by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Seattle City Council member and District 3 candidate Kshama Sawant has announced an upcoming forum on LGBTQ-related hate crime on Capitol Hill, March 3 at 7 p.m. in Broadway's All Pilgrims Church (500 Broadway E at E. Republican St.
According to the Town Hall description posted on www.Seattle.gov:
'There has been a surge in hate crimes on Capitol Hill. This is outrageous! Our community has long been a bastion of the LGBTQ struggle - not a place where we can't even feel safe walking home at night.
We need real, concrete solutions. This could mean increased support for community patrols and better access to neighborhood services. It could also mean addressing gentrification and skyrocketing rents.
Join Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant at a community meeting. We'll hear testimony from those directly affected on the Hill, and bring LGBTQ activists together with human service providers, housing justice advocates, and public safety representatives.
Let's find bold and lasting solutions to address this crisis. Join the struggle!'
The Seattle Gay News has endorsed this community forum alongside several other LGBTQ organizations, neighborhood business chambers and other supporters that believe more needs to be done to stop the rise in anti-LGBTQ sentiment and attacks on the Hill.
One of those organizations is Social Outreach Seattle (SOSea), of which I am founder and president. SOSea was born out of the marriage equality fight in Washington state and has since grown to produce the annual Latin LGBTQ Pride festival Orgullo, plan and co-produce the annual Art Music Dance Entertainment Fashion (AMDEF) showcase, and more. We work, primarily, on issues that impact the Capitol Hill neighborhood directly. In particular, since December of 2012, we've been a leader in the anti-crime movement in the neighborhood.
We believe that 'Our Neighborhood Belongs to Us, Not Crime!'
The problems that plague Capitol Hill aren't as simple as some would have you believe. However, they are not as difficult either. Criminals can be apprehended and some sense of normalcy can return to Seattle's neighborhood known to be home for the city's thriving LGBTQ community. But the politics that are at play are what really hurts progress on the matter.
Whenever you talk about anti-LGBTQ hate crimes or attacks, you must first understand that many of these attacks go unreported. This is, of course, even more prevalent in the Transgender community. Traditionally, the Transgender community does not trust the police due to actual or perceived anti-Trans bias from the cops, and the well documented incidents of Transgender people being treated badly by officers; sometimes suffering from violent interactions at the hands of a cop. So if asked, most Transgender folks would tell you that they do not think an increase in police is a good thing. In fact, they see it as being opposite of good or in some cases, downright dangerous for them.
The Transgender community is not alone in this belief. There are plenty of Gays and Lesbians that feel the same way. Add to that number some people of color, so-called anarchists, and others and you can see that the Seattle Police Department doesn't have the best reputation in the neighborhood and with incidents like the wrongful arrest of a black senior citizen using a golf club as a walking stick by a white officer fresh in the minds of everyone, it won't get any easier any time soon.
Then there are members of the community that believe the police department has not done enough to keep us safe. The fact of the matter is, the police are poorly staffed on Capitol Hill (especially on the weekend) and although foot patrols were stepped up late last year, they have since disappeared and once again, people that call with a legitimate 911 call, are left wondering when the police will arrive - if at all.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about all of this is the fact that very few real conversations about what can be done to make the neighborhood more safe happen in public and are often stalled because the climate in which these things are addressed rests in academia instead of real talk. Capitol Hill is so 'progressive' it is full of people just waiting to be offended. Tell people that you have seen an increase in gang activity and you could be labeled a racist. Ask why people still continue to walk alone after midnight and with a pocket full of money and personal electronics visible to any would-be mugger and you are said to be 'victimizing the victim.' I could go on but you get the point.
Capitol Hill is a unique place for sure. It is a known progressive neighborhood where, especially when the sun goes down, freaks flock together and everyone else is either a voyeur or tourist to the freak show. Drag queens, drag kings, dancers, party people and more dress up, act out, and go out to any number of Gay owned or operated nightclubs and bars - as well as allied businesses, too. The LGBTQ community is a peaceful lot. But sometimes visitors are not.
Artists like local poster (and tattoo) artist John Criscitello and the #CapHillpsa group make that known. They plaster the Hill with posters that say things like 'NO Faggots better Look at me!' or the now famous 'Wooo!!' Girls poster. Still, although the Wooo Girls and the Bro's are annoying, they aren't committing anti-LGBTQ crimes or robbing and beating people. Their crime is more of a social annoyance. But it is not illegal and it does not make us unsafe.
The problem comes from the junkie-types that mug people or break into homes to get money to fuel their addictions. The problem also is the number of street gang members that have figured out that Capitol Hill is full of easy targets, the police don't respond to 911 calls fast enough to catch them, and that everyone's attention is focused in the wrong direction. I beg of people - read the police reports. Night after night it is the same thing - victim walking alone after dark, approached or blindsided, hit or threatened first, one or two suspects intimidating them or assaulting them, the brandishing of a gun, and a getaway car. But none of that is happening because of sexual orientation or gender identity. This type of criminal looks for an easy target.
So what of the anti-LGBTQ attacks that are supposedly on the rise? Well, there aren't many police reports that will prove there is a rise at all. Perhaps it is because there were several in a row over the last few weeks that got people thinking more about this issue or maybe it is because an elected official took interest in them that attention has been brought to the subject. But we all know it is happening. And we all know that it will only get worse as the weather gets warmer. Remember, not everyone that has been attacked reports the attack to the police and even still, there are times when the report does not reflect what the victim has said took place.
And then there is the even bigger issue of how some of these cases are prosecuted. It has been made known to Seattle Gay News that the City Attorney's office rarely processes any hate crime charges, allowing criminals to admit to an attack or assault through a plea bargain without being fully charged for the crime they actually committed.
Here's one example that went largely underreported after the fact. Initially, the fact that the incident took place was widely reported. However, as with most cases, the public is never really made aware of what happened after charges are filed.
Last October, police were called after a man trying to enter R Place was turned away at the door. According to employees of the popular Gay dance club, the man called for all Gay people to be killed and made threats of returning with a gun.
'He made some threats, made some gestures that he had a gun, stated that he was going to shoot people from the Gay community,' Assistant Chief Nick Metz told City Council members during a briefing on bias crime investigations last October.
The man was never charged for hate crimes or malicious harassment. See the problem? It's a big problem and something that needs to be addressed. What does it take to be charged with malicious harassment or a hate crime?
According to the latest data, detectives received 60 hate crime reports in the first half of 2014. Of those, 20 rose to the level of malicious harassment. Another 30 crimes had elements of bias.
Detectives said the most likely victims come from Seattle's Gay community.
But what percentage of those were actually prosecuted as such? SGN is working on finding an answer to the question of accountability when it comes to this issue. It would seem that members of the LGBTQ community are reporting these crimes and in some cases, arrests are made, but when prosecuted, the criminal is not being held accountable for the bias in which they committed the crime. I am outraged.
In fact, in 2014, 35 percent of all incidents of the total number of bias crimes were reported by a member of the LGBTQ community.
Whatever the case may be - bias police, lack of reporting, plea bargains, anti-LGBTQ hate - the Hill is under siege from criminals that come to our neighborhood and do as they please without any regard for the citizens whose lives they terrorize every night of the week. Council member Sawant has asked people to step forward and bring real ideas and announce real projects or programs that will help solve the problem. SOSea has a few that we will announce on Tuesday. We are rolling out plans for a safety shuttle to move people around the Hill at night; especially bar and nightclub employees. We are committed to hosting once per month self-defense classes that are open to all ages, gender identities and sexual orientations. In addition, we are going to continue to attend LGBTQ advisory council meetings for SPD and much more. We continue to advocate for more resources for the police department so that 911 calls can be answered in a timely manner and we also want to see a rise in LGBTQ visibility. Last year we launched our very first SOSea Summer Safety Festival and we will hold the 2015 event in August. Please consider attending the community forum on Tuesday to hear about all of these ideas from SOSea and other members of the community.
Above all, it must be noted that a great many of the homeless people that are on the Hill or people that suffer from severe mental illness are not going to get help or go away because the Hill becomes Gayer than ever or more police are added to the East Precinct roster. The fact of the matter is that social services have got to be funded and Mayor Ed Murray is on the right track. Please continue to support the efforts to get resources to these folks.
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