“How did it get so late so soon? It's night before it's afternoon.” - Dr. Seuss
by Tyler Mangrum
- The Capitol Hill Times -
Over the last month, Capitol Hill has become a hotbed for armed robberies and petty crime, and now, Shaun Knittel of Social Outreach Seattle is hoping to curb the tide of violence and put power back into the hands of the community, rather than the criminals.
The neighborhood has seen over a dozen brazen, gun-point street robberies in the last month, possibly all linked to the same group of black males age 18 to 25, some of whom are reportedly of East African origin. In most of the attacks, the criminals stopped people traveling alone and demanded the victims’ phones and wallets. On one occasion occurring August 1, two suspects entered a victim’s car and forced him to drive to Renton.
But now, Social Outreach Seattle, a Capitol Hill organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBTQ residents has taken the initiative in launching a public awareness campaign to help drive the tide of crime back and protect the lives and livelihood of all Capitol Hill denizens.
“The purpose of the No One Walks Alone campaign is to reiterate the importance of being vigilant while walking home from work, school or any other social event on Capitol Hill,” said Sarah Toce of Social Outreach Seattle, who helped organize the campaign.
As Capitol Hill is famously one of the city’s premiere destinations for a night of barhopping as well as the most gay-friendly region in the city, Toce and SOSea president Shaun Knittel believe that the increasingly violent robberies are the result of criminals believing the area is an easy target.
“These criminals might think that the members of this community are easy picking,” Knittel said, “but they are going to find out that we are not. Now that more attention has been called to this issue, you can damn well bet that this is not going to go in their favor. Organizing efforts have begun to find a solution for this problem that comes from within our community, which means we will find a way to reverse this.”
Knittel pointed to how the majority of the attacks occurred when victims were travelling alone, and more importantly, when they were talking on the phone or texting, which allowed the assailants to know that they were not paying full attention to their surroundings. As a result, SOSea has said that the best defense against these attacks is for Capitol Hill residents to be mindful of where they are who is around them.
“Get off your cell phones and look up and around you at all times,” Toce said. “At the very least, walk like you own the streets and know where you are going – even if you don’t. Being aware of your surroundings is the number one thing you can do to ensure your own safety.”
As part of the campaign, SOSea are partnering with numerous local businesses by hanging posters in their windows to remind people not to walk home alone at night. Since many of the crimes went initially unreported, the No One Walks Alone campaign has asked for victims to make sure they immediately report the crime and become better witnesses by taking notice of the criminals’ appearances to be more helpful to police.
“How do we combat that in a way that is easy and effective? Pick a pal to buddy up with for your walk home,” Toce said. “In the instance that you are attacked, take note of everything you can before the person leaves the scene. Then, call the police immediately and file a report. What we are finding is that victims are not reporting the crimes. Even if not for yourself, reporting a crime could potentially stop it from happening to someone else after you.”
While SOSea has stressed that the overall safety of the neighborhood is now unsound, a concerted effort to keep Capitol Hill residents alert and defensive will let the perpetrators know that they must look elsewhere for targets.
“The message is clear: it is not safe to walk alone on the Hill after dark,” Knittel said. “The message must be sent that our Hill belongs to us, not criminals. The cage has been rattled. If it is our attention they were after, they got it. And now, the real work begins.”