Make no mistake: Seattle is tired of gun violence. In a city that has already seen 21 homicides this year (one more than in all of 2011), 19 of which are gun related, people want action.
"First off, I have to say one (homicide) is too many," Seattle Police Chief John Diaz said when trying to put the city's 21 homicides in perspective.
On top of Diaz, several other local officials, including Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and Seattle City Council member Bruce Harrell, led a forum discussion entitled "Public Safety: A Community Conversation," which touched on a multitude of issues affecting the community.
The hour-and-a-half forum conversation was co-hosted by Town Hall Seattle Program Director Bob Redmond and Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat. While Redmond led the second half of the discussion, reading questions sent in from the public, Westneat started the first half of the discussion by attempting to figure out why this violence is occurring.
"Deep down, it feels like its escalating out of control," Westneat said. "What's concerning is the leaders of the city haven't really, at least to me, explained what is going on."
Throughout the event every issue that was brought up, ranging from gun control, to police brutality, to the reduction of guidance counselors in Seattle schools, received the same answer from each panelist: increasing community involvement.
"We have laws. We have lots of laws saying what's legal and illegal. But we have to reach people, and we do that with interpersonal connections," said McGinn in regards to limiting gun violence in the city.
On top of McGinn's remarks, in which he stressed that the most important thing people can do to combat violence is to get out in their local communities and meet their neighbors, other members of the panel answered a variety of questions with a similar framework.
Diaz told those in attendance that several Seattle Police Department programs, including Block Watch and others that allow interaction between officers and citizens, will lead to conversations that can help end police brutality. And Harrell said that if Seattle cannot tighten gun control within its borders due to existing state law, people should unite to create change.
"If it (RCW 9.41.290) is not changed we have to be loud and focused so we can have a direct impact on what is occurring in our neighborhoods," Harrell said when discussing the issue.
The other three panelists at the meeting included director of Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative Mariko Lockhart, organizer for OneAmerica Rahwa Habte, and Executive Director of DESC (formerly called the Downtown Emergency Services Center) Bill Hobson.
Lockhart and Habte continually stressed the importance of community interaction in battling violence in the city, with Habte using her own experience of growing up in an underprivileged neighborhood, and Hobson supporting SPD's efforts to help the homeless and mentally ill.
While for the most part the event adhered to the theme of peace Redmond tried to establish at the beginning, it did contain some heated moments. Throughout the conversation Westneat tried to discuss how the issue of gangs play into Seattle's spate of violence, to which Diaz and others made clear they don't believe the violence at hand is directly related to gangs.
On top of this, various panelists attacked the media for not covering every crime in the city, and only reporting on the mentally ill in regards to violence. Also, at one point while Westneat discussed how the corner where Justin Ferrari was shot sees a shooting every week, an African American male in the audience yelled out "And I bet they all look like me," a comment which Westneat ignored.
For the approximately 300 people who attended the event last night (not including those who watched the meeting's live broadcast on the Seattle Chanel) the main reason for coming was a curiosity about what city leaders have to say at this point.
"The informing and engagement of the citizenry," 69-year-old Brian McKenna of Bainbridge said as his reason for coming, who attended the meeting with his wife, Terry, and his son, Colin -- a membership and finance associate at Town Hall Seattle who was near a window in the building and witnessed the shooting of Gloria Leonidas on May 30.
Others came to make sure the city's plan to combat the gun violence isn't too vast or restricting of citizens' rights. As Richard Ripley, an NRA instructor from Mill Creek who teaches firearms safety and marksmanship, made clear last night, he attended to ensure the city did not try to deter violence via gun control measures.
"I know regulating guns doesn't work. Bad guys get guns regardless," Ripley said, who also noted that if a citizen legally carrying a firearm had been in the Racer Café on May 30, Ian Stawicki may have been stopped.
After the meeting, while many were pleased the discussion had occurred, some citizens said they expected more of an actual plan to be constructed to limit gun violence.
"I believe if people come together they have to come together and make a solution. Tonight we listened to a lecture from political leaders," 39-year-old City University MBA student Yusuf Cabdi said. Cabdi wanted to stay positive, but afterwards still questioned if Seattle officials had an actual plan to limit gun violence.
While Redmond made clear this event was not a memorial to those who had been lost in Seattle violence, before the discussion began Town Hall Seattle Artistic Director Joshua Roman played Johann Sebastian Bach's Cello 3rd Suite in C Major in honor of the fallen citizens. And when the discussion ended, Redmond invited the attendees to go to the spot where Leonidas was shot and place a paper "peace crane" on the memorial.
Of course, last night's discussion came on an important day for Seattle in regard to limiting gun violence. Earlier in the day, the U.S. Attorney's Office with King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg announced more gun-violence crimes in the Seattle area will be tried and prosecuted at the federal level.
Video from last night's discussion via the Seattle Channel is below: