by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
The list of LGBT victims of violent crime in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood is increasing. The severity of the beatings and muggings and the frequency at which they are occurring is not sitting well with business and home owners, as well as the neighborhood's visitors and residents - many of whom feel they are being targeted for being LGBT.
If you, like me, live and work and play on the Hill, then you most likely know at least one or more of the victims. They are bartenders, students, activists, and more. One of the victims was carjacked at gunpoint in front of my house on East Pike, while another victim, also a SOSea member, was nearly slashed with a knife in broad daylight while onlookers did nothing. Shit has gotten real. People are being hurt and a sense of anti-LGBT sentiment has crept into the neighborhood. There is no doubt about it. Simply put, the Hill is unsafe at night.
A few months ago I wrote an editorial about the rise in violent crime on the Hill. The piece was well-received and as people began to step forward and comment on it, by telling their story and what happened to them in regard to criminal activity, it became apparent to me that the list of victims was far greater than I, or anybody else, had originally thought. Not everyone had made a police report and many of the victims, out of shame or fear, had never told anyone else what had happened to them.
DON'T WALK ALONE
In May, Social Outreach Seattle (SOSea), the nonprofit I am co-founder and president of, led an anti-crime march and rally on the Hill, with the message that 'Our neighborhood belongs to us, not crime.' Nearly 100 concerned citizens showed up to protest the violence. We also launched, in cooperation with Seattle Police Department (SPD), our Block Watch SAFE SPACE program, which is a business neighborhood watch program designed to train employees and owners how to de-escalate situations, be a good witness, and other essential skills.
Now, in response to the recent attacks and the wave of anti-LGBT language, intimidation, and threats that have made their way into the Gayborhood, SOSea, in collaboration with founding member Ceasar Hart, has developed the NO ONE WALKS ALONE awareness campaign. The message is simple: Don't walk alone after dark. While this may not stop all crime, it will decrease your risk of becoming a victim. Criminals look for easy targets and those targets are almost always alone. Look at the police reports from the last few months and you'll find that nearly 100% of them are victims that had been walking alone, mostly between about midnight and 6 a.m. If you need to be out late at night, share a cab. Walk with friends. Just don't walk alone.
ONE NIGHT, TWO HOLDUPS
CHS Blog (www.capitolhillseattle.com) reports that two people reported attempts to hold them up at gunpoint in incidents within minutes of each other early Thursday morning near Cal Anderson Park. The armed robbery attempts come as SPD announced Wednesday it is looking for a group of male suspects believed to be involved in as many as 10 robberies around Seattle.
One victim in Thursday's robbery attempts decided to outrun his assailants. He's fortunate he wasn't hurt or worse, as the criminals had threatened him with a handgun. The victim, whose name was redacted from the SPD report about the crime, posted on Facebook, 'I was walking north on 10th Ave. near Cal Anderson, there were 3 mid-to-late teenaged African American kids in front of me who stopped to sit by a car. As I walked past them one of them asked what time it was. I pulled out my phone. '12:41,' and put my phone back in my pocket.'
From there, things went from bad to worse for the victim, who said that after they had attempted to steal his phone, one of the teenagers pulled out a gun and cocked it. The victim fled on foot and was chased by the teen. Luckily, he outran his aggressor and made it safely home.
'Be careful out there, Capitol Hill is getting dangerous,' he concluded.
Another victim reported robbery attempt near 10th and John just before 1 a.m. as males fitting the description in the first report apparently were fleeing the scene. Those suspects, described as three Black males in their 20s, were last seen in a dark Chevy Caprice or Impala headed northbound on 10th Ave. The suspect who chased the first victim was also described as having cornrows and wearing a gray hoodie.
SUSPECTS STILL AT LARGE
According to police radio dispatches, CHS Blog reports, the suspects were reportedly seen talking with an older man in his 50s inside the park speaking 'an African language' prior to the robbery attempts.
Police fanned out around Cal Anderson Park following the 911 calls and searched the area for the suspect vehicle. One person was detained, but we don't yet know what connection that person had to the incidents. CHS Blog reports that nobody has been booked in connection with the crimes.
The suspects in the two cases are Black males between 18 and 25 years old. Following several of the recent incidents, detectives received information that the men may be East African or Somali. In one of the incidents, the suspects were seen fleeing in a green Toyota Camry. SPD officials say the men could be responsible for up to 10 robberies within the last two weeks alone.
If you have any information about these incidents or any other details that might help detectives track down these suspects, please contact SPD's robbery unit at (206) 684-5535.
For tips from SPD's Crime Prevention Coordinators and Robbery Unit on what to do if you think you're being followed by a robber or are targeted in a robbery go to http://spdblotter.seattle.gov/2012/03/05/broadcast-confidence-and-other-pro-tips-on-how-to-avoid-a-robbery/.
ANOTHER LGBT ASSAULT
On Monday, the neighborhood learned that Jason Jacobs, well-known among the Gay Seattle bar scene and volunteer during the Approve Referendum 74 campaign, had been chased and beaten by a group of people when walking home from a night out drinking.
Detective Renee Witt wrote in the August 5 police report, 'Man chased and beaten by group of people. Just shortly after midnight, officers responded to a reported assault that occurred near the 200 block of Summit Ave. E. The victim was located in the parking lot of the Starbucks at 1600 E. Olive Way. The victim stated that he had been walking eastbound when he was approached by a group of suspects, 2 females and 3 males. The victim stated that the group began calling him derogatory names about his sexual orientation. The victim began running eastbound pursued by the group.
'The suspects eventually caught the victim and assaulted him. The victim sustained a broken nose, minor lacerations to his face, and knee abrasions. He was transported to Harborview Medical Center for treatment,' reports Witt. 'The 37-year-old victim had been drinking and could only provide the vaguest of descriptions for the suspects. The suspects were last seen north bound on Summit Ave E.
The suspects are described as (2) white females and three (3) white males. An area check was conducted with negative results.'
Jacobs, and his friend Michael Sullivan had both attended the SOSea march against crime and violence on the Hill.
A BARTENDER'S TALE
Andrew Flewelling is a well-known bartender at Purr Cocktail Lounge, on 11th Avenue between Pike and Pine. He's the type of guy who doesn't really ever seem to have his spirits down. One of the first things you notice about him is his smile. While no one can be certain who will be the next victim of some senseless act of violence or crime, we tend to think about such things in the abstract. So when I say that Flewelling is the last person you'd think would be a victim of a robbery at gunpoint, you can understand why that would be. But he was. He spoke with Seattle Gay News about the experience, which left him shaken but not defeated.
'I was walking on 11th toward my car, parked a block away from Pine,' Flewelling told SGN. 'I was approached by several men who asked me for a cigarette. I told them I didn't have one and they surrounded me.'
Then, Flewelling says, one of the men pulled out a gun, 'pointed it at me and told me to empty my pockets.'
'As soon as they took my belongings, they left and told me to continue walking,' he said. 'I wasn't hurt - they only searched through my pockets to make sure they got everything.'
'Obviously, with someone holding a gun at me, I was afraid,' Flewelling recalled, adding, 'as soon as they left me I was relieved, and the closer I got to the police station, the more secure I felt.'
He walked the half-block to the East Precinct, only to find it locked. 'But an officer leaving his shift let me in and stayed with me to help with the police report.'
'The officer in the lobby of the station was helpful and made sure to thoroughly note the incident for the report,' he said. 'Several officers even stayed by my car to make sure I could get my spare key and get my car home safe. I was later contacted by a detective in case I needed to talk to someone or had any other information.'
After the fact, although he is happy he didn't get hurt, 'I'm more irritated at the fact that I have so much to replace and so much paperwork to deal with. I'm not afraid they're going to find me. I'm not afraid of this happening again, though I hope it doesn't. It was an unfortunate incident, but I'm not going to let fear put my life on hold.'
He maintains that even though he can't say for sure, he doesn't think he would've been able to avoid the situation if he had been walking with one or two more people. 'I think even if I was walking with someone, we both would have been robbed. There were enough men that approached me that I don't know if they would have been deterred.'
While he is not yet ready to declare the Hill unsafe, Flewelling did say, 'Now more than ever, we need to pay attention to our surroundings. I think we need to make choices and think about what we're doing to keep ourselves safe, but I think some circumstances, though terrible, might not be avoidable.'
VICTIMIZING THE VICTIMS
At first, Flewelling wanted to remain anonymous. 'I'm not stressed about the situation - I've dealt with what happened and I don't want this to be about me,' he said. 'I want this to be about keeping our neighborhood and our community safe and to prevent as much as possible any incidents that may occur in the future.'
What Flewelling is talking about is the victimizing of the victim. And as ugly as it is, it happens. When Social Outreach Seattle founding member and local entertainer Robbie Turner was attacked in May, he went public with his story and endured a pretty vocal backlash from community members who felt he was making the issue too much about himself. It was ridiculous. Robbie Turner did no such thing and even bravely showed up at the rally and march against crime to speak out about what happened to him. So, you see, Flewelling's fears aren't unfounded. We must always work toward understanding and compassion and never victimize the victim.
But then, after asking him to reconsider, he agreed to go on the record and tell his story so that it might help others remain safer at night, especially when they are walking in or near Cal Anderson Park.
CRIME HURTS ALL OF US
One thing to keep in mind is that whenever someone is robbed, beaten, or killed, it isn't just the victim who suffers. Each of those people is loved by at least one other person. In this case, Flewelling's partner, Andy Riffle, also feels the pain of what happened to his loved one - albeit in a somewhat different way.
'Usually he is home by the time I wake up to go work at 4 a.m.,' Riffle told SGN. 'As I am getting ready to head out the door I get a phone call from an unknown number. It was Andrew calling from the police station to let me know what had happened. My heart immediately dropped and started racing. I then called my work to tell them what had happened and headed to the police station to pick him up.'
Dealing with the anger and fear after something like this happens, Riffle said, 'my first instinct was to load him up with pepper spray and a Taser.'
'But realistically, against a gun being held up to you, none of that is going to do anything,' he said. 'The only thing I can do is pick him up at work or make sure he is with someone on his short walk to his car.'
Riffle points out that his car was parked just two short blocks from Purr.
'It's falling apart,' Riffle says of the Capitol Hill neighborhood, long known for its Gay residents. 'What I feel used to be a welcoming, safe neighborhood is now turning into a crime-ridden community. I really don't know why all these crimes have started. It's just sad our community is not safe anymore.'
'We really have to find a way to keep everyone safe, until we can find a way to stop these crimes from happening,' he said. 'I hope that this will educate people on way to keep them and their loved ones safe in one of the most walkable cities that we call home.'
Despite the rash of robberies, SPD maintains there are enough cops on the street and that 911 response time remains on target. 'Officers are deployed in keeping with our Neighborhood Policing Plan. That means every officer has 30% of their shift available for problem-oriented policing and emergency 911 calls have an average seven-minute response time, regardless of precinct or watch,' SPD officials told CHS Blog.
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