A New Yorker moves to Seattle and is shocked by the vagrancy, drug dealing and pervasive homelessness that goes ignored.
After 17 years in New York, I needed a change. I had always thought of Seattle as one of the few places that I could live in the U.S.
What I didn’t expect when I got here was the amount of vagrancy, drug dealing and pervasive homelessness that goes ignored. In April, Nicole Westbrook was killed by a random bullet in Pioneer Square. The 21-year-old had just moved to Seattle from Albuquerque, N.M., a month earlier. I’m sure she wasn’t expecting she would endanger her life by moving to Seattle.
I moved to New York in 1993. It was right around that time that Rudolph Giuliani started instituting measures to clean up the city. Though saddled with the occasional scandal, Giuliani (whose politics I disagree with) took his sometimes nasty brand of governance and created the safest big city in the country, if not the world.
Giuliani first cracked down on petty crime, sending a message that order would be maintained in the city at all levels. He cleared the streets and parks of homeless people, putting them in shelters and job-training programs which gave the city back some of its great parks such as Bryant, Central, Washington Square and Madison Square.
With these programs, he cleaned up a city that was once considered ungovernable.
When I was looking to move to Seattle, I wanted to live in a part of the city that had new apartments where I could walk to downtown, bars and restaurants. A month after the move, I noticed casual drug deals on almost every other corner in Belltown. My girlfriend didn’t want to walk to get a coffee or a bite to eat after dark. I used to walk downtown to Union Square towers every morning at 7 a.m. The same players were out dealing in front every day. I kept asking myself, “Where are the police?”
One day I was in the Starbucks on 1st Avenue in Belltown and two police officers were waiting for their lattes. I went up to them and said, “It’s nice to see some police officers in the neighborhood. Where have you guys been?”
I told them that I had recently moved to Seattle and that I didn’t feel as safe here as I did in NYC. “Where are you guys?” I said. “If I know it’s going on, surely you must also know and why aren’t you stopping it? I have seen more sketchy things in three months in Seattle than I did in 13 years living in Manhattan.” Their response: “Well, you know, it’s usually not violent crime so I wouldn’t be concerned.”
Maybe it’s the overall passive-aggressive mind-set that Seattle is so famous for. I’m not sure. But it’s real, and I see it with my own eyes all the time.
I hope the U.S. Department of Justice’s demand for reforms in the Seattle Police Department has been a wake-up call.
My girlfriend recently got a job in Pioneer Square, near Occidental Park. She can’t even go to the park for lunch without being accosted by the “zombies,” she says, that take over the park during the day. These are indigent people that obviously need help, direction, drug rehab or counseling. Our citizens feel threatened in public parks.
Seattle, I want to love you. But it’s time to be confrontational for once.
I’m not saying you need to bring in Giuliani, but some combination of what worked in an ungovernable city like New York will surely work for the 23rd largest city in America.
Damon Alexander is the owner of Dragmer Consulting and is a freelance writer for sports and politics.
He lives in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood.