Getting to know 'them'

"Hey, people, I need to sleep! I pay rent. I work. Get the hell away from here. Go! Leave now!"

It took yelling those words at 3ish a.m. on April 26 in my pajamas through the front window to four people who had been smoking crack in the private entranceway of the apartment building where I live, to get them to leave.

I live in the East Precinct on 20th Avenue, between Madison and John, about a block away from the notorious Deano's bar and grocery. I ask chronic crack addicts and homeless people about four times a week to leave our front entrance, and they usually do.

On the morning of the 26th, they didn't. I eventually called 911, but of course it wasn't a high priority call, so it took a while for the police to get here. In the meantime, the addicts sauntered over to the window where they could see a glowing light emanating through my blinds and proceeded to talk in real loud voices. Sometimes, yelling at them is what it takes.

But then, I don't know their names. And they don't know mine.

Later in the day, I attended the first-ever Citywide Neighborhood Crime Summit and Public Hearing, spearheaded by Councilmember Nick Licata. It began at 5:30 p.m. and lasted for a nice, long four hours. A tremendously bored yet attentive City Council listened to testimony from citizens of the five police precincts that cover Seattle.

Before testimony, each precinct split up for a 30-minute 'break-out session,' during which we frequently broke out into loud arguments. At one point, the West Precinct's 'break out session' almost broke out into a fistfight, with lots of distracting yelling and what looked like the beginnings of a mash.

Our precinct argued about the difference between violent crime, property crime and nuisance crime. We argued about whether we needed more police protection and about whether police brutality was a problem. One volunteer who testified argued that drugs weren't the problem, it was the fact that they were illegal. Which might be so, but for all practical purposes we're not going to open up any red-light district in the near (or far, for that matter) future, especially with the currant administration.

The bickering was a constant, with Stephanie Tschida, our Crime Coalition Advisory Chair (a volunteer position I might add), and police Lt. John Hayes working hard to include everybody's ideas and keep it diplomatic.

I had a shift in perspective that night. Maybe this 'us and them' attitude is part of the problem - it bleeds into every issue: us law abiding citizens between them crack addicts, us innocent civilians against them mean cops, us active neighbors against them active neighbors.

Crime summit fiasco it wasn't, but a problem-oriented bitch session it was. Three days later, on Saturday morning at 9:30 a.m., I saw many of the same faces from the summit meeting at the first official MADCAP neighborhood cleanup and barbecue, organized by community member Jon VandeMoortel, to continue facilitating a sense of community and to strive to be as regularly visible as the chronic addicts who hang out on private property.

MADCAP scheduled its gathering to coincide with the city's quarterly spring Adopt a Street program's city-wide neighborhood cleanup, and is a new crop-up of a string of neighborhood groups that have worked for years to find solutions to the 'them' problem in the East Precinct.

During the cleanup, long-time resident Andrew Taylor walked me around, filling me in on the history of what people have tried in the past. "A lot of this has been done before," he said.

With Lt. John Hayes, whose face is familiar and even welcome among the chronic drug users, I took a stroll through Deano's and down the alley behind.

"You stay safe," Hayes said to one inebriated man on the sidewalk of 21st.

"You stay safer," he smiled and replied.

More than 20 neighbors showed up, including a few of 'them' for the barbecue. Marla, a nurse practitioner who lives in the townhouses across from my apartment building, walked over to Deano's and brought back a man who said he was a guitar player from Louisiana. He was very pleased to receive a plate of food.

A few people I ask on a regular basis to leave our private entryway showed up, too. I learned their names.

A thin wisp of a woman named Vivian, who was high as a kite and gobbling a huge plate of food, admitted she had 'relapsed.' Another named Lisa helped herself to a lot of food and with Marla's help, took a plate over to an old man sitting in a chair in the lot behind Deano's.

I noticed many of 'them' knew Steve Sehrock; he's the same guy who hangs around with 'us'. He's the manager of the apartment complex I live in and the only guy in our building who actually goes out and talks to 'them.' They smiled and waved and addressed each other by name.

I understand that MADCAP is not the first community group to connect neighbor to neighbor. The difference might be that the definition of neighbor includes some of 'them'.

I don't profess to have all the answers, but maybe if we continue to work with people like Jon VandeMoortel, Andrew Taylor, Steve Sehrock, Marla, Vivian, Lisa and Lt. John Hayes of the East Precinct, we'll continue to see improvement in the relationship between us and them. Maybe then, at 3 in the morning, I wouldn't have to wait for the negative energy, adrenalin and fear to dissipate from yelling at people whose names I don't even know.

Freelance writer Bronwyn Doyle can be reached at editor@

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