Are we “damn lucky” crime isn’t worse?
July 14, 2021
The global pandemic was a gut punch to our rapidly growing regional economy, with the greatest costs of the slowdown landing on the backs of low-income workers and communities of color. This coincided with a rapid spike in violent crime, vandalism, and people in crisis.
We are recovering, but in order to get the economy back on solid footing, we need Seattle small businesses, tourists, and neighborhoods to feel safe getting back into the city.
There are two big problems the city needs to address ASAP to ensure economic recovery for all:
- People in crisis
“The onus is almost always on the small business owner and the ground-floor tenant to deal with these issues when it’s a much bigger problem than any one of us can handle individually,” said small business owner Yasuaki Saito. By failing to provide adequate responses to people in crisis, the city is effectively outsourcing their crisis response to the ground-level residents who are disproportionately small business owners and persons of color. This decreases the safety of their patrons and adds to their costs and risks.
“But, on the level that it’s happening across the country or violent crime, we’re damn lucky, and we need to do a better job getting that word out.” So says Pamela Banks, the city’s recovery and equitable investments lead. Seattle had a record number of shootings last year. This year, we’re on pace to break that record. Is that “damn lucky”? Vandalism and theft have been on the rise for several years, primarily impacting those small businesses that have little margin for loss. Should they feel “damn lucky”? The lack of concern for those who are paying the price for the city’s failure to secure basic public safety must end. Employers, workers, tourists, and patrons alike don’t care how Seattle relatively ranks on public safety. They experience the lack of safety every day. The city must respond or lose out on the recovery.
Seattle Times columnist Jon Talton recently wrote about the infamous billboard from the 70’s advising the last person leaving Seattle to “turn out the lights.” He noted the differences facing Seattle’s recovery now versus in the 70s.
But Seattle’s comeback is complicated by factors that not all cities face. Riots and looting that tainted peaceful protests over a police officer’s murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis were especially harmful to small business here. Crime is rising. Homelessness and encampments are out of control despite hundreds of millions being spent on the problem.
Unlike nearly any other city, our “activist”-heavy City Council majority is hostile to business, especially to Amazon, Seattle’s largest private-sector employer.
This is a huge problem when it comes to public safety because there is little an employer can do when the city has abdicated its responsibility to serve those in crisis and, at the very least, respond to reports of crime in a timely way. We cannot expect businesses to carry the burden of managing crises and crime while trying to return from a backbreaking pandemic.
Seattle needs a plan for public safety or our recovery will falter for those who need it most.