Live in fear of senseless violence? Get on the blame bus. Get off wherever you want
With the shooting of the driver of Metro’s route 27 at Third and Union and the subsequent killing of the shooter by police two blocks away, it is time to reassess our threats to safety, as we do whenever something scary happens.
We did this in 1998 when Silas Garfield Cool shot a passenger and the driver on a 359 Express, and then shot himself, and the bus went off the Aurora bridge and fell 50 feet injuring 32 more people. We reassessed our threats. It was known that Cool had frequented a meal program that served homeless people. Homeless people were the threat. Because homeless people regularly got on the 359 Express in the downtown Ride Free Area, and then tried to exit outside of downtown without paying, therefore the Ride Free Area was also the threat.
It turned out that Cool was not homeless. He had been living in the same apartment for 13 years. The bus he was on was southbound heading toward downtown, so the Ride Free Area had no bearing on the incident. But it didn’t matter because initial impressions in the heat of fear are what people latch onto. Years later when people remember the event they remember it in these terms: Homeless guy. Gun. Ride Free. Aurora Bridge.
Associations attached to fear are so strong that they retired the number 359 for bus routes. For myself, I stopped using the word “cool” around that time, adopting the safer word “kewl” in its place, and I determined more than ever before to never read Silas Marner, because it has a character in it named “Silas.”
I got up just before 6 a.m. exactly five months ago and poked at the ‘puter and, as I was waiting for it to warm up, I heard gunfire. A few minutes later a friend who follows police bulletins obsessively reported online that a man had been shot in Pioneer Square about four blocks away from me. We later learned he was shot in the face by a man unknown to him. He was taken to Harborview; he survived being shot. That was a relief, but we still had to redo our threat assessment.
In that case the man who was shot was, it appeared, homeless so that was useless. Well, anyway he was shirtless when he was shot so likely had been sleeping on a sidewalk just before being shot, so maybe not congenitally homeless, but “homeless in the moment.” No, wait a minute, we didn’t know who shot him, so the shooter could be homeless. So we can still use that. Also, the shooting happened at 6 a.m. We can use that: Don’t be on the street at 6 a.m.
Especially don’t be homeless in the moment at 6 a.m. around what might be homeless people. Because that’s where this guy clearly went wrong.
Now this new shooting on the 27 requires us to again rethink what to be afraid of. Yesterday I was downtown and needed to get on a bus at Benaroya Hall, right where the bus driver was shot. So of course I was terrified. I wonder if they’ll retire that bus stop.
We can happily report that the shooter was almost certainly homeless this time, so we have that to be afraid of again. What else can we be afraid of?
Here we go: Jackpot! The shooter had himself been shot in the face five months earlier by an unknown assailant, probably after sleeping on a sidewalk.
So here’s how we can be safe. Avoid numbers 359, 27. Avoid the Third Avenue side of Benaroya Hall. Avoid homeless people who’ve previously been shot in the face by unknown assailants. They’re the trouble.
If we just do all that we’ll be fine, so we won’t ever have to fix what’s wrong with the system that causes homelessness, or face the fact that 99 percent of violent crime is committed by housed people who look just like us.
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