In the wee hours of a recent Friday morning, I was jolted from sleep by a man screaming at the top of his lungs.
“I’m sick of this,” he cried.
“Me, too,” I thought as I pulled the covers over my head.
Having lived in downtown Seattle for the past 30 years, my husband and I have seen and heard a lot. Strange noises at all times of the day and night are nothing new — couples arguing, dogs barking, sirens blaring and even the occasional gunshot.
But since the COVID-19 lockdown in early March, the noise levels have risen exponentially. They are a sad reflection of what is going on in the heart of Seattle, and it isn’t good.
Don’t get me wrong. I feel for the mentally ill who walk our downtown streets. And for the homeless people who have set up encampments along First Avenue and throughout the city. They need our help.
But as my husband and I lie in bed in our high-rise condominium, listening helplessly as someone yells obscenities so loudly they can be heard around the block, or the man who mumbles endless streams of gibberish, or the person whose guttural mutterings sound like the embodiment of sheer evil, we realize it shouldn’t be this way in a modern and progressive city like Seattle.
For several years, even before the COVID-19 lockdown and closure of many downtown businesses, my husband and I had been careful not to walk down certain streets due to drug and gang activity and the threat of possible violence. Nowadays, whenever we leave the house, we carry pepper spray and have learned not to make eye contact with questionable people.
But lately, we’ve been afraid to walk anywhere outside our building, worried that some unfortunate soul with voices running through his or her head might accost us for no reason.
This came true for an elderly resident in a nearby building who was simply out to walk his small, well-behaved dog.
“I hate your dog,” a man who had been skulking around the neighborhood yelled as he shoved our neighbor to the ground. Luckily, our neighbor survived with “only” a bad gash above his eye and bruises after an emergency trip to Harborview by ambulance.
An Oct. 30 editorial in The Seattle Times, “Reject Seattle’s absurd misdemeanor proposal,” shone a spotlight on an outlandish proposal by Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold that “would effectively legalize misdemeanor crimes that victimize thousands of Seattle residents every year … if perpetrators show ‘symptoms’ of substance abuse or mental disorder, or that it was related to poverty.”
An analysis showed that Herbold’s proposal “would create a legal loophole that would open the floodgates to crime in Seattle, effectively nullifying the city’s ability to protect persons and property from misdemeanor crimes.”
Talk about a coffin nail in an already struggling downtown retail and residential core. Shoplifting, stalking, vehicle prowls and threatening someone with a gun, among many other misdemeanor crimes, “would be minimized and easily defensible under Herbold’s plan.”
Something must be done to rescue our city. Realistic proposals by the Seattle City Council and fruitful communication between the City Council, the Seattle Police Department, Mayor Jenny Durkan and concerned citizens who live downtown would be a good start.
We can no longer look away from today’s ugly truth. It is time for anyone who cares about the future of Seattle to stand up and be heard.
Like the angry man outside our window screamed, “I’m sick of this.”