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King County launches new coalition to combat escalating gun violence

caption: Aaron Knox, center, with the YMCA's Alive & Free program, demonstrates how to use a firearm lockbox at the June 4, 2021 kickoff of King County's Regional Peacekeepers Collective in Skyway.
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Aaron Knox, center, with the YMCA's Alive & Free program, demonstrates how to use a firearm lockbox at the June 4, 2021 kickoff of King County's Regional Peacekeepers Collective in Skyway.
KUOW/Amy Radil

Gun homicides are up 36% in King County this year, compared to the previous four-year average. The victims are overwhelmingly young Black and brown men.

King County is launching what supporters hope will become a comprehensive, long-term effort to address these alarming trends.

For its kickoff, members of the Regional Peacekeepers Collective wore bright orange t-shirts reading ‘Don’t shoot.’ They gave away lockboxes for safe gun storage in a parking lot in Skyway that has seen shootings in the past.

Alfred White, a licensed mental health therapist, said he took one of the lockboxes to pass on to a client of his who needs it.

“This is just a safety precaution. We’ve got to do something to stop gun violence because nobody else is,” he said.

The Collective brings together King County’s Zero Youth Detention office with multiple nonprofits including Alive & Free, Choose180, Community Passageways, RISE, the Freedom Project, Progress Pushers, and Renegades for Life Youth Outreach as part of a $1.1 million pilot project focused on three areas: intervention after gun violence incidents, prevention, and restoration.

“All of us are surrendering those identities for the sake of the collective ‘us.’” said Sean Goode, the founder of the organization Choose 180, of the new coalition. “We can not only meet the needs of young people in their most urgent moments, but we can be present along the way to meet their siblings’ needs, meet their parents’ needs…so we can stop the spread of this disease of violence.”

Backers of the initiative say they hope this will be different from previous efforts in its longevity, as well as its ability to cross city boundaries: the collective will work in Seattle, Kent, Federal Way, Auburn, Tukwila, and Renton.

Adrian Diaz, the interim chief at the Seattle Police Department, came to express his support and said a long-term commitment is essential.

“We find ourselves investing in programs and then as soon as the violence goes down we take that money back and that just can’t happen now,” Diaz said. He added that Seattle has had 172 shootings so far this year, 68 of those occurring in the city’s South Precinct.

The Collective’s program director Willard Jimerson said the effort will also include two position based at Harborview Medical Center, where 75% of King County’s gun violence victims are treated.

“We’ll have community folks working in that space to provide bedside support and restoration to those young folks and families who, unfortunately, will come through that particular vehicle,” Jimerson said.

He said the Collective will review shootings on a biweekly basis through a partnership with the King County Prosecutor’s office.

“We look at all the shots that are fired in Seattle and throughout King County and how we can access services and supports for folks in those particular areas,” he said, “and then we pay attention to hotspot mapping.”

In places where confrontations are occurring, Jimerson said his members will try to disrupt the cycle with something called “positive loitering.” He said, “that means we’re going to go in and change the complexion and some of the energy, by bringing the resources, the support, the love that is needed for those impacted communities.”

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