by Ben Adlin
Following a deadly shooting last week next to the Mount Baker light rail station, a group of South End residents are set to meet privately with City and County officials on Wednesday, Dec. 1, to discuss how to prevent future violence in the area.
Residents say they’re frustrated with the lack of progress by Seattle, King County, and Sound Transit officials to address their safety concerns. The director of a nearby preschool, for example, said the situation has gotten so bad that she’s hoping to install ballistic fencing around the school’s playground.
The Mount Baker area has seen a number of deadly incidents in recent months, including a separate fatal shooting near the rail station in June and a fire at a nearby tent encampment that killed two people. Those events prompted a community meeting in September, attended by Mayor Jenny Durkan, Seattle City Councilmember Tammy Morales, Seattle Police Department (SPD) interim Chief Adrian Diaz, and others. Since then, however, some residents say little has changed.
“Nothing’s happened since then,” said Jamil Suleman, a Mount Baker-based artist and business owner who organized the September event. “Since that meeting, nothing has happened, and it’s only gotten worse, violence-wise.”
Last week’s shooting, which occurred next to the rail station around 10 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 21, killed one person and left another with life-threatening injuries, according to police. Asked for further details, an SPD representative referred to the department’s blog post about the shooting, which says detectives are still investigating “and will release any additional information as it becomes available.”
According to Sound Transit, the event happened by the intersection of South Winthrop Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way South, directly southeast of the light rail station itself.
Alex Chadsey, a musician and educator whose apartment is within sight of the light rail station, said that he and his partner heard last week’s gunshots and saw the person they believed to be the suspect fleeing through the station. No security, law enforcement, or other personnel appeared to be on scene to apprehend the shooter, he said.
“The lack of security, that’s been our biggest concern going back to at least April, if not more,” said Chadsey, who attended the September event as well as an earlier community meeting with officials in June.
While Sound Transit have previously promised to increase patrols of the Mount Baker station, Chadsey said that he’s only noticed a heightened presence since last week’s shooting. Security personnel are now posted around the clock, though it’s unclear how long that will last.
Chadsey said the agency had shown “a real lack of transparency” involving its response to violence so near the station.
“There was nothing — zero communication from Sound Transit for more than 48 hours about even acknowledging that somebody had been killed, let alone, you know, sharing any information with us about what they were going to do about it,” he said. “It’s hard for me to feel like I can give them much credit at this point, because it’s already been two people who have died.”
The neighborhood has also seen more property crimes, Chadsey said, such as “countless” car burglaries and a rise in apartment break-ins.
Gloria Hodge, the center director at Hoa Mai Vietnamese Bilingual Preschool, which is adjacent to the rail station, said that families, staff, and neighbors are “sad and angry.” She told the Emerald that she’s currently looking into installing bulletproof fencing around the preschool’s playground but admits that costs could be a barrier.
“I have been a part of these conversations with key leaders since we reopened from the pandemic, when the incidents started as car break-ins, then spiraled for the worse,” Hodge wrote in an email. She wants to see future meetings lead to investments in gun-violence prevention and research into what approaches have worked in other major cities.
“The Mount Baker community needs resources for encampments at the Cheasty Greenbelt and also for the addiction and social services needs for the area. Not next winter, today,” she said. “We have been voicing the dire needs for many seasons.”
This week’s event between Mount Baker residents and local officials was convened by Seattle City Councilmember Morales “to help ensure the community’s concerns are continuously heard and to create more open lines of communication on how the City is addressing issues,” she said in a statement last week. Going forward, the meetings will be held twice a month.
“Only in partnership and community can we address the trauma that neighbors in Mount Baker have experienced,” Morales said. “I am eager to work with the next Mayor to ensure the community is heard, their needs are addressed, and they can feel safe.”
King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay is also set to attend meetings, as are representatives for Sound Transit and SPD. State Sen. Rebecca Saldaña is also expected to be there, some residents said.
Morales has also invited Mayor-elect Bruce Harrell to attend, but a representative for Harrell, Jamie Housen, told the Emerald last week that he did not have any information about whether Harrell would be there. Housen did not immediately reply to a follow-up email on Monday.
In a statement after last week’s shooting, Harrell called the shooting “another tragic instance of gun violence that has become far too common in our city.”
“My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims and communities impacted,” the incoming mayor said. “We can make a real impact by treating gun violence as a preventable public health crisis and through programs and strategies like improved SPD staffing and investigative resources, new technology to more accurately track gunshots, and investment in community programs and outreach that stop gun violence before it begins.”
Morales, in her statement, did not mention police spending specifically but instead called for investing “heavily in upstream solutions, including direct violence interruption, creating paths to good paying careers for young people, and making investments in the built environment to ensure that residents and business owners in areas like the one around this Link station are safe, thriving, and connected.”
While police funding has been a hot-button political issue between members of the Seattle City Council and the mayor’s office, community members say they’d like to see more than just an increased police presence. More patrols of the station itself are essential, they argue, but so too is immediate investment in making the surrounding area more livable.
The blocks surrounding the Mount Baker rail station are peppered by empty lots and shuttered businesses, and a handful of major companies have left the area during the pandemic. Recent closures include a nearby Rite Aid and a Starbucks at Rainier Avenue South and Martin Luther King Jr. Way South that served as a popular community hub.
Suleman, who organized the September meeting with officials, said an urgent approach is necessary to keep the area around the Mount Baker station from becoming a “desolate transit zone” and an opportune place for crime. Instead, he said, the surrounding community needs the freedom to make the space its own.
“Sound Transit needs to open up the light rail station and platform for buskers and for events and for coffees and teas and to activate that space,” he said. “Sound Transit is letting it rot, and the reason is because it’s a poor community, a Black and Brown community.”
In an email to the Emerald, Sound Transit’s public information officer, John Gallagher, wrote that one of the agency’s “core values is to provide the safest transit trip and work environment for every passenger, employee and contractor, each and every day.”
In response to conversations with the surrounding community, he said, Sound Transit has updated its “See something, say something” signage, coordinated graffiti removal, cleaned up some landscaping, and asked its security vendor to step up its presence around pick-up and drop-off times at a nearby preschool.
Sound Transit also noted that there are plans for future development surrounding the station, including developing several parcels west of the station with affordable housing, a childcare and early learning facility, and potential open space. The projects are part of the agency’s goal “to create more affordable housing and a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly area around the light rail station,” Gallagher said.
Chadsey acknowledged the recent development of the Mount Baker Lofts, which opened in 2014, and praised future plans for development, but he noted that many of the planned projects won’t be finished for years to come.
“They’re not gonna break ground on these developments for seven years,” he said. “That’s a great longer-term solution, but it doesn’t do anything to address our immediate needs.”
Despite his disappointment in officials’ responses so far, Chadsey said he’s trying to keep an open mind about the upcoming meetings. He called them “a huge step in the right direction” and framed them as an opportunity for community members to hold Sound Transit officials accountable.
He also praised County Councilmember Zahilay for what he said was a pledge to make his office and resources available to coordinate future meetings. Zahilay’s office did not respond to emails from the Emerald.
“This is what we’ve been asking for for six months or more,” Chadsey said. “And that’s really what we need: We need the support of our electeds not only to provide sort of logistical support, to take a lot of the time burden off us, but also to throw their weight behind these things — to use the power of their offices to hold these agencies, for example Sound Transit and others, more accountable to our needs and our safety and security.”
Suleman said his hope is to “use politicians’ obsession with their image to actually hold them accountable,” though he’s skeptical given how past meetings have gone. The one in September helped participants “kind of get on board and informed,” he said, but “whether it be just a lack of interest or the complexity of bureaucracy, nothing has really gotten done to help our community.”
“Sound Transit refuses to take responsibility for this stuff, and the community has just been kind of left to fend for ourselves on our own,” he said. “We feel gaslit by pretty much everybody on all sides, and now we’re ready to mobilize our community, and we’re ready to protest.”
Chadsey, while more optimistic about the meetings, said he’s also concerned that support from officials could fade over time.
“Our concern, because this is what happened last time, is that there’s a lot of hand-wringing after something like that happens, and a big to-do about how upset we all are about this, and wanting to look like we’re doing something about it, but then no follow-through,” he said. “That’s a concerning pattern, because it shouldn’t take something as unspeakable as a human loss of life for there to be meaningful action on something as basic as providing adequate security.”
Update: There is ongoing controversy about where precisely the violence occurred on the night of Nov. 21. Some residents, including Alex Chadsey, who sent the Emerald videos of the incident’s aftermath, say it occurred at the light rail station itself. Sound Transit, meanwhile, told the Emerald that the crime, which they have variously referred to as a “shooting,” “shooting/stabbing,” and “fatal stabbing,” occurred on a street immediately adjacent to the station. The agency referred the Emerald’s follow-up questions to the Seattle Police Department, which has not released additional information from its investigation.
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: Mount Baker light rail station. (Photo: Alex Garland)
Before you move on to the next story … The South Seattle Emerald is brought to you by Rainmakers. Rainmakers give monthly at any amount. With over 900 Rainmakers, the Emerald is truly community-driven local media. Help us get to 1,100 Rainmakers by the end of the year and 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!