Learning from a tragedy
In death, sometimes people leave behind a legacy. For Isaac Palmer, who was killed last month by a Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) tractor while sleeping below an underpass, that legacy will lead to the agency making a greater outreach to the homeless community and its providers.
The policy will prove crucial as WSDOT prepares to shut down a portion of 1-5's five northbound lanes, between S. Spokane St. and I-90. (Two or three lanes will be closed, depending upon time of day.) Construction is set to commence Aug. 10 and continue until Aug. 29.
It was while preparing for this project, the largest-ever highway closure in city history, that Palmer died.
During the daylight hours of June 2, Palmer, 62, was sleeping in a blackberry bramble underneath the S. Massachusetts St. overpass. But a WSDOT construction crew hadn't seen him. As a contractor's tractor sought to clear out the brambles to make way for the placement of necessary scaffolding, blades on the machine's 18-foot arm fractured Palmer's skull. They tore into his brain. Palmer died instantly.
WSDOT spokesperson Stan Suchan says the incident sent a shockwave through the agency. "It deeply affected people [here]," says Suchan.
As a result, he says the organization has been looking at ways to get the word out about the upcoming project to people sleeping or living in the area. This has led the agency to step up its face-to-face communication with people it encounters in the work zone. Along with the Seattle Police Department, which is maintaining a 24/7 presence in the area, Suchan says they are meeting and talking to at least five people a day. And from now on, he says every tractor operator will be paired with a person on the ground -- a spotter -- who will look out for anyone in the area. "That way," he says, "there'll be two sets of eyes instead of one."
Last week, Suchan says he and another regional spokesperson attended a meeting of the Seattle-King County Coalition to End Homelessness, as a step toward becoming allies with provider agencies. With more projects in the future -- including work on the Alaskan Way Viaduct -- Suchan says such partnerships are vital, as they may stop other tragedies of the sort that befell Palmer from ever happening again.
"Isaac Palmer," says Suchan, "will have a lasting affect on our agency."
--Rosette Royale Working to end "crimmigration"
A July 18 panel discussion organized by the University of Washington Department of Women Studies refuted the purported connection between immigrants and crime. The panel, "Crimmigration: People, Security and Resistance," met at Columbia City's New Freeway Hall for a conversation about media-promulgated images of immigrants as criminals, and how those images impact immigrants.
Serena Maurer, a UW Women Studies lecturer and one of the panel's main organizers, discussed her recent research into the widespread perception by residents of Yakima Valley that immigrant equals criminal-- a perception contradicted by statistics. Maurer and the other four panelists -- Hate Free Zone Policy Director Shankar Narayan, Washington Community Action Network Community Organizer Maru Villalpando, immigrant activist Maria Rivera and Refugee Justice Project Coordinator Many Uch -- discussed Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids, historical and contemporary injustices of immigration law, and Minutemen-backed politicians. The issue of immigration was reframed from one of a brown peril threatening America's borders, economy and national identity to one of torn families, the denial of due process and other human rights, and the effects of neoliberal globalization on economic security and national identity.
Narayan stressed the importance for people who believe in due process and the Constitution to speak out to elected officials, asking the audience, "What values do we want to see our government embody?"
For some of the approximaely 60 people who gathered, there were expressions of frustration that more newcomers weren't joining the conversation. But Maurer and Narayan maintained that panels and rallies aren't the only important places to change minds about what's really at stake in the current immigration controversy. If the media relentlessly puts a negative spin on immigrants, they said, our daily interactions with the people around us -- friends, families, neighbors, coworkers, people in the grocery store--are opportunities to spin back.