Living on the Ave - above the crime

Every night, I sit at my apartment window like Jimmy Stewart in "Rear Window," watching the drama unfold on the mean streets three floors down.

Situated off the southwest corner of Northeast 47th Street and University Way Northeast (the Ave), I have a bird's-eye view of the swath of land spreading out - from the Chevron to the northwest to the Safeway beyond, to the Bank of America directly across from my apartment and then up the street to Earl's and, if I crane my neck, to the intersection crossing over to Tully's on the northeast corner.

Every night I hear the heat closing in, see them out there pacing their connection corners, waiting for their man. They toss needles and droppers into the overflowing garbage cans in front of the bank.

Junkies have infinite patience, the ugly flip side of our consumer culture. Meth, heroin, pot, pills - it's all out my window for the taking.

Even if I'm pretty laissez-faire when it comes to drugs, I'm not so rosy-eyed as to think the culture of drugs is something harmless. It's not a life to romanticize, and the harsher side of it is downright vicious - a cycle of need and glut that wreaks endless damage on a neighborhood.

The University District, especially that stretch from Northeast 42nd to 50th streets, has become one of the toughest, grittiest, most violent neighborhoods in the city.

So tough that a few weeks back they called in the cavalry and set two officers on horseback right at the corner of 47th and University Way. You should have seen the change - an eye-blink, and the streets were clear.

But that sort of ostentation doesn't hold, especially when the biggest problems occur as night. Tommy's, the bar a few storefronts south of the corner, on the west side of the Ave, holds an occasional hip-hop night, and that's when trouble tends to hit the fan.

The neighborhood becomes choked with chassis-jacked SUVs glittering with chrome and literally shaking the building with megawatts of bass blaring from inside. It goes on all night: loud music, arguments, fireworks, a kind of Mardi Gras-turn-urban riot atmosphere that carries an undeniable vibe of violence and macho.

I can't count the number of times I've called the police, but I sure as hell could count the number of times they've responded.

I've been awakened in the middle of the night by what appeared to be a racially motivated drug deal gone bad, dudes wielding bats and hollering "I've been stabbed!" ("But did you see the knife?" the controller asks over the phone.)

I've heard gunshots, women screaming. After awhile you just stop looking out the window, stop dialing 911. "Let them eat each other alive," I think in resignation.

Of course, I don't really feel like this; such disgust is only a few steps removed from arming one's self to the teeth and declaring class warfare. But something needs to be done.

The Seattle Police Department had the right idea with the horses. A routine of walking patrols, beat cops making themselves seen, would go a long way toward eliminating the atmosphere of anarchy and physical threat that so often suffuses my neighborhood.

It's about presence, and right now the presence I see dominating the neighborhood is criminal.

The first step in the University District is to admit we have a gargantuan problem - that minus a continuous police presence, drug dealers and gang members are controlling the streets.

Homelessness among youths has gotten utterly out of hand on the stretch of the Ave between North 45th and 47th streets.

Another thing that can be done is to put some muscle on the local bars - especially Earl's and Tommy's - having them agree to be better neighbors and regulate their clientele. As it stands, closing time at both bars empties an often-belligerent and loud clutch of drunken folk onto the Ave, where they fight, yell and drive away, leaving a squealing patch of rubber up and down the street.

Ultimately, the University District's problems are economic: a long strain on the local businesses as a patchwork community that lacks a cohesive vision of itself. It's dog-eat-dog out there, everyone fighting for the bottom line. When this happens, a place falls victim to the people who come into the neighborhood to play and then leave, while those who actually live there feel disassociated and confused.

We've become Seattle's little Las Vegas for anyone looking for a good time or a little trickle down, and that's a reputation that's hard to break.

Rick Levin, a longtime resident of the University District, is editor of Magnolia News, an associate publication of the Herald-Outlook. He can be reached at

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