On the afternoon of Saturday, July 23, a gang-related melee at a concert and low-rider car show in Kent left 12 people wounded. In response, the city of Arlington opted to put the kibosh on another car expo that was scheduled to take place tomorrow at the Arlington Airport, with city officials citing concerns that the event would result in a shootout like the one that spilled blood in Kent. But NW Rollerz, the largest low-rider club in the Seattle area and the organizers of the canceled Arlington event, say they are being unfairly stereotyped and that their show would have raised several thousand dollars for local charities.
Vargas, 49, works as a counselor for at-risk youth in South Seattle. He explains that in the past two years, NW Rollerz has hosted events in Renton that went off without a hitch and raised several thousand dollars for Victory Outreach, a church that counsels ex-gang members and offers services for victims of domestic abuse.
Andy Valdez, president of NW Rollerz, says he hoped to move the organization's signature event, "The Northwest Roll Out," to Arlington this year to accommodate a larger crowd. He says he anticipated people driving their tricked-out rides from as far away as Canada and California to attend. Proceeds--estimated by Valdez to be around $3,200--were supposed to go to N.O.A.H., the Northwest Organization for Animal Help.
"Most of the cars were going to be hot rods and muscle cars; there was not even that big a portion of low-riders," Valdez says. "We had all kinds of things planned for the kids too: a tug-of-war contest, a coloring contest. I'm so pissed at Arlington. I'd been planning this thing since October."
But Kristin Banfield, Arlington's assistant city administrator, says that NW Rollerz only applied for their required "special event permit" three weeks ago. They did, however, already have permission from the Arlington Airport to lease the land. Banfield says the short notice was cause for City Administrator Allen Johnson to nix the event. Well, that and the warnings the city received from the Snohomish Regional Drug and Gang Task Force that "retaliation" for the Kent shooting could have happened at the Arlington show.
"If something were to happen, we could not have been able to respond as we feel would have been necessary," Banfield says. "It would have been extremely difficult if not impossible to provide for public safety at the event. Ultimately, we need to make sure the public is protected."
The NW Rollerz members say their name has been sullied because they were handing out fliers at the Kent show, held at La Plaza strip mall, when the firefight broke out. Kent police say that the most serious injuries were to victims who suffered gunshot wounds to the torso. No arrests have been made, but Kent police say they are still investigating and conducting interviews with alleged gang members from Centralia and Yakima who were involved. The car show was held without proper permits from the city of Kent, and featured performances by a pair of Southern California gangsta rappers.
NW Rollerz says the music was partly to blame for the Kent mayhem, and that their show was a different beast entirely.
"These detectives got hold of our fliers and said they were related to the shooting," Vargas says. "The truth is, we don't know what's going on and we were not involved. We need to get our name off of this."
NW Rollerz has another cars show scheduled for August 14, at HD Hotspurs in Kent.
"I'm just waiting for them to shut us down," Vargas laments.