Neighbors engage public officials in a conversation about making Rainier Beach safer.
Tuesday evening, in one of the Seattle neighborhoods where gun violence has been a recurring problem, neighbors got city officials to listen to their stories and their pleas for greater safety for their children.
They met at Rainier Beach Presbyterian Church on Waters Avenue South, a few blocks from where Cedric Berry, 33, was shot and killed in April. Many who spoke have children who attend South Shore PK-8 School nearby at South Henderson Street and Rainier Avenue South.
Christopher Persons, who has lived in the neighborhood for nine years, has two children at the school and said they’d had to shelter in place several times in March because of violence nearby.
He and his wife discussed the Berry shooting with friends, and they invited officials to meet with them. Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole met with the group in the living room of the Persons, and he said, “We felt that conversation needed to be broadened to a larger community group,” so he and his friends put together Tuesday’s meeting.
The mayor’s office, Police Department and City Council were represented. He said Seattle Public Schools representatives were invited but didn’t send anyone.
Keisha Scott told the group she has 11-year-old twin boys at South Shore, and she used to feel safe when she dropped them off, but recent shootings and a robbery in the area worry her family. She asked for a stronger police presence and deeper relationships between police and community members.
Margaret King said she moved to the area in 2004 and likes both the neighborhood and South Shore, but she transferred her 9-year-old son to another school because he was anxious about shootings and other crime in the neighborhood and near the school.
Su Harambe is a local Realtor and owner of Redwing Cafe on 57th Avenue South, near where Berry was shot. “Redwing Cafe is where our whole community hangs out,” she said.
The short stretch of 57th between Rainier Avenue South and Waters Avenue South has come alive in the last few years with small businesses like hers. But she said that progress is being threatened by a rough crowd, some of whom live in an apartment building on the block. She’d like to see police walking the beat, meeting people and getting to know them.
Lucia Ramirez said she and her husband, Sheldon Levias, have two children at South Shore. “As a multiracial family, South Seattle is a wonderful place for us to live,” she said. The couple have been alarmed by the lockdowns, and she said more police is an obvious answer, “But for our family, that gives us some pause.” That’s because of a history of aggressive police treatment of minority youth.
She said she’s always told her children they can run to the police if they need help. But now that they are getting “toward middle-school age, can you still tell them to run to the police?” Ramirez asked, adding police accountability also has to be part of the solution.
City Council President Bruce Harrell, who represents the area, said kids are not born with guns in their hands, so it’s important to help children who face circumstances that can breed violence. He also said that while he believes most people can be redeemed, “some of these kids are rotten to the core,” and they have to be prevented from harming other people in the community.
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Assistant Police Chief Bob Merner also talked about the need to respond to violence on multiple levels, including intervention, enforcement and police engagement with young people.
Merner and South Precinct commander Capt. Michael Washburn said crime has been declining in the area since 2010, and police have made policing hot spots where gunshots are clustered a top priority.
That’s not enough for people who live near a hot spot.
Harrell noted recent demographic changes in the neighborhood that have political impact. Newer, more middle-class neighbors don’t hesitate to complain when they see a problem. And I’d say people in the neighborhood expect their complaints to be heard and acted upon.
Change is coming.