by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
On September 11, the two remaining candidates for mayor of Seattle - incumbent Mike McGinn and State Sen. Ed Murray, both Democrats - participated in the Greater Seattle Business Association's (GSBA) Candidate Forum at the Red Lion Hotel in downtown Seattle.
For the most part, the forum was what one might expect. Both candidates agreed on many things, both differed about certain policies and ideals, but what was really interesting was the contrast between the two men when it comes to the topic of safety and hate crimes.
Under Washington law, hate crimes are a felony called 'malicious harassment.' They occur when an attack is perpetrated because of the victim's race, gender, or sexual orientation. The penalty is a jail term of at least three to nine months - triple the penalty for similar crimes that without any expressed bigotry.
The King County Prosecutor's Office says it files about 15 hate crime cases each year.
WHOSE PARK IS IT?
Speaking to the GSBA, Mayor Mike McGinn underlined steps he's already taken to deal with the violence. 'We've added more park rangers, we're adding more officers, we turned on the lights in Cal Anderson Park to help,' he said.
The lights in Cal Anderson Park are something that McGinn likes to bring up. Late last month, after marching through the streets of Capitol Hill, Social Outreach Seattle (SOSea) and other concerned citizens marched onto the park from Broadway, near the basketball courts - the scene of two stabbings within hours of each other over the summer. We were greeted by a group of people who made it very clear that this was not our park any longer.
As we passed by the basketball courts on our way to the clubhouse, the group of 15 or so yelled things like 'Snitches get stitches.' The contrast to what was happening around us - which ranged from addicts shooting up to obvious public consumption of alcohol - was crazy. Only one cop had stayed behind to watch over us during our peaceful candlelight vigil. But then, after just 10 minutes, he left. He just walked off. And that is when the criminals closed in. Sixty or so people saw them try to intimidate me, yell inaudible things at me, take the clipboard out of my hand. And physically touch me.
If it weren't for SOSea Video Production Director Dru Dinero, Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Director of Outreach Mac S. McGregor, community member Andy Riffle, and Tym 'Newkie' Brown, a Sister with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, The Abbey of St. Joan, I would have been attacked. They formed a physical barrier to keep me safe. And all I was doing was giving a speech about safety, anti-violence, and community.
The 'lights' that McGinn spoke of are the lights that illuminate Bobby Morris Playfield - not the actual park. Look through the police reports and you won't find many that contain a crime that has taken place on the ball field - but you will find many reports containing the geographic location in and around the actual park. The extra lights are really just a waste of energy as far as I am concerned.
WHAT ABOUT THE RANGERS?
I spoke with two high-level Parks Department officials who asked to remain anonymous because of the nature of their comments. Both rangers, who've worked for the department over five years each, said that their hands are tied when it comes to the homeless population that peppers the parks - especially near city transit stations - because they aren't the police. So, then, what is it that they do? What is their job, exactly?
According to their mission statement, they are there to enhance the real and perceived safety and quality of life in our city parks through a uniformed presence, to provide respectful and professional assistance to all park users, and to ensure compliance with laws and the Parks Code through education and enforcement.
The Park Rangers actively support the Center City Parks Concierges and Seattle Parks activation programs.
'The primary function of park rangers is to educate and assist park users and to seek voluntary compliance with laws,' say officials, adding, 'They can issue warnings, citations, and park trespass warnings. They can be called on to address repeated Park Code violations or minor infractions, and will respond when available.'
The City says that the Park Rangers are a valuable resource for our parks. They provide a strong, positive, authoritative presence, but they have limited authority and are not sworn law enforcement officers. Call 911 for police or fire response when there is a public safety emergency.
So basically, they can do everything we can as citizens using the park - nothing more and nothing less. It is starting to become easier to see why the criminals are so empowered lately to use Cal Anderson Park for whatever they want, whenever they want.
SAY LIGHTS NO HELP
I asked the Park Rangers to level with me. I asked about response time from SPD when they call, versus when a civilian calls. As one might guess, the Rangers would likely get a better response time. At least there's that. In all honesty, the two gentlemen I spoke with were great. I could tell they were nice men, well liked, and void of bigotry. I also got the sense that they liked their jobs and that they give a damn about the parks and the communities that surround them.
When asked if they thought the extra lights that McGinn so proudly touts were noticeably curtailing the crime and criminal activity at Cal Anderson, they both answered 'No.'
There is a breakdown in communication - obviously. The Park Rangers were unaware of a large September 17 SPD LGBTQ Advisory Council meeting between the community and top brass with a special training taking place from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Seattle University with 911 operators and the public. Now, I refuse to believe that the people in charge are too stupid to understand that having the Park Rangers in attendance to answer the public's questions about crime and violence in the park would be a beneficial thing. So why weren't they invited? In fact, my organization, SOSea, set up this training with the cooperation of the Seattle Police Department. I've worked closely with them on our Block Watch and SAFE Space program as well as the NO ONE WALKS ALONE CAMPAIGN and the leadership has been lucid and sensible. I have to wonder, though, if we are supposed to see the Rangers as some sort of super weapon against criminals in the park, why they aren't invited to anything important?
Back at the GSBA Candidate Forum, Ed Murray, who could quite possibly become Seattle's first Gay mayor, said he would bring back the tactics he used to fight Gay-bashing 20 years ago.
'We developed police training, we developed safety patrols on Capitol Hill, we held education forums, and we were able to actually turn that problem around,' Murray said.
I obviously agree with this tactic, as SOSea is already actively engaged in most of that already. And yes, it is true, we need more of it. The criminals must get the message that our neighborhood belongs to us, not fear.
The candidates clashed on the broader issue of police reform.
'There's a real morale problem when I talk to our officers,' said Murray.
'We have everyone pulling together for change, and we are implementing the changes and practices for change right now,' McGinn said.
Capitol Hill Blog (CHS Blog) reports, 'The Seattle Times is making the case for public safety as a campaign issue with its recent editorial bemoaning downtown's unsafe reputation even as it acknowledges SPD statistics showing a downward trend in crime. The Stranger, headquartered across the street from summertime crime hot spot Cal Anderson, has sunk its teeth into what it calls the Times' 'divisive political ploy.'
According to CHS Blog, which follows crime trends closely, on Capitol Hill, the most recent CHS analysis of crime in general showed an overall downtick in the first quarter of 2013.
DON'T WALK ALONE
Still, I don't care who you are, if you live and work or play - or all three - on the Hill, you know that there has been a rise in violent crime - mugging, bullying, etc. There is no denying it. The Hill - and especially Cal Anderson Park - is not safe after the sun goes down. Do not walk alone. Don't play on your phone when walking home (in a group of more than two) to avoid becoming a target. If you can afford to take a cab, do so. If you can't afford one, ask to share a ride with a friend who is leaving the club or bar with you. The people who have been mugged, attacked, and bullied were LGBTQ and Allied - big or small, male and female - so there is no way of knowing who will be next. The only absolute is that someone will, most certainly, be next. The question is - what are we, as a community prepared to do about it?
The question of a Q Patrol shouldn't be looked at. A buddy system, yes - or someone volunteering their vehicle and gas to shuttle folks home - sure, that works too. Another waste of time is the call for a cop on every corner. There isn't a city in America that has a cop on every corner - what makes anyone think that Seattle will be the first? It won't be - that is a pipe dream if I've ever heard one. I say we should all start to become a little more vocal about these phantom patrols that are supposedly taking place, that nobody ever sees. I say that we start to tell the mayor that lighting a ball field at night, when most of the crime takes place in the park by the reservoir, is just idiotic. And, I say, we continue to never walk alone, ever, for anything, at night. Avoid the park at night. It's bad news. Does it pain me to say that? Absolutely. But it is better to be safe than sorry. As it stands, you are increasing your chances of being attacked, mugged, and stabbed - or worse - dramatically whenever you enter Cal Anderson Park at night.
For more information about Social Outreach Seattle (SOSea) please go to www.socialoutreachseattle.com. For information about the LGBTQ Advisory Council meeting with SPD, visit the Social Outreach Seattle Event's Calendar at http://www.socialoutreachseattle.com/event/lgbtq-advisory-council-meeting-3/. If you would like to learn more about the Seattle Parks & Recreation Park Rangers, e-mail them at email@example.com or call (206) 255-8325.
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