"The issue is no one is coming forward," said Captain Pierre Davis, adding that police have "no information" on whether the murders are connected to each other or gang-related, and no leads on suspects. He pledged that police will beef up their patrols, including circulating more officers on bicycles, but didn't offer any specific numbers. "We're going to be pounding the pavement," he promised.
The event felt staged and divorced from community itself. Tre Owes, a 20-year-old Youth Engagement Specialist with the city's Youth Violence Prevention Initiative, was one of the few actual Central District residents attending. I asked him afterwards what he thought of the city's response to murders. "Crap," he said bluntly. He complained that, as far as he can tell, Seattle police officers in the Central District don't live there—he never sees them in plainclothes, he doesn't know any of their families. And he feels there's a double standard. When Justin Ferrari, a white man, was killed by gun violence, his alleged killer was found within months. "I've had friends killed and it's gone cold case. No sweat. No one's going after it."
In the press conference, Reverend Harriet Walden repeatedly said that parents and young people need to "take full responsibility," echoing a familiar theme expounded by the first family itself. "We have to admit that we have some little shorties out there with a gun," she said. She didn't offer any evidence that these murders were committed by young people—it was just an implicit assumption in her remarks. And Captain Davis speculated—it's not clear why—that young people looking for revenge after a fistfight were behind the murders.
Charlie James, a community activist, said his daughter called him from Washington State University last week, sobbing because one of casualties (20-year-old Smallwood) was a friend of hers. He took a different, deeper tack: "The thing I want us to remember is that we've been creating a community of unemployed youth for the past three generations," he said. "If we keep saying, stop doing what you're doing, but we don't give you anything better to do—that don't cut it." He called on the business community step up, invest in the Central District, and offer jobs to local youth. And in an interview with me, he blamed wealthy gentrifiers for trying to impose their own way of life on the area while giving little back, which contributes to a combustible sense of frustration.
Meanwhile, Seattle police are trying to shut down Waid's nighctlub, the last black-owned nightclub in the Central District. Waid Sainvil, the owner, is known for hiring young black men from the community and hosting youth speak-out events. Captain Davis has been at neighborhood meetings arguing that the club is threat to a public safety. I suggested there's some hypocrisy in trying to shutter Waid's while wringing one's hands about Central District youth committing crime, but Davis called the question of the club "a different conversation."
But of course, it's all connected. Around the corner from the park is the Horace Mann school building, where Seattle police evicted Africatown activists in November who were trying to use the empty structure to develop after-school programs for black youth. "We need to stop being afraid of these kids," Ted Evans, who volunteers with the Black Prisoners Caucus and briefly stopped by to check out the press conference, told me later. "They need education and jobs and all that stuff, but you're not going to find that out if you're not out here listening to them or trying to talk to them." He called the plans outlined by the police "more of the same."
There's a great plotline in the
fourth third season of The Wire in which a police commander thinks outside the box and creates an area called "Hamsterdam," where he directs his officers stop enforcing drug laws. It's controversial and it makes the establishment uncomfortable, but violent crime drops and the experiment works. It's innovative policing that goes beyond "pounding the pavement," getting to the structural causes of violent crime. But judging by today's event, last week's string of tragic murders hasn't prompted the police—much less city government as a whole—to take a particularly thoughtful or holistic approach to stopping the violence.