Teen Dances Aren't the Problem; They're the Solution
Guns don't kill people. Dances kill people.
That was the impression the newspaper headlines gave after Saturday's Capitol Hill massacre. "Rave Killing Stuns Seattle," the AP trumpeted. "They Wanted to Keep the Party Going," the Seattle Times blared. On Tuesday the Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran a story with this headline: "All-Ages Raves Often Trouble for Young Girls."
We have to admit that for a moment on Saturday we wondered if former Seattle City Council Member Margaret Pageler had been right. She was the city council's loudest advocate for keeping Seattle's hated Teen Dance Ordinance (TDO) on the books. The TDO was an insurmountable set of regulations the city put in place in 1985 that constituted a de facto ban on all-ages shows. When the city was debating the ultimately successful repeal of the TDO in 2002, Pageler argued that dances for teens would only lead to trouble.
Not even a pessimist like Pageler could have imagined the terror that hit Capitol Hill early Saturday morning, March 25. Many headlines, editorials, and radio talk shows resurrected vintage Pageler talking points: If these young people hadn't been out at a club, late at night, in the thick of Seattle's urban Capitol Hill district—the law-and-order demagoguery went—they never would have ended up at an afterparty at a private house on Capitol Hill.
Forty-eight hours after the murders, the Seattle Times—fans of former Council Member Pageler and the TDO—predictably seized on the tragedy in their lead Monday morning editorial. Reportedly written by Seattle Times editorial board member Joni Balter, the piece declared: "Teen dance rules in our city must be thoroughly reviewed to see if they go far enough to protect young people. One of the six victims was apparently a 15-year-old Bellevue girl. What precautions or rules could have helped her?"
Balter's emotional screed taps into something primal: the fear parents have for the safety of their children. However, it doesn't make much sense. Saturday morning's explosion of violence can't be blamed on the previous evening's rave. Blaming raves for the violence makes about as much sense as blaming shopping for last November's Tacoma Mall shooting. And at least, in the Tacoma case, the shooting took place at the mall.
Far from endangering kids, teen dances keep kids safe. If the young people hadn't been at a crowded public dance overseen by extensive security (19 guards were at CHAC on Saturday night) where no one got hurt, the kids would likely have been out at unchaperoned and completely unregulated house parties—not after the dance, but all night. And, without a fat calendar of all-ages events, that's where they would be every weekend. Because without organized all-ages dances and live-music events, house parties and parking lots are all kids have.
There were nearly 500 people at CHAC on Friday night. There were no fights and no trouble, according to Matthew Kwatinetz, CHAC's artistic director, who worked the event. "It was an easygoing, mellow scene," he said, "with lots of cuddle puddles."
If teens didn't have opportunities to dance, make out, and listen to music at a well-secured, regulated club like CHAC, they'd go somewhere else. And far from being a danger, all-ages venues are safer for young people than their alternatives. What's more, their sponsors forge working relationships with the authorities, further ensuring that their events are safe environments for teens. As Officer Stacey Holland, a spokeswoman for the Redmond Police says about the Old Fire House, Redmond's popular teen venue: "We work closely together. We value the relationship we have with the staff there. Any problems are typically headed off before events because of that relationship."
We want to be clear: We aren't down on house parties. We've got a weekly column, Party Crasher, dedicated to celebrating them. But we also believe that the city should support music events for teenagers so house parties—with or without grown-ups present—don't become the only option available to 14 and 15 and 16-year-olds.
The gross opportunism of the Seattle Times after the shooting was as distressing as it was obtuse. The Seattle Times' call for a "thorough review" of teen dances to see if Seattle's rules "go far enough" assumes that there's a rule or regulation that could have prevented last week's tragedy. Sure, there's a problem to address. But it's not with all-ages events.
There's a problem with the fact that the Second Amendment ("A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.") is interpreted so loosely that one person can become a militia unto himself. Kyle Huff's arsenal included two 12-gauge Winchester Defender shotguns, a Bushmaster XM15 E2S semiautomatic assault rifle with 30-round capacity, three 30-round box magazines, and a .40-caliber Ruger handgun.
The Seattle Times' call for action glossed over that obvious point, and instead concluded: "At this point, our community has to rethink late-night activities for young people. We must do what we can to prevent such a horrific incident from happening again."
If we want to prevent horrific shootings, our society has to rethink our gun laws—not teen dance rules or our house parties or our meals at Denny's or the advisability of walking into any of the workplaces across this country that have been the site of random acts of shocking gun violence.
The Stranger has filed a public-records request with the Seattle Police Department to track any history of 911 calls to Seattle's all-ages venues to see if, as the Seattle Times assumes, there actually are problems with all-ages shows. (The request could not be completed in time for this story.) We asked for a tally of police calls to Ballard's Paradox, Downtown's Vera Project, Eastlake's El Corazón, and SoDo's Studio Seven (a teen dance club that the Seattle Times originally and—incorrectly—associated with Saturday's massacre). It is possible that our records request will turn up a pattern of trouble, but it is unlikely, given that in the four years since the TDO was repealed we've only been alerted to one problem at one recent show. Indeed, when discussing our request with SPD spokeswoman Debra Brown, she remarked skeptically: "We aren't comfortable making a connection between any music venue or music choice and this incident."
(The one problem in the scene—bullying by the gang FSU at a hardcore show at Studio Seven ["Friends Stand Charged," Megan Seling, March 2]—was met promptly by swift police arrests under existing weapons laws—not nanny-state teen-dance laws. Additionally, hardcore fans banded together when FSU emerged as a problem and worked together to make violence taboo in their scene. Indeed, FSU members were fired from El Corazón.)
Meanwhile, praise for the youth dance scene is emphatic. Bellevue Police Department spokesman Officer Greg Grannis says of the popular Eastside teen dance club Ground Zero, "Club Zero's never been an overwhelming concern of ours. It does not serve alcohol, so that cuts down on any problems. To be honest, our trouble is with the [over-21] bar scene." Kirkland Police spokesman Officer Rex Caldwell sounded a similar note about Kirkland's popular dance venue, Kirkland Teen Center. "We haven't had any problems with the teen center," Caldwell says.
Places like Ground Zero and the Kirkland Teen Center are invaluable from a law enforcement point of view. They keep kids out of, say, 7-Eleven parking lots or the homes of friends whose parents are away. They're also invaluable to teens. (There's not a hell of a lot to do in a 7-Eleven parking lot.)
The hysterics at the Seattle Times don't get it but Mayor Nickels seems to. Nickels spokesman Marty McOmber says the mayor had no comment on Balter's editorial, but, "I will say, there is nothing to connect the rave to the shooting at the house on Saturday morning. Raves are well-regulated events, and by all accounts the rave at CHAC on Friday night was well operated. We do know that we don't want to drive this scene underground."email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org