Hundreds of amped-up homeowners piled into a meeting room at the Magnolia United Church of Christ on Wednesday to vent about what they view as an unchecked scourge of crime in the wealthy west-side enclaves of Magnolia, Ballard, and Queen Anne.
Their vitriol was targeted largely at what one speaker called “an epidemic of illegal RVs and motor homes” parked along streets like Thorndyke Ave. West, where, one speaker claimed, “if you fall … you’ve got a really good change of falling into a pile of needles.” Their demand was for a “moratorium” on all RV parking in the city and a special camp where homeless people could park their RVs under the watchful eye of the city (located, presumably, in somebody else’s neighborhood.)
They spoke about an environment of “unchecked lawlessness” where kids who clearly “shouldn’t [be] in our neighborhood” sell drugs to people through the windows of broken-down campers and fire-hazard motor homes double as meth labs that could explode at any moment, showering innocent passers-by with needles. “Cars drive through like [the RVs are] a drive-up pharmacy, and the needles on the ground, the kids that are finding needles, the burglaries the car prowls, and the people who are walking through the neighborhood after getting high–you can tell!” is how one Magnolia resident assessed the situation.
Residents talked about finding five-gallon jugs of urine; about calling 911 to report human feces and waiting all day for the cops to show up; about “streets [that] look like garbage dumps” and “a lot of violent crime” in the neighborhood. (Reality check: According to SPD, Magnolia saw just 24 “person crimes,” which include aggravated assaults and robberies, in the first 11 months of 2015; in contrast, the Central Area saw 93). They talked about “things that kids in the neighborhood are starting to think of as normal,” like “multitudes of stolen shopping carts, many being used to transport stolen looking bikes,” “people drinking and passing out in our stores, markets, and streets,” about stolen firewood and leaf blowers and human-trafficking rings. And they talked about a police force that never shows up in the neighborhood because of a rumored “stand-down order” from the mayor directing cops to ignore calls from the area. “We actually clap and wave when the police drop by,” one speaker claimed.
Council member Sally Bagshaw (who perused a prop Mason jar filled with hypodermic needles picked up in Magnolia at great length), O’Brien, Murray special assistant Scott Lindsay, and SPD assistant chief Steve Wilske tried to respond to (frankly loaded) questions, but in many cases, audience members drowned out their responses. At one point, O’Brien stood up to explain that he wouldn’t arrest people for lacking access to restrooms, but was quickly shut down with cries of “they don’t pay taxes!” and “arrest the drug dealers!”
Wilske fared little better when he attempted to explain that he and his officers “have a responsibility to do constitutional policing,” which means, essentially, that “the police are not going to arrest someone for being poor.” Wilske also tried to quell rumors about the supposed stand-down order, but was met with skepticism from one of the speakers, who called the rumor “eerily similar” to rumors she had heard in other neighborhoods and followed up Wilske’s denial by immediately asking what he was going to do about the stand-down order. “I will not tell officers not to address the type of crimes that you’re talking about,” he insisted.
In the end, O’Brien and Bagshaw said they would consider options to relocate the RVs to another location, although only O’Brien pointed out the obvious: the Magnolia, Ballard, and Queen Anne residents who don’t want RVs parked in their upper-crust neighborhoods are the same Magnolia, Ballard, and Queen Anne residents who object (strenuously) to tent cities, shower facilities, public restrooms, and other amenities for the homeless in their neighborhoods. The bottom line is that, as much as they protest that, as one speaker put it, “I’m most concerned about the homeless,” they don’t want the homeless, and the messiness that comes with them, in their backyards. They’d much prefer that someone else–someone, usually, on the other side of the Ship Canal–have to look at the problem.
TL;DR? I Storified my livetweets of the meeting here.