Just over a month ago I witnessed a crime. It was a violent, unprovoked assault carried out by three people against a homeless man, all in the name of “respecting” the Firefighter’s Memorial in Occidental Park. I wrote about it here and it was reported by local news organizations as well. Eventually the incident garnered enough visibility that the Mayor had to respond.
Mr. Bennett Barr, correspondence writer for the Mayor’s office (his title according to his email signature) reached out to me after reading my blog post that had been reprinted in Crosscut.com. His email from March 25th is below.
Dear Mr. Banfield,
I read your article in Crosscut this morning, and wanted to follow up with you. When I responded to your letter about the beating in Pioneer Square, I included the Mayor’s recent statement on the incident. But that was not the entirety of our response.
When that response was sent to you on the 20th, I also forwarded the letters we received, including yours, to the Seattle Fire Department and the Seattle Police Department. I thought it was important that both these departments understand the anger and frustration, as well as the sense of betrayal, thisincident elicited among residents. I asked that the Seattle Fire Department respond directly to some residents and that this response include both an apology and a description of the steps the SFD will take to make sure this doesn’t happen again. For the handful of letters, including yours, expressing concern at the SPD’s responsiveness to this incident, I asked the SPD to reply directly to these concerns and explain to residents why there seemed to be a delayed and insufficient response to the incident. I directed that responses by the SFD and SPD be copied to the Mayor’s office, both to highlight the seriousness of the issue and so that the Mayor’s office can follow up directly with residents if we think these responses are in any way inadequate.
When I made these correspondence requests of SFD and SPD, I established a deadline for a response of 10 business days. So, you will be receiving additional responses to your letter late next week.
All the best, and please let me know if you have any questions.
City of Seattle, Office of the Mayor
Then nothing. Despite Mr. Barr’s email no one from SPD, SFD or the Mayor’s office has reached out to me to follow up on my concerns about the city’s response to the incident and the policing strategy in Pioneer Square around major sporting events. No emails and no phone calls.
The only person to seemed to care enough to contact me was a private investigator for one of the accused hoping to determine their client’s potential criminal liability.
That’s not to say the Mayor has done absolutely nothing, just almost nothing. In the last month the Mayor has apologized and promised to evaluate his options. He has led a “Stand for Compassion” event at the site of the attack, which from the accounts I’ve read was more oriented towards feeling bad for the homeless and good about ourselves than any serious consideration of the challenges within Pioneer Square. One blogger described it as the scene from “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” where all the Who’s in Whoville held hands around the tree.
Then earlier this month the Mayor organized a “Seattle Neighborhood Summit“, the highlights of which were almost zero Seattle police presence and the Mayor having to “shush” the audience thanks to a horribly planned agenda and venue selection. No discussion of the incident. No response to the de-policing of Pioneer Square. No focus on making Seattle’s downtown safe for everyone.
His Honor’s time could have been much better spent.
Now the King County prosecutor has now decided not to pursue felony charges against the three people arrested in connection with the incident due to “lack of evidence”. When no one actually talks to the witnesses it’s easy to decide there’s insufficient evidence. When the administration doesn’t want to see two Seattle Fire Department officers on felony assault charges, you don’t go looking reasons to charge them.
So we have a violent attack by two Seattle Fire Department officers on a homeless man in broad daylight in downtown where Seattle Police took forty minutes to finally respond to the 911 call, the TV cameras have come and gone, the Mayor’s wrung his hands about it and promised action but done nothing but hold hands and sing songs, Seattle Fire has yet to disclose how the attackers will be disciplined, and now the Prosecutor’s Office have washed their hands as well.
This is, in a word, unacceptable.
My original “letter to the Mayor” post tried to use the attack as an example of why the lack of police presence in Pioneer Square around major sporting events (in this case a Seattle Sounders game) was a dangerous failure of Mayor Murray’s administration. It was also a failure that could be easily addressed, making Pioneer Square safer for residents and visitors alike.
But it’s more than just an issue of policing strategy now. I’d like to think that years of binge watching The Wire hasn’t made me completely cynical about big city politics but after seeing this, perhaps I should be. If Mayor Murray was serious about public safety then the firefighters in question would already be fired, SPD would have explained publicly why it took them 40 minutes to respond, the Mayor would have delivered a plan on how the police presence around major events (Seahawks and Sounders games, etc) would be adjusted and the prosecutor’s office would have taken pursuit of the attack seriously. None of those things have happened.
Until this Mayor actually does something besides shush the crowd then Seattle won’t be safe nor our citizens treated with respect.