Seeking Safety in Rainier Valley

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Sunday night I participated in a safety walk with four officers from SPD and about 40 Othello-area neighbors. We walked and talked through the streets surrounding the Othello Light Rail station – the area where Danny Vega, a beloved member of the city’s Filipino and gay communities, was beaten leading to his death.

There’s a great power in standing up to be seen. We should do it more often.

For many of the neighbors, it was the first ever extensive walk around the area. Most people, if they walk in the area at all, have their route to and from home. Mr. Vega was on his usual route when he was jumped in November.

The tragedy of Danny Vega’s death brought press coverage to what locals in South Seattle who rely on transit in the Light Rail Corridor already know – too many frightening attacks with serious consequences have also occurred.  More than 30 street robberies or attempted robberies have occurred in South Seattle since Sept. 1, Seattle police reports indicate.

One attack is too many. Thirty is way, way too many. My greater neighborhood is filled with hardworking people, many of whom have no practical alternative to walking to and from the bus or light rail. Nor should they have to worry about walking to and from the bus or light rail. It has to be safe to walk to and from the Othello Street station, and from the Mt. Baker, Columbia City, and Henderson Street stations.

During Sunday night’s walk, organized by the Southeast Seattle Crime Prevention Council and followed Monday night by a walk around the Columbia City station, we looked for dark spots or secluded, dangerous areas. We found a full half block with no street lights and no lights on adjacent property, and five burnt out pedestrian-scale lights just across from the station itself. We found some places very well lit with well-trimmed landscaping. We saw the mounted video camera that captured the images of two young men stashing a jacket into a dumpster near where Danny Vega was beaten. We saw mostly good sidewalks, but some cracked and heaved areas that make walking (or rolling in a wheelchair) difficult.

In the end, though, there isn’t much unique about the greater Othello area. I don’t mean that in a bad way. It’s a great neighborhood of small businesses, homes, a new apartment complex and the great Othello Park.  The attacks on people can and do happen just about anywhere.  They are thwarted by a combination of efforts and luck. More light, tidier landscaping, more eyes on the street from neighbors and other walkers.

While investigating the specific attack on Mr. Vega, SPD has also focused resources on preventing more attacks from occurring. Capt. Nolan of the South Precinct has responded to the attacks with emphasis patrols targeting the areas where these attacks have been occurring. Also, the precinct now deploys a two-officer special emphasis car that does nothing but cruise the corridor on the look out for transit predators. South Precinct Anti-Crime Teams and Gang Unit officers also work the problem. 

These are all good moves, though community members have reason to ask why the pattern of attacks wasn’t publicized sooner. I remain concerned that South Precinct doesn’t have the number of officers needed to cover the area with a consistent visible presence.  Not only are we not hiring to replace all our retiring or otherwise departing current officers, but events in other parts of the City (like Occupy) require shifting officers out of neighborhood patrol assignments and into special duties. The result is a patrol force stretched too thin.

For now – big thanks to Lieutenant Hayes and Detective Cookie for their company and assistance Sunday night.  The punch list from our Othello area walk-around includes replacing lights, adding new ones, trimming hedges, fixing sidewalks – and follow-through.