Safety concerns in Cal Anderson Park are on the rise as of recent, in light of a gunfire-related arrest there earlier this month, a string of muggings, and Capitol Hill’s Relay For Life expressing safety concerns in the area this past Saturday.
On August 1, the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct reported that a 17-year-old robber near Cal Anderson Park pulled a gun and fired a gunshot, leaving one victim with a grazing gunshot wound to his head, in addition to a string of muggings at the park in the month of August. According to Capitol Hill Community Council member Zachary Pullin, crime on Capitol Hill is steadily on the rise this time of year.
“Warmer weather always invites more crime on Capitol Hill,” Pullin said. “Technically, Capitol Hill crimes have increased, [and] most crimes on Capitol Hill occur in the late evenings. According to data, in the last two years, August 2014 looks to be the worst month for robbery.”
Local Relay For Life Specialist Curtis Thomas resides in the Seattle area and says that he was well aware of the park’s reputation apart from scheduling the event. The event, which was held on August 23, is traditionally an overnight event, but was scheduled during the daytime due to safety concerns.
“As someone who’s on the Hill often, I’d say it’s pretty common knowledge that [Cal Anderson Park] is not the best place to be at night,” Thomas said.
Such concerns have made it increasingly difficult for events like Relay For Life to be granted overnight permits in Cal Anderson Park.
“Typically participants will walk around track and raise funds to fight against cancer, and this lasts overnight, to convey the message that ‘cancer never sleeps,’” Thomas said. “For this event, hosting it overnight wasn’t a viable option given the crime that occurs in that area, and we want our participants to be safe. In Greenlake, there was a full 24-hour Relay For Life because we were able to get permits to be there.”
According to Thomas, the event was not only unable to attain an overnight permit, but also was cut shorter than its planned duration due to disruption. Instead of its scheduled conclusion at 10 p.m., the event wrapped up at 9 p.m. Carter hopes that despite this year’s outcome, Relay For Life will continue to be hosted in Cal Anderson Park.
“Towards sunset during the wrap-up ceremony, we had some people outside the event causing a disruption,” Thomas said. “We ended things a little bit early, because participants were uncomfortable. At one point the police were called because there were some aggressive outbursts towards the end from the people who were in the park and not participating in the relay.”
Pullin believes that these trends, including the gunfire and Relay For Life, call for community response and dialogue.
“This implores us to consider better late-night community and beat policing, campaigns with police, community organizations, bars, and restaurants that serve people late into the night to communicate safety tips for being out at night, and more programs and services for folks committing crimes such as basic needs resources, affordable housing, job training and placement, mental health services, etc.,” Pullin said.
He believes that recent campaigns like “Neighborhood Watch,” “See Something, Say Something,” and “No One Walks Alone,” that ask neighbors to use preconceived notions of criminals to identify them by “what they wear, the feelings they get in their stomach, and ‘suspicion.’” are not constructive. These campaigns, like Capitol Hill’s No One Walks Alone, which aims to “reiterate the importance of being vigilant while walking home in Capitol Hill,” are a part of a nation-wide effort to reduce crime and educate the public.
“These campaigns’ efforts seem to target brown and black folks, homeless people, and youth,” Pullin said. “Our work is in fostering conversations that include police and also community organizations in cultural competency and advocacy for services that lift people out of a place where turning to petty crime and robbery seems the best choice. Instead of watching our neighbors, we must see them. Engage with people and become connected to our community.
He continues that increasing police patrolling is more of a last resort response, and that community awareness and action is where improvement will begin.
“Response to these concerns has been centered on more police, and I would argue that our efforts are best served by more community policing – watching the beat, meeting neighbors and business owners, and more engaged involvement from neighbors and the community,” Pullin said.
Pullin noted that improvements in safety in Cal Anderson, Capitol Hill, and beyond, would occur when communities are empowered, and connected.
“For most people, Capitol Hill is perceived to be safe; for victims of crime, Capitol Hill is not perceived to be safe,” Pullin said.
“This illustrates a gulf between perception and reality, and presents increased need for neighbor-to-neighbor connection and action. Empowering the community to believe that neighbors are some of the best allies in reducing crime is paramount in community building. I believe when we are connected and nurture the community then crime will decrease.”
According to Kimberly Dinsdale, Media Relations Manager for the American Cancer Society:
“We have recently reviewed our signature event, seeking feedback from volunteers across the nation in order to make Relay For Life more relevant to today’s volunteers and participants. The Capitol Hill event was not overnight as part of this new structure. Additionally, our venue, Cal Anderson Park closes at 11:30 PM making it impossible to host an overnight event at that location. Risk management concerns didn’t really play into our decision making process.”