Is Seattle still overreacting about string of killings?

Gunman Ian Stawicki in a Seattle coffee house after fatally wounding four (security video via Seattle Police Department)

Back in late February, I opined here that Seattle political leaders were overreacting in response to an increase in the number of murders for the 55 days of the year to date–seven compared with two for the comparable period of 2011. Yesterday’s killing of five by a nut case who then took his own life has brought the murder count to 21, more than the 20 recorded for all of last year.

It’s very sad, of course. But I don’t really see any reason to change my view that this is little more than a statistical blip, and that Seattle remains on balance a pretty safe big city when it comes to personal safety.Without minimizing in any way the awful effect on any victim or family, the numbers are still small.

Even if this rate continued, the city would end up the year with 50 murders,  far less than the 69 murders recorded in 1994. That would be about eight murders for every 100,000 residents, roughly the same rate as Denver. Here culled from the Internet are some big-city murders-per-100,000 comparisons from 2011: New Orleans, 52; Baltimore, 37; Hartford, Conn., 27; Philadelphia, 21; and Chicago, 16. Two cities with lower rates: New York City, 6, and Portland, Ore., 4.

As someone New To Seattle, I may be a lone local voice in this. The Seattle Times rushed out an editorial today entitled “Growing gun violence commands concrete solutions” that declared, however, it was up to authorities to come up with those concrete solutions. The editorial laid much of the blame on gangs. This strikes me as a bit misplaced since yesterday’s incident, which started with triggerman Ian Stawicki entering University of Washington-area coffee shop Cafe Racer Espresso, had nothing to do with gangs. By my highly unofficial review of media accounts, only about half of Seattle’s murders this year seem to have a gang tie. In many of them, there still is no arrest.

But everything is relative, and the innocent randomness of some killings is clearly unsettling many Seattleites. As Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat wrote today, ” The gunfire in our city seemed so ubiquitous it felt more like it could strike anyone, anywhere, at any time.” A month ago, a 21-year-old woman who just moved here from Albuquerque was shot dead by someone firing from a passing vehicle as she walked with her boyfriend in downtown’s trendy Pioneer Square. Just last week, a computer programmer was killed when he drove into a gang-related cross-fire in the Central District.

The perception of a lawless Seattle is presenting all sorts of opportunities for those with an agenda. Supporters of the Seattle Police Department say a threatened U.S. Justice Department lawsuit alleging violent policing is handicapping the cops.

Then there are the many opponents of Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, whose popularity rating of 32% is lower than the 34% rate held by President Richard Nixon in the year before the Watergate scandal forced him from the White House. Politically, McGinn, who is up for reelection next year, looks like a haunted man living on borrowed time even though he is a liberal in a liberal town who long has called for stronger gun control laws.

So McGinn is doing everything he can to look tough. But in my judgment, the trick at this juncture is to be smart, not tough.

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Is Seattle still overreacting about string of killings? — 1 Comment

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