The city of Seattle averages about 20 homicides every year, said Seattle Police Chief John Diaz. This year, 21 people have already been murdered, 19 by hand guns.
Diaz spoke about this recent spike in homicides at a public meeting and panel discussion about gun violence June 18 at Town Hall.
The panel consisted of Mayor Mike McGinn, Diaz, Councilmember Bruce Harrell, Mariko Lockhart of the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative, Rahwa Habte, a representative of OneAmerica, Bill Hobson, Executive Director of Downtown Emergency Center (desc) and Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat.
Panelists agreed that people connecting with each other is the most immediate action Seattleites can take to prevent gun violence. McGinn said a sense of community, and engagement in that community, is most important.
During the first half of the 90-minute forum, Westneat posed questions about the cause of increased violence to the panelists. Audience members then asked their own questions of the panelists and Westneat about what can be done immediately to address the violence.
Diaz said a cultural shift toward more relaxed gun use and changing demographics are major issues in combating the violence.
Those committing crimes with guns tend to be 19 to 35 years old. In previous years, they tended to be under 18, he said.
Violence is occurring in neighborhoods that have historically remained untouched by bullets.
Some audience members questioned whether the Department of Justice investigation and subsequent changes in policing have made it more difficult for officers to do their jobs effectively.
Councilmember Harrell spoke in favor of changes in gun safety laws. His ideas generated both roars of both applause and boos from the crowd.
“What astounds me is how many wake-up calls does a city need?” he said. “A wake-up call is only good if people wake up.”
Harrell said he wanted cities in Washinton to have more restrictive gun control laws than the state — something that’s currently illegal — and more severe punishment for children caught with a gun. A youth can be caught with a gun up to five times before there are adequate penalties, he said.
Habte agreed that people must get engaged in policy-making if they want to see an end to violence, but said it’s no substitute for relationships.
“I think we as a people need to find connection with each other,” Habte, who grew up in the Central District, said. “It is the only thing that made a difference for myself. The only thing that has ever made a difference is feeling connected to the people around you, the neighborhood around you.”