By Aaron Allen, The Seattle Medium
Gun violence is on the rise in Seattle and King County. According to reports, shooting incidents in King County increased by 15 percent in 2020. The number of victims who were injured but survived a shooting increased by 34 percent, and victims who were fatally shoot increased 58 percent.
Last week, The King County Council approved the creation of a new gun violence prevention grant program, as part of their $94.3 million in COVID-19 relief funding unanimously approved by the council.
The $2 million program, sponsored by King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay, funded from the County’s general fund, calls for community-based organizations to solicit grants to support data-driven grassroots efforts that promote public safety and reduce violence, especially among young people.
“We need to respond [to the increased violence in South King County],” says Zahilay. “And my legislation, my amendment would create a program where community-based violence interrupters and community-based public safety groups can apply for resources and support them in work that they are already doing.”
In recent weeks, there have been two shootings in South Seattle alone. Although violence has always been prevalent in society, advocates claim that the rise in violence has become a symptom within a pandemic giving communities just another adversity to address.
“COVID-19 has devastated our economy, eliminated thousands of jobs, laid people off, created hardship, led people to become unhoused, trapped people with their abusers,” Zahilay said. “And all of these things mean we have to give people what they need to survive and also support community-based safety initiatives.”
Many community-based organizations along with state, county and city officials are working diligently to bring change to the community and to provide those susceptible or prone to gun violence a different and more positive path forward. The YMCA, for example, works closely with government and private sector to offer youth more options towards a more productive way of life.
“We have worked in South Seattle and across King County in collaboration with school districts, police departments, community organization and cities themselves to curb youth violence,” says Mark Putnam, Executive Director of Y Social Impact Center, a program through the YMCA designed to support young people through homelessness, foster care and other young adult services. “Working closely with young people showing them a different path to avert them from involvement with the justice system.”
Marvin Marshall, who heads the YMCA’s Alive and Free Program, a violence prevention program that works directly with young adults involved in gang or group involvement, community violence and or the justice system, says that one person or one organization by itself cannot solve the problem, and the funding will allow many of the organizations on the frontline to work collectively.
“We are stronger together and we are all connected in some way, shape or form,” says Marshall. “We need to work together to solve these issues and we are much more alike than we are different.”
One thing that many activists and community leaders hope doesn’t get over looked is that gun violence is not just something that occurs with young people. Chukundi Salisbury, a former candidate for state representative, claims that a number of shootings are carried out by adult men and women and asserts that this demographic needs to be addressed just as seriously as young people
“I wonder what type of resources and/or enforcement is needed,” asks Salisbury. “I mean everyone speaks about resources for this or that for the community and I agree, but what about resources for somebody that is forty-three years old out here wilding. Nobody wants to talk about this, it’s an unpopular opinion talking about “not defunding the police”, but we need to find where these guns are coming from and we need to have some type enforcement around that.”
“A lot of the murders that have taken place in places like Skyway, track meets in West Seattle in front of children that were carried out by adult people, people in their 30s and 40s and as a community that is an underlying issue that needs to be looked at as well, if we are talking about the totality of curbing gun violence,” added Salisbury.
If the collaborative support for Zahilay’s legislation is any indication, it appears that King County will not only talk about gun violence in the community, but they will invest resources that can directly impact that causes and not just the effects.
“I testified in support of Councilmember Zahilay’s proposal which was to set aside two million dollars to fund the community approach to interrupt violence,” says King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg.
“If you have the right people, I call them credible messengers, people who have lived the experience, can relate to the young people, if they do constant street outreach, if they can step in after an incident and prevent the predictable retaliation by working with the young people involved, but it would have to be balanced and fair and offer positive rewards for positive behavior and not just negative consequences all the time,” he concluded.