When two men got into an argument Monday night at a bus stop along Aurora, and one allegedly shot and killed the other, it marked a harsh milestone for our city — as well as yet another reason to rue the year 2020.
It was the 28th homicide this year, matching the number for all of last year. We’re only in August.
Through the end of July this year, Seattle had seen eight more homicides than during the same period last year (an increase of 44 percent, though that’s off a low base). In the past decade, when Seattle was enjoying one of its most peaceful stretches in our history, it had lows of just 19 homicides multiple times. This year, we passed that in June.
We haven’t heard much about this from City Hall.
The phenomenon is happening in cities across the nation. These include the biggies, such as Chicago and Philadelphia, but also relatively safer cities such as Cincinnati, Nashville and Tulsa, all where homicide is up double digits.
It’s especially unusual because most crime this year is down. In Seattle, rape and robbery are both down more than 10 percent (maybe due to fewer people out and about in the pandemic). Theft is down 17 percent.
Some crimes that used to drive Seattle crazy — like car smash and grabs — have dropped off the map. Car prowls are down nearly 30 percent since the pandemic hit in March, compared to last year, according to Seattle police reports.
But we’ve had a rash of killings. I’m well aware this fact will be seized upon by demagogues, such as maybe the president, to blame liberals or protesters or whatever he thinks will goose his re-election chances. But pretending that it isn’t happening is even worse than politically demagoguing it.
Last month, two Black teenagers who went to my kids’ high school ended up part of this tragic list of 28. One, Jamezz Johnson, had just graduated from Garfield High School in June. The other, Adriel Webb, dropped out of Garfield but then turned it around with the help of a local mentoring agency that paired him with Black college-age mentors. He ended up getting his diploma in June from Seattle Urban Academy.
In a post on Facebook, the group, Mentoring Urban Students and Teens (MUST), said: “We are pretty sure Adriel only had one credit after his freshman year. … (We) helped connect him with Seattle Urban Academy and Adriel had a dramatic turn around. He worked very hard and ended up graduating on time. The next stop for Adriel was studying engineering at Highline College.”
Both were killed in shootings in July that haven’t been solved. Webb was shot at the Arco gas station right across the street from Garfield; Johnson the next night. Johnson was laid to rest in a ceremony in August by a group of football linemen who had blocked for him when he played, so that he could be “carried to the end zone one last time,” his father, James Johnson-Gruspe, who is the food coordinator at the Rainier Valley Food Bank, said in a Facebook post.
I bring up these two victims for a few reasons. One is how unbearable it is that they were struck down right after graduating. But another is that they were killed in the shadows, with almost no attention focused on their deaths — especially compared to the white-hot laser that was beamed on the two homicides this summer near the Capitol Hill Organized Protest.
But these deaths — along with almost all the other homicides so far this year in Seattle — had nothing to do with any protests. So they defy easy pigeonholing.
Criminologists who have looked at the big rise in street homicides in Seattle and other cities are struggling to explain it. Some speculate it’s pandemic restlessness or despair. Others suggest police could be “depolicing,” or, alternatively, a growing lack of trust in police might be leading to more vigilante action on the streets. Still others have blamed rapidly rising gun sales, with more guns equaling more shootings, they argue.
But whatever the cause, it’s the potential solutions, such as community-based mentoring programs like MUST, that are right now struggling in the pandemic. MUST reports it has a $100,000 hole in its already modest $300,000 yearly budget.
“The police, public health, and community approaches to violence reduction all require that people meet face-to-face; they cannot be replaced by Zoom,” wrote the Council on Criminal Justice, which just looked at rising 2020 murder rates in Seattle and 26 other cities.
“An underappreciated consequence of the pandemic is how social-distancing requirements have affected outreach to high-risk individuals,” it went on.
This is heartbreaking — it’s tragedy begetting more tragedy. I would love to see more attention paid to this at City Hall.