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caption: Fatal shootings increased 44% in King County so far this year. Last Friday a coalition called for more funding and urgency to address gun violence.
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Fatal shootings increased 44% in King County so far this year. Last Friday a coalition called for more funding and urgency to address gun violence.
Credit: KUOW/Amy Radil

As fatal shootings spike in King County, community groups plead for urgency

Friday afternoon on Rainier Avenue South near Franklin High School, a group of mourners lined up to view a gray casket as traffic whizzed by. It was a mock funeral with a serious message: gun violence has increased in Seattle and King County this year, and many of the victims are Black and brown teenagers.

A coalition of groups seeking to support youth and prevent gun violence titled the event, “Who’s Next? We Want To Live.” When the lid was lifted on a casket, it revealed a silhouette drawing, with a question mark over the face.

Sean Goode, executive director of the group Choose 180, delivered an opening prayer with hopes that such caskets remain empty.

“Empty without body because we have more young people like those that are present today -- full, healthy, whole, walking out their purpose, and not being stigmatized as a problem," he said.

Choose 180 -- and other organizations making up the Regional Approach Method (RAM) Collective -- offer programs to mentor youth and keep them out of the court system. They say there needs to be more urgency to address the 44% increase in fatal shootings in the first six months of this year in King County, compared to the average over the past three years. The vast majority of victims were males and people of color, and more than 40% were under age 25.

RELATED: Seattle area en route to see record number of shootings in 2020

“At the beginning of August, we literally had more homicides than we did all of last year and we’ve still got five months to go," said Derrick Wheeler-Smith, who heads King County’s Zero Youth Detention project. "We recognize that there’s two pandemics happening right now.”

But Wheeler-Smith said only the coronavirus pandemic is getting adequate funding and attention.

Dominique Davis is the founder of Community Passageways, which works with at-risk and incarcerated youth. He said he was disappointed by Mayor Durkan’s recent veto of millions of dollars intended to create outreach “hubs” in neighborhoods affected by gun violence.

“We want that funding to go into the community so we can go out and start being proactive, and then it’ll start slowing down these shootings because these young people will have the necessities they need in order to be successful,” he said.

The mayor said the city already has a budget shortfall.

Davis is hoping the council will override the veto and increase funding for intervention programs like Deep Dive, which supports people at risk of being victims or participants in gun violence with "wraparound social services," according to the King County Prosecutor's office.

caption: DeShaun Nabors said he's benefitting from the Deep Dive program offered through Community Passageways.
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DeShaun Nabors said he's benefitting from the Deep Dive program offered through Community Passageways.
Credit: KUOW/Amy Radil

DeShaun Nabors is taking part in the Deep Dive program. He said they have a curriculum, homework, and frequent Zoom meetings.

“These guys, they help me think about my actions more now, thinking about the way I react to things and my perception of what I want out of life, rather than choosing the wrong path,” he said.

Marty Jackson stood watching Friday’s event with a group of teenagers, members of a youth action team with Rainier Vista Boys and Girls Club; they also belong to the NAACP Youth Council. She said this is far from a one-time event for them. They were headed straight to the Safeway in Rainier Beach, where they’ve been offering food and a community healing space twice a month since two men were shot and killed there in May.

“Our young people you see will be running a peace circle,” Jackson said. “They run it in the parking lot with whoever wants to come and join. Right near the two memorials that were set there.”

King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said his office already works closely with the groups that seek to divert people from the court system, and he’ll support more funding for them in the next budget.

RELATED: Gun sales surge to record levels in first half of 2020

“I’ll be pushing to invest in the community so young people on their first brush with the law can go be surrounded by community members who care about them, and credible messengers,” Satterberg said.

“Our general fund is facing a $150 million shortfall so we’re going to be taking cuts. But at the same time there’s going to be pressure to invest more money in community solutions so it’s going to be hard,” he said. “I think we’re going to work hard to keep the jail population down, and I’m going to work hard to divert cases when I can to community groups. That’s why we need to build capacity for those groups.”

Satterberg said he wants to “reimagine” rather than “defund” the police. Others at Friday’s event said they think existing law enforcement funding should be redirected to their efforts.

Friday’s funeral program included a dedication, "to all who lost their lives to gun violence," adding, we owe it to you "to do more."