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Seattle council member to fight crime with Ping-Pong balls

Sally Bagshaw. (City of Seattle)

The area surrounding the King County Courthouse in downtown Seattle is dangerous. Crime is rampant. Homelessness is out of control.

It’s not safe to visit as a juror. It’s not safe to work in the buildings nearby. You can’t even walk around the neighborhood without olfactory offenses, human waste everywhere.

The solution? Ping-Pong!

Seattle City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw says that she’d like to bring a host of amenities to the area as an “inclusive” way to make the area safer. She’d like to see Ping-Pong tables, seating, and food trucks come to the area.

“This could be a place where we bring tables and chairs like we did at Westlake and Occidental,” Bagshaw told KING 5. “When there are places to be, and there’s food, and they can sit, then [the park] gets activated and there’s space for everybody.”

There doesn’t yet seem to be much support for the idea, certainly not from people most familiar with the area.

“Playing Ping-Pong isn’t any more of a diversion than placing Volleyball nets up,” one Seattle police officer told me.

Indeed, this area has seen a remarkable amount of a crime. Former King County Sheriff John Urquhart was confronted by a homeless man with a knife.

Things got so bad several months ago — with jurors and a half dozen courthouse employees being assaulted — that two judges spoke out.

Crime aside, the area smells of human feces and urine. Take a stroll through the blocks surrounding the courthouse and you’re likely to see someone using the nearby park or a random sidewalk as a toilet. Could you imagine eating a grilled cheese from a nearby food truck in a neighborhood like this?

Bagshaw says other nearby areas have benefited from the amenities she’s talking about. She points to Occidental Park, which has seen a decrease in the types of behavior we experience near the courthouse. She’s right, we have, but the context is so remarkably different. It makes a comparison a bit disingenuous because, she claims, her move wouldn’t displace the homeless folks who are near the courthouse for services.

Occidental Park is surrounded by businesses catering to tens of thousands of people visiting the area for Sounders, Seahawks, and Mariners games. During game days, they absolutely displace the homelessness population. And they don’t have to be there for access to services. The courthouse? They need to be in that spot for access to the services provided. And does Bagshaw realize many of the people who are living on the street and committing these acts of violence are living with an untreated mental illness or addiction? Access to a Ping-Pong table won’t stop them from acting out; treatment would.

Perhaps — and stay with me here as I’m about to unveil a radical and controversial idea — we continue to increase police presence and — wait for it — enforce the law.

People feel inherently unsafe when you let crime and homelessness envelop a neighborhood. Perhaps the council should give officers the green light to actually do their job and we can, for once, stop the shouts for affordable housing and, instead, call for treatment on demand?

No, it’s not as fun as Ping-Pong, but it might actually save lives.

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