After the deadly shooting on Third Avenue on Jan. 22, residents of the entire region expressed their feelings about the general safety of the Seattle core. In social media responses to inflammatory comments by local radio hosts, they pointed fingers in every direction and decried the death of Seattle’s safety.
Many stated that they didn’t come into Seattle anymore because they feared exactly this kind of lawlessness.
The only thing I could think was: Must be nice to have that choice.
Though many of the people on the street that day were commuters waiting for buses, a lot of others were people with nowhere else to go. The corner of Third and Pine has long been viewed as “sketchy” or “dangerous,” though prior to the shooting, there was actually very little violent crime. Instead of citing actual crime statistics, housed people have seen that corner through the lenses of race and class.
When people say Third Ave. is “sketchy,” what they really mean is that it’s a place where poor people hang out and are plainly visible. What they mean is that it’s one of the few places where sheltered (literally and figuratively) folks can see the ways that poverty and systemic inequality play out. It’s a place of survival for many people. It’s a place of salvation for some.
This is perhaps most clearly highlighted in the life story of the sole casualty of the shooting — a woman named Tanya Jackson, who had previously been homeless and was living in a Plymouth Housing building nearby.
Jackson, 50, had fought the dual demons of homelessness and substance use disorder.
She was beloved within the Plymouth Housing community, and residents said she had come a very long way. She had escaped homelessness — but, like so many folks who have experienced extreme poverty, she still became a victim of violence.
So often, people with the means to lock their doors forget that safety is a commodity to which folks living in poverty don’t have access.
They forget that those “dangerous” people are actually, themselves, frequently in danger.
I can’t help but wonder if people commenting about the travesty of crime in Seattle would be so concerned if Tanya had been killed while she was still living outside — if she’d been on that “sketchy” corner with a panhandling sign, rather than a key in her pocket.
Hanna Brooks Olsen is a writer and policy analyst working in Seattle. Her work has appeared in the Atlantic, the Nation, Bust, Fast Company, NPR, and other publications. She’s currently writing a book for UW Press, which is due out eventually.
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