peacekeepers as they did over the last several decades depriving our communities.”
Ben Adlin is a reporter and editor who grew up in the Pacific Northwest and currently lives on Capitol Hill. He’s covered politics and legal affairs from Seattle and Los Angeles for the past decade and has been an Emerald contributor since May 2020, writing about community and municipal news. Find him on Twitter at @badlin.
📸 Featured Image: With other members of the Regional Peacekeepers Collective, Saleem Robinson, founder and executive director of Renegades for Life, discusses the coalition’s public health approach that brings together a wide range of services to address the root causes of gun violence. (Photo: Malu Santos)
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