Two Seattles Endure a 2012 Murder Spree
This weekend the Seattle Times was home to an impassioned response by the Blue Scholars‘ Prometheus Brown to the recent shootings around Seattle. Brown hits on a lot in his commentary, but one long-time complaint is voiced very clearly: “Shots fired in the south end, nobody cares. / Shots fired in the north end, everybody scared.”
If you read the Rainier Valley Post, which excerpted those exact lines, you’ll see that the concern of southend residents cuts across color lines when it comes to the nagging suspicion that they’re supposed, simply, to be used to homicides. As one contributor paraphrased it: “The Rainier Valley will always have crime, so it’s no big deal when it happens.”
A Crosscut writer notes that there’s the Rainier Valley and then the Rest of Seattle, where the Rest of Seattle indicates a place where you can be upset about a particular shooting, and demand police action.
From a safe distance, one imagines, The Economist looks up from its statistical tables to reassure:
“Seattleites, we are losing it,” wrote Danny Westneat in his column in the Seattle Times. Many agreed. But the city is a long way from lost. It is wealthy, well governed and relatively safe. For a big American city, its rates of murder and violent crime are low.
The magazine diagnoses the damage as psychological: “What has been lost this spring is the sense of Seattle as a cosy cocoon.” We might need to amend that, then, and substitute “the Rest of Seattle” for “Seattle”–it seems like it must feel ages since Rainier Valley felt like a cosy cocoon.
So the Cafe Racer mass murder and suicide, which left six people (including the gunman) dead, is in part troubling precisely because it violates that sense of containment: both geographical and also social. Social, because gang shootings result in the “accidental” deaths of bystanders. It has to be cold comfort for the bereaved, but the larger populace seems to derive something from the notion that a dispute didn’t concern them.
The horror of the Cafe Racer shootings is that they were purposeful executions–only one person survived being shot. Many may feel outraged at learning that an apparently mentally ill man ”had legally purchased at least six handguns, and his licence to pack heat was valid until 2015,” as The Economist puts it, but the deeply unsettling chill comes from his predatory, methodical slayings.
After the fact, after Stawicki’s death, people still want to know how he managed to get from Ravenna to downtown, want to know why, if he could get that far, he needed to kill to someone else in a car-jacking.
Asking why of the mentally ill is a rabbit hole that it’s better not to go down. But we can ask why of ourselves. We can ask why we treat homicides as if they differ in kind, when surely what’s wanted is a city in which people aren’t shot for any reason. Brown asks another good question, which is what we expect the police to do that we aren’t willing to do ourselves. What does it say that we sort Seattle into places where violence is “expected,” and not. Unexpected violence is hard to prepare for. What is our excuse when it is?