Seattle, Washington, is a city known for its beauty and ocean views. Its skyline is distinguished by the towering Space Needle and both locals and visitors flock to the public Pike Place Market overlooking the Elliott Bay waterfront.
But parts of the Emerald City have lost much of their sparkle and allure. A case in point is the King County courthouse in the downtown area. The legal and administrative building is close to social service centers and several homeless shelters. A make-shift tent city has sprouted in the small park near the town hall.
Assaults on about half a dozen courthouse employees have been reported in 2019. After two people assigned to jury duty were attacked outside the courthouse’s Third Avenue entrance in separate incidents, one in May and the other in June, prospective jurors started requesting exemptions from their democratic service, saying they feared for their safety.
Courthouse employees say they have been spat upon, slammed against a wall or punched.
During a meeting of the Metropolitan King County Council’s committee on government accountability and oversight, county sheriff John Urquhart and two County Superior Court judges – Laura Inveen and Jim Rogers – called on the county to take action against the rising crime and mounting human feces (scat, to be polite) that is piling up in streets and on sidewalks. Among other requests was one for a daily cleansing with a pressurized water hose of the sidewalks at Third Avenue and James Street that “reek of urine and excrement.”
Iveen acknowledged that cleaning and patrolling the area around the courthouse “would not address some of the deep-seated issues faced by denizens of the space, it would send a signal that somebody was paying attention.”
Sheriff Urquhart told the committee he could hire two deputies to patrol outside the courthouse for four to five hours several days a week for about $8,000 a month and advised quick action because:
“When you’re up to your keister in alligators, it’s not the time to drain the swamp.”
Councilmember Larry Gossett, a Democrat standing for re-election for a seventh term to the Metropolitan King County Council in the August primaries, voiced his opposition to the idea of using pressurized water hoses to cleanse Seattle’s downtown sidewalks, saying that power-washing “brought back images of the use of hoses against civil-rights activists.”
While it is true that civil rights protestors – both black and white – were pushed back by police in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963, power washers have been used quite innocently and without incident to clean sidewalks and buildings for decades. No one pulled the race card over these useful tools until now.
Kenneth Lang reacted by tweeting this logical extension:
“I guess the Seattle Fire Department will have to stop using hoses to put out fires then???”
Seattle Police Captain Mike Teeter said that although street people may act in ways that others find “uncomfortable,” they are often innocent of wrong-doing. Furthermore, Teeter claimed that the risk of personal assault is, in fact, slightly lower near the courthouse than in some other parts of the city.
Police are helpless to stop homeless crazies from standing on street corners and yelling at passers-by. One Seattle homeless resident named Mary Hendrickson said she wasn’t afraid of her compatriots who loiter and live near the courthouse. Calling them a “pretty docile group,” Hendrickson added:
“Sometimes there will be yelling and drinking but they’re not intimidating to me.”
Rianne Rubright, a bailiff for Superior Court Judge Sean O’Donnell, said that the area near the Yesler overpass takes pedestrians through streets full of temporary structures, open drug abuse, and harassment:
“There are a lot of feces on the streets – I walk over it every day.”
Judge O’Donnell credited the Parks and Recreation Department with continuous measures to clean up the park next to the courthouse. Food trucks and games have been effective in making the downtown area more appealing to visitors but the Prefontaine Fountain across the street is a problem because drug dealers and other transients gather there.
But the judge indicated that conditions in Seattle have become downright bestial:
“Broad daylight from the morning commute coming up from the trains and an employee is witnessing a graphic sex act occurring right on the sidewalk as everyone walks by. And you sort of shrug that off. But for this employee to have that burned into her eyes, you don’t unsee that. That’s sort of the atmosphere occurring as you try to get into the building.”
Caroline Whalen, King County’s Director of Executive Services, was joined by the facilities manager in promising committee members to ramp up power washing and garbage removal, effective immediately.