OPINION | Rainier Beach Students Are Right to Ask: What Are We Doing to Keep Them Safe?
by Marcus Harrison Green
(This article is co-published with The Seattle Times.)
I’m not exactly sure what it says about a city when some of its youth believe they have to beg to be heard. That puzzle is what landed me in Rainier Beach High’s cramped library on January 18th. The event was the second student-led town hall on gun violence in as many weeks, a dialogue with Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz to discuss how violence has eroded them spiritually. , physical and emotional health.
Students have lost three current and former schoolmates in the space of three years. They have been terrorized by multiple gun threats, including one last December that forced a school lockdown and the postponement, until last week, of a gun violence town hall.
Along with their community, they have been through the tragic murder of Hansoo Kim, the beloved owner of Rainier Teriyaki, and multiple murders over a period of weeks.
The city’s 125% increase in gun violence from 2019 to 2022 was stuck in the students’ minds that day, with 22% of homicide victims being young black people, all about the same age as the students, according to police data.
What results is an accumulation of tragedy and sadness, along with a perceived apathy for their suffering compared to schools located in wealthier and whiter parts of our city.
No wonder the first question to Diaz, although it could have been addressed to all of us, was:
“What are you going to do to keep us safe?”
For Diaz’s part, he outlined current violence-reduction strategies either already in place or underway, including street beautification and the Safe Passage program, where community peacekeepers walk the routes kids take home to keep them out of trouble. keep. He also cited his department’s firearms recovery efforts, which have removed the highest number of firearms from circulation in the past 13 years.
However, it was a student’s next statement that made me bite my tongue for not being audibly happy. Caleb Presley, a senior and member of the NAACP Youth Council, mentioned that the police are mainly relegated to arresting people and taking guns off the streets. In other words, they are a force of reaction, not transformation.
Students made it clear that they wanted much more.
They want to trust that when they step on a street corner they can do so without the fear of being fatally shot. They want role models who sustain them through life’s progress instead of bombarding them for social media content. They want to be taken seriously, as seriously as any school, as any person, in this city.
That’s why several students expressed their disappointment at a town hall last week about how we handled their ongoing trauma compared to that of students from other schools in the city.
Last November, after the tragic murder of one of their classmates, Ingraham High students were able to obtain $2 million in mental health funding. That funding will be distributed among 29 school-based health centers, one of which will be Rainier Beach.
Let me put it bluntly, there should only be eternal admiration for the Ingraham High students whose march to City Hall led to that funding.
But I must share the Rainier Beach students’ recognition that those funds came at the request of a school in Seattle’s North End. I also share the recognition that the needs of students in one area of town differ from those in another. The students I sat with at the town hall lost friends, brothers, sisters, cousins and mentors prematurely.
Through it all, they saw how others’ pain was treated with responsiveness, while theirs was treated with indifference.
Fortunately, hope is what they haven’t lost, at least not yet. Hope that we in this city will listen to them, and respond to what we hear.
Our youth demand an environment where they are free from gun violence, free from being a victim of gentrification and free to have as much mobility, opportunity and resources as anyone in our city.
I have found that ignorance is not a lack of knowledge, but a lack of knowledge.
As the assembly concluded, Daleceana Fudge-Minnis, a 16-year-old Rainier Beach student, told those in attendance how much of a life-changer Rainier Beach has been for her, despite the fact that people in other parts of the city often stereotyped as “ghetto.”
“Imagine our friends who are not children of color telling their friends and parents who are not of color about who we really are and who we are trying to be. Our future children can be proud not only of being a Viking, but of being a citizen,” she said.
She has so much more to say. It’s a shame if we don’t listen.
The South Seattle Emerald is committed to holding space for a variety of viewpoints within our community, with the understanding that different perspectives do not negate mutual respect among community members.
The opinions, beliefs and positions expressed by the contributors to this site do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and positions of the Emerald or official policies of the Emerald.
Marcus Harrison Green is the publisher of the South Seattle Emerald. Growing up in South Seattle, he experienced firsthand the impact of one-dimensional stories on marginalized communities, which taught him the value of authentic narratives. After an unfulfilled stint in the investment world during his twenties, Marcus returned to his community with a newfound purpose to tell stories with nuance, complexity and multidimensionality with the hope of promoting social change. This led him to become a writer and find the South Seattle Emerald. He was named one of Seattle’s most influential people by Seattle Magazine in 2016 and was awarded a 2020 Individual Human Rights Leader by the Seattle Human Rights Commission.
📸 Featured Image: Rainier Beach students speak with Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz during a student-led town hall on January 18, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Converge Media / @WWConverge.)
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