Category Archives: Crime

Just Like at Gawker, Commenter Rewrites Seattle Times Headline on Crime

Back in July, Nick Denton announced to great fanfare that Gawker readers would be able to headline stories their way, complete with introductory commentary, thanks to a new platform called Kinja. Turns out the Seattle Times has a similar capability — it’s just not as turnkey.


Overnight, a commenter on a story about the violent crime rate in downtown Seattle changed the headline for everyone. In a follow-on story to the shooting of a Metro bus driver, the Times supported the Downtown Seattle Association’s contention that crime is getting worse, before noting that the data say no, same old, same old. (For a brief moment, The Stranger and Seattle Times agreed.)

Hold up, said Blue N Green:

Headline: “Violent crime is rising”

Article: “But an analysis by The Seattle Times of crime statistics for the downtown area … shows a steady level of violent crime throughout the past five years.”

So is it rising or is it steady? I know the headline is better if it’s rising, but pull it together, editorial.

Fewer than 12 hours later, Seattle Times staff responded: “Thanks, @BlueNGreen, for your comment on our headline. We’ve adjusted it to more accurately reflect the story. We appreciate your note.” New headline? “Violent crime steady downtown for past five years, Times data show.”


Mayor McGinn
Mayor McGinn

Responding to the DSA’s concerns, Mayor McGinn had attempted to argue the stats as well: ““We are at a 30-year crime low and this year is coming in lower than last year.” That’s a losing strategy when you’re talking to people who have been personally affected by violent crime. (Statistics have never cured anyone’s fear of flying.) And using aggregated crime statistics is a way to mask hot spots. Since, he’s retreated to the safer option of throwing more police officers at Seattle’s mean streets.

The past five years have seen any number of plans to improve safety downtown and in Belltown — and to address gang shootings and attacks in south Seattle. With violent crime holding steady, it would appear the current strategy, not just headlines, needs to be rewritten as well.

Recent DUI Body Count Has State Legislature Reviving Stalled Bill

Streetside memorial at NE 75th St (Photo: MvB)
Streetside memorial at NE 75th St (Photo: MvB)

“The fatal crashes are sparking a new urgency in Olympia to revive house bill HB 1482, a tough drunk driving reform bill that was stalled and seemed doomed this legislative session until the recent crashes gave it new life,” reports KING 5’s Linda Byron, quoting Governor Jay Inslee as saying drunk drivers were ” just like terrorists walking around with a bomb in their trunk.”

It should feel like good news, but taking action after people are dead is never good news. And the sad fact is that there’s nothing that unusual about the most recent fatalities. A quick visit to the Washington Traffic Safety Commission‘s site to inspect the data shows that since 2007, about 200 people per year have been killed statewide in “impaired ability” collisions. 213 people killed in 2007, 175 people buried in 2011. Generally, twice the number of total House members, for comparison.

Source: Washington State DOT Collision Data
Source: Washington State DOT Collision Data

That’s the number of dead citizens the House’s Rules Committee was apparently comfortable with when, on February 19, HB 1482 was passed to them for a second reading and never made it to the floor calendar. But now, because of three deaths — Dennis Schulte and Judith Schulte, and Morgan Williams — drunk driving is suddenly an emergency. Bill sponsor Rep. Roger Goodman (D-45th) hopes now to get the bill attached to the budget, as a workaround, since it missed getting the second reading that would allow it to proceed toward a final vote.

Goodman’s bill specifically closes loopholes that allows for repeat offenders to get behind the wheel, as was with the case with the three recent deaths. Mark W. Mullan, the driver that police say hit and killed the Schultes, not only had a history of five DUIs, but in had been in jail in Seattle for a DUI charge while another was pending in Snohomish County. Mullan, a man with an extensive history of chronic drug and alcohol abuse to go with his DUIs, was credited with time served and fined and told he’d need to install an ignition interlock device if he wanted to drive.

Though HB 1482 tries to address current failures — it expands what’s considered a previous offense; pushes for more active monitoring (through ignition interlock devices); stiffens sentences for things like driving the wrong way while intoxicated, or driving with a minor in the car; and lets municipalities set up DUI courts to deal with the extra courtroom “traffic” — it’s also evidence of the insidiousness of dependency. That is, our dependency on cars for transportation, which of course The Onion has already satirized: “Report: It Pretty Incredible That Americans Entrusted With Driving Cars.”

At a minimum, otherwise, you might think that all first offenses should require a police-installed ignition interlock device. (Or, if automakers are willing to equip cars with biometric sensors, why not ask that they all check for BAC?) Instead, KING 5’s story notes, “One addition to HB 1482 under discussion would make a third DUI a felony offense — instead of waiting for number five — a change that carries a hefty price tag.” (A third? A hefty price tag? Remember, Mullan was fined $2,025 in Seattle, and posted a $2,500 bond in Snohomish.)

In the meantime, the DUI incidents just keep coming.

Amanda Knox Will Skip the Latest (Legal) Drama in Italy

Knox's memoir, Waiting to be Heard, is due out April 30.
Knox’s memoir, Waiting to be Heard, is due out April 30.

The home of the Eternal City seems also to be jockeying for the title of home of the Eternal Judicial Process. Last night, University of Washington student Amanda Knox learned that Italy’s highest court had overturned her October 2011 acquittal — but this time, she’ll be tried in Florence, not Perugia, and in absentia, not prison.

While the decision was “painful” to hear, as Knox said in a statement, she also seemed to find heartening the prospect of a thorough, competent investigation:

I believe that any questions as to my innocence must be examined by an objective investigation and a capable prosecution. The prosecution responsible for the many discrepancies in their work must be made to answer for them, for Raffaele’s sake, my sake, and most especially for the sake of Meredith’s family. Our hearts go out to them.

Here is her statement following her acquittal:

At every turn in the case, which began with the November 2007 slaying of British student Meredith Kercher, U.S. followers of the legal drama have been treated to an eye-opening tour of Italy’s criminal justice system. In this instance, we learn that Italy doesn’t provide double jeopardy protections, so someone can be tried twice for the same crime. On the other hand, Italy doesn’t require criminal attendants to be in attendance at their trial, and Knox’s defense team has already made it clear she will remain stateside.

Whatever the findings of the new trial, these too will be inspected by the high court, so it could easily take Knox a full seven years after Kercher’s murder to hear if she’s guilty or not.

In possibly related news, The Economist reports that the people are fed up with “Italy’s corrupt and wasteful system of democracy,” which has run up debt of $2.6 trillion. A protest party co-founded by comedian Beppe Grillo, the Five Star Movement, has gained enough clout that they’ve become a wrench in the spokes of a parliamentary majority — “A poll for Corriere della Sera, a newspaper, found that 77% of M5S voters were against supporting a government that included the traditional parties” — pushing instead for online referendum voting.

Schizophrenic Man, Killed by Seattle Police, Was First Hit With Taser Twice

Jack Keewatinawin (Photo: KIRO)
Jack Keewatinawin (Photo: KIRO)

As you read about it, the death of Jack Keewatinawin, a 21-year-old suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, seems driven by some inept malevolence, which is one way, I suppose, of describing our continuing failure to treat people with this disease. Its tentacles reach into almost every aspect of the story.

Keewatinawin was first shot twice with a Taser but both attempts were “ineffective,” and so the situation escalated, leading Seattle police to shoot him to death Tuesday night. Police have blamed his bulky clothes, but schizophrenic insensitivity to pain — a topic of frequent research — might seem to correlate with stories of those with paranoid schizophrenia being Tasered without apparent effect, until death.

He was already known to the police department. He had assaulted a woman in fall of 2011, while high on marijuana, believing a jogger to be a vision of a “marijuana goddess.” (“[S]chizophrenics don’t anticipate that after the positive effects of getting high wear off, their hallucinations get worse.”)

A neighbor told the Seattle Times that “police had been called to the house a handful of times in the past two years when Keewatinawin was off his medication. ‘They’d talk to him, and Jack would sit on the curb until they put him in an ambulance and took him to the hospital,’ she said.” Though an arrest warrant had been issued for Kewantinawin back in January, for failing to report to his corrections officer, and everyone involved knew where he lived, no attempt seems to have been made to pick him up prior to the 911 call that Tuesday night in late February.

This happens a lot to people troubled by paranoid schizophrenia — people grant the disease more agency than the person burdened by it. The disease says keep away, don’t bother me, don’t even try to talk to me, and more often than not, that’s just what other people do, until they call 911. Then what? The criminal justice system rightly balks at locking someone up for mental illness, while our overtaxed mental health has steadily lost funding.

At 6′-1″ and 350 pounds, Keewatinawin, who had inexplicably-sadly-fatally been gifted with an 18-inch piece of rebar for protection from his hallucinations, was the size of person that no one wants to see go out of his mind. But who was going to make sure he took his medication? Who was going to keep him from self-medicating with marijuana? Not a corrections officer. Not his terminally ill father.

The mortality rate among schizophrenics is four times higher than in the general population.” That’s normally because people with schizophrenia tend to kill themselves, or smoke themselves into lung cancer. But it’s also because they are sometimes shot to death, and the disease wins that way, too.

He Was Pointing His Handgun Into the Air When It “Went Off.”

Screen Shot 2013-02-26 at 10.33.09 AMNow that Adam Lanza has forced a national discussion of gun safety, people are scrambling to get their talking points in order. One pro-gun perspective was that cars kill more people than guns; I addressed that in “What Kills More People in Washington State: Cars or Guns?” because it’s not true: in Washington, gun deaths (including suicide) outnumber vehicle fatalities.

The number of people who succeeded in killing themselves with a gun, I thought, was worth emphasizing because it highlights that guns, though used for target shooting and sport shooting, are terrific for killing things without going through a lot of rigamarole. Handguns especially.

We may tend to think of people who commit suicide as fated, in some way, to end it all. But what the U.S.’s gun ownership experiment (89 firearms per 100 people) teaches us is that we’re not nearly as rational as we like to believe. On any given day, any one of us could sink into a black-dog mood that, with a gun in hand, could prove fatal. No one likes to think that. Everyone is healthy as an ox until they’re sick.

That doesn’t mean we can’t discuss how to keep guns out of the hands of the chronically suicidal, just that that alone isn’t likely to dent the magnitude of the problem. (Especially, as one commenter noted, with the alarming tendency of new medications, even those for asthma or epilepsy, to bring on sudden suicidal ideation.)

Suicide, though, is an extreme case of unreason. Here’s something much more common. Last night on Capitol Hill, a 33-year-old man who’d been drinking got into an argument with his roommate. He told officers “he was pointing his 9mm handgun into the air when it ‘went off.’  The round entered the ceiling of the bedroom. Fortunately, the apartment is on the top floor,” concluded the police report, drily.

“It just went off,” sounds like something you’d say in those circumstances. But it’s often true — people don’t consciously pull a trigger, especially when under the influence of something; it’s more of an instinctual reaction. Last night’s ceiling shooting was classified as domestic violence. End of January, there was another 33-year-old man, and another domestic violence scene, that resulted in a death.

In a USA Today story on the 934 deaths in mass shootings the last seven years — 146 cases where four or more people were killed — another troubling statistic comes to light. Did 71 of those shooters walk into a gun store planning on killing members of their family? In an analysis of 56 mass shootings since 2009, researchers found 57 percent were due to domestic violence. How do you screen a potential gun owner for their tendency toward domestic violence?

The same USA Today story quotes Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox, who is pessimistic about better mental healthcare reining in spree killers: “Mass murderers won’t take you up on treatment. They tend to externalize and blame other people for their problems. They blame the spouse, the co-workers, immigrants. They feel persecuted.”

It seem like there might be more of a spectrum in play, when it comes to externalization and blame and a dependence of guns. Listen to the NRA’s leadership

“Latin American drug gangs have invaded every city of significant size in the United States. Phoenix is already one of the kidnapping capitals of the world,” he explains in his latest expression of anguish, an Op-Ed published in the Daily Caller yesterday. […]

“Hurricanes. Tornadoes. Riots. Terrorists. Gangs. Lone criminals,” he continues. “These are perils we are sure to face — not just maybe. It’s not paranoia to buy a gun. It’s survival.”

It’s not paranoia to want to keep guns out of the hands of people with paranoid and disturbed personalities. It’s survival. But for gun safety, the question is how to keep guns out of all of our hands when we’re not ourselves. I don’t know the answer to that, or at least, an answer that preserves the access to guns Americans “enjoy” now. But I do know that that is problem we face, being human and prone to human failures — handguns will continue to magnify the damage of each and every one of these lapses.

Seattle’s Gun Buyback Program Nets 3 Street Sweeper Shotguns

(Photo: Goldy/The Stranger - used with permission)
(Photo: Goldy/The Stranger – used with permission)

The three Street Sweeper semiautomatic shotguns turned in to the Seattle Police Department during this past weekend’s gun buyback program offer a 12-gauge counterpoint to the strangely vocal chorus of naysayers that emerged prior to the event. It wouldn’t “work,” they said — the city would overpay for worthless, rusting, single-shot muskets. (For more like this, I direct you to the Seattle Times comments section.)

In fact, the Seattle Police Department‘s gun buyback event brought in 716 firearms, of which 348 were pistols and 364 were rifles. (Progress? 20 years ago, 95 percent of the guns handed in were handguns. Or not: This time, dozens of firearms handed in were assault weapons.)

Private citizens voluntarily stopped by to hand over their unwanted firearms for gift cards ranging from $100 to $200 (for assault weapons). The buyback was completely privately funded, through donors such as Amazon, Pete Carroll’s A Better Seattle, SEO Moz, UW Medical Center, and the Seattle Police Foundation. The average amount per firearm works about to $95.

The Street Sweepers looked brand new, said SPD’s Mark Jamieson. Because the gun buyback is a no-questions-asked program (at least four of the guns handed in were found to be stolen), he couldn’t say much about why three shotguns classified as “destructive devices” were floating around. The city made out like a bandit on the deal, because — if you can navigate the paperwork necessary to sell one legally — a Street Sweeper’s value is estimated at $1,000 to $1,500.

Made famous by Jack Nicholson’s Joker, the Cobray Street Sweeper is a variation of the South African Amsel Striker, a shotgun designed for riot control. Its revolving cylinder holds twelve 12-gauge rounds. The ATF decided it had “no sporting purpose,” though owners claim to have used it for decimating quail populations. The appearance of three of these restricted weapons at a gun buyback event — one appearing to have a shortened barrel illegal in Washington state — would indicate how porous “gun control” is.

The buyback exceeded the typical 100-guns-per-hour average rate over its roughly three hours of existence, keeping people waiting for over an hour in line. The city spent just over $68,000 of its approximately $80,000 on hand (some $118,000 has been donated thus far), opting to save some funds for a future event.

Gun advocates have seemingly been delighted by an unanticipated side effect of the city hosting a buyback event. “We had a gun bazaar break out on the streets of Seattle,” said an exercised Mayor McGinn at a press conference today. “It’s insane.” Guns were changing hands, he said, with no legal checks. As The Stranger‘s Goldy reports (note his photo of man using a scrawled cardboard sign to announce that he’s a “licensed gun dealer”):

It is perfectly legal to sell a gun for cash on a street corner with no waiting period and no background check. The sellers, whatever their intentions, had no idea whether they were selling to a collector, a dealer, a felon, or a dangerous schizophrenic. This is the so-called “gun show loophole” that Republicans refuse to close.

As if to underscore the theme of guns falling into the wrong hands, the Saturday gun buyback was followed on Sunday by a shooting in a popular Central District bar.