The humanity behind the numbers in slew of tragic shootings across Seattle

Jul 26, 2021, 4:16 PM | Updated: Jul 27, 2021, 7:19 am
seattle police, shootings...
Police close off a street in downtown Seattle to investigate a shooting on July 25, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Jason Rantz/KTTH)
(Photo courtesy of Jason Rantz/KTTH)

The latest tally following a rash of shootings across Seattle this weekend includes seven separate and unrelated shootings with at least 11 people hit, five of them dead.

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The gunfire erupted across seven neighborhoods from Roosevelt and the Chinatown-International District, to Lake City and Pioneer Square. They happened outside clubs, at parks, and, in one case, during what was supposed to be a celebration.

“My baby died trying to kick it for his daddy’s birthday. He threw a party for his dad and he died at his dad’s birthday party,” the distraught mother of one of the people killed in Pioneer Square early Sunday morning told Converge Media’s Omari Salisbury.

Salisbury was on his way to work Sunday evening when he came across the woman and her family and friends holding a candlelight vigil for her son.

“I saw these friends and family, and a lot of young people that were out there, and I asked if it was OK for me to just take some pictures of the candles that are there,” he recalled. “You know, a lot of people were real sensitive around the vigils, but I thought that it was important to be able to at least take a picture to share with the city. There’s a family that’s out here tonight that’s grieving the loss of their loved one.”

That’s when some at the vigil strongly encouraged Salisbury to speak with the mother. After getting over some initial hesitation of not wanting to intrude on the family’s grief, Salisbury spoke briefly with the mother.

“Man, she was just inconsolable,” Salisbury said.

“One of the things that she is saying was that her son never made it inside the club, and that he was actually trying to break up a fight that was going on outside and was shot,” he described. “It was just so much emotion — it was very wrong, it was very raw and a lot of emotion, and it was impacting.”

It was so impacting, that he tweeted a short video.

“For two reasons: First, to be able to share in real time what this family is going through, and a lot of other families. There’s quite a few victims here in the Emerald City over the last few days,” Salisbury said.

“But, also for people in our city to see what’s happening here and the impact,” he continued. “A lot of times here in the Emerald City if it’s not in your district or if it’s not aligned with your politics, then a lot of times we just don’t care. And I think that for us to really disrupt gun violence and violence as a whole in our city that we all have to get on the same team, and we have to put the health and wellness and the humanity of our city above politics.”

And he knows Seattle can do it.

“What we’ve seen is in Seattle we can learn to change things if we want. We saw this during COVID,” Salisbury said. “COVID was a public health emergency, a public health crisis, and it was treated as such. This is how we need to look at what’s going on here with gun violence in our city. This is a public health crisis — we need buy-in from everybody.”

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So, why do we need to care?

“This is a public health crisis, this impacting not just the murder victim and their family. Imagine, on a Saturday night, hundreds of people were out there [at the Pioneer Square shooting], hundreds of people. So now these people are traumatized, they’re impacted. We have to think of people in this city and realize the ripple effects of some of the things that are coming,” he explained, having firsthand knowledge from witnessing shootings himself during his coverage of the CHOP last summer.

“We know that the city of Seattle has a big heart when it wants to,” he added. “It has a lot of humanity when it wants to. But around this issue, we can’t be al a carte, we can’t say, ‘oh, we’ll have humanity for this and no humanity for that.’ We have to really have a willingness to care.”

Salisbury says King County Councilmember Girmay Zahlilay said it best in a recent op-ed for the Seattle Times.

“He talks about how COVID and our response to COVID gave the perfect blueprint of how a city and a county can work together in declaring a public health crisis, and then using resources and using innovative techniques to attack it — this is really what needs to occur here,” Salisbury said.

Community buy-in includes multiple things, beginning with having elected officials take the necessary steps through investing in programs such Community Passageways and CHOOSE 180 – both part of King County’s Regional Peacekeeping Collective.

But it is more than that.

“When you talk about an investment here, there is the disruption of gun violence on the streets today, and then there’s also upstream to make sure that our young people never picked up a gun,” Salisbury said, which has more to do with hope, opportunity, and stability.

Can we get all of Seattle to care enough for these type of investments and actions, and put the politics and divisiveness aside?

“Of course, it can be done,” said Salisbury, noting how he is ever the optimist.

“The reason that a lot of different people are beating the drum, as we like to say, is because it can happen — it can happen,” he continued. “But, we first, as a city, have to declare that this is so important to us that we put our politics to the side, and we pull up our humanity, and we go to work to try to make this a better city.”

During Monday’s press conference addressing the rash of shootings, Salisbury asked Mayor Jenny Durkan whether there were any discussions going on with city council or others on messaging to try to get the whole of Seattle to care about the spike in shootings.

“Cautiously optimistic that we can get there and it’s not just messaging; it’s action, that’s what we need,” Durkan replied.

“I’ve been trying to meet with families and community groups to see what we can do on all these efforts, from Equitable Communities Initiative Task Force that is really investing in things like generational wealth and health care, access to affordable housing, which are the things that show and really build resilient communities,” Durkan added, noting she would continue those efforts.

“This level of gun violence is unacceptable. We need everybody in the fight, and I need City Council standing up and saying that the community should not have this level of violence. And we will work to make sure that we not just build up the community resilience needed, but that we will also make sure that when people call 911, if and when you need a police officer, one can respond,” Durkan concluded.

Follow Hanna Scott on Twitter or email her here

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The humanity behind the numbers in slew of tragic shootings across Seattle