Black-and-white photo depicting young people holding hands close up.

OPINION | Keeping Perspective When Trauma Strikes a Sacred Place

by Marcus Harrison Green

(This article is copublished with The Seattle Times.)

One violent incident can’t negate the impact of ongoing work to curb gun violence in the Rainier Beach community.

Praying is something I seldom do. Evil has a career batting average much too high in this world for me to believe that life is divinely motivated. But last Saturday morning I found my fingers clasped together in a viselike grip and tears rolling down my face. “To whomever it may concern,” I began. I pled for the safety of children I once tutored. I pled that they weren’t murdered just weeks after their high school graduation.

If there is any fairness in life, please let it be present now.

Having fallen asleep early the previous night, I woke up to a slew of text messages. All of them concerned a Friday night shooting that took place just outside the Rainier Beach Safeway parking lot. Dozens of rounds were fired. Five people were wounded, two critically (though their conditions have since improved).

Friends shared that they could hear the horrific jumble of gunshots and screams several blocks away.

What made it all the more mortifying was that it transpired during the regular Friday evening Community Healing Space Activation events. Hosted in the Rainier Beach parking lot by the SE Network SafetyNet program (a Boys & Girls Clubs of King County youth empowerment and violence prevention initiative), they are meant as a refuge for community members to process and heal from the trauma caused by gun violence in the area.

And yet violence visited this sacred space, with two of the network’s staff members injured in the shooting.

Police are still searching for a reason behind the shooting. Should they discover one, what reason can ever justify the havoc unleashed Friday?

The shooting shredded the heart of Marty Patu-Jackson, the director of the SE Network. Two of her staff were injured by the gunfire.

“My whole team is traumatized by this. Nothing has happened on our watch in that parking lot. But because someone else was targeted we were collateral damage,” Patu-Jackson said.

Besides her staff members’ recovery, top of mind for Patu-Jackson is that her team’s work over the last three years will not be diminished, despite some critics seeing it as a futile effort to curb gun violence.

“Over the years we’ve been ridiculed but nobody focuses on how many incidents didn’t happen in that parking lot because of us,” she said.

No, most people don’t.

If you don’t live in South Seattle, perhaps last Friday was simply another installment in a long-running and vapid narrative that the area is as hazardous as it is hopeless.

If you’ve never set foot in that parking lot any previous Friday then you’ve never seen people ranging from pre-teens to AARP cardholders setting aside their generational divides in order to congregate. All unified to address the pressing concerns of the community they inhabit together.

If the extent of your South Seattle exposure is confined to 15-second sound bites on broadcast news or a scan of a Reddit thread, then you will never have seen what many in the community see on a weekly basis: multiple classes, multiple cultures, and multiple opinions engaged in free interchange of ideas, solutions, and dialogue.

Make no mistake, utopia was never on display there. Sometimes community members could be frustrating, sometimes egos might be bruised, and sometimes intentions might be misinterpreted as pugnacious instead of inquisitive.

But that is a quality, not a malfunction, of any human assembly.

What the Friday events did showcase were people who care enough about their community to sacrifice time, energy, and effort in an attempt to careen just slightly closer toward a pathway of safety, health, and vibrance.

Two of those who regularly gather on Fridays are recent graduates of Rainier Beach High School: Fatima and Osama Kabba, siblings that my mother and I once tutored at the Lake Washington Apartments, located just a few yards east from the site of Friday’s shooting.

Over the course of seven years we saw them morph from standoffish children — often bullied because of the complexion of their skin and their Gambian accents — to two young, confident leaders. It was with joy that we cheered for the two as they crossed the stage at Memorial Stadium last June to receive high school diplomas.

Both are nearly ubiquitous at community-related events. Osama’s first job was with the SE Network. At least one is always present to enlist involvement with beautification projects, farmers markets, and meetings on local development.

Believing they might have been in attendance on Friday night is what caused me to plead for divine intervention. Maybe it worked. Neither of them ended up being present during the chaos, and the two shooting victims who were initially reported in critical condition are now on the mend.

“If we moved to a different place in the city we wouldn’t get all the community love that we get in Rainier Beach. Everyone is connected here,” said Fatima. “God uses the people here to bless people who don’t think help is coming.”

I mention the two siblings’ story to highlight that they have grown to be who they are not in spite of the environment in South Seattle but because of it. It is this community where they have been inspired by members of the network to do the grunt work of unpacking equipment from a U-Haul truck every Thursday, to transport it to a Rainier Beach Parking lot every Friday afternoon, and to reverse the process every Friday night in order to provide a forum of belonging in our community.

One incident does not negate the impact or necessity of that work.

Telling that story alone won’t be enough to overcome the senseless gun violence in the area. But it might make doing so more achievable.

The South Seattle Emerald is committed to holding space for a variety of viewpoints within our community, with the understanding that differing perspectives do not negate mutual respect amongst community members.

The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the contributors on this website do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the Emerald or official policies of the Emerald.

Marcus Harrison Green is the publisher of the South Seattle Emerald. Growing up in South Seattle, he experienced firsthand the impact of one-dimensional stories on marginalized communities, which taught him the value of authentic narratives. After an unfulfilling stint in the investment world during his twenties, Marcus returned to his community with a newfound purpose of telling stories with nuance, complexity, and multidimensionality with the hope of advancing social change. This led him to become a writer and found the Emerald. He was named one of Seattle’s most influential people by Seattle Magazine in 2016 and was awarded 2020 Individual Human Rights Leader by the Seattle Human Rights Commission.

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