March 26, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 13

Director's Corner

The city we can have, but we need to work for it

By Timothy Harris , Executive Director

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It’s possible, what with all the recent crashing aircraft, deadly mudslides and rumblings of World War III in the Crimea, that Seattle’s Ides of March escaped your attention.

Saturday, March 15, could have been just another day. Jermain Defoe of Toronto was in top form, and the Sounders, plagued by midfield turnovers, lost 2-1. That’s soccer. You win some, you lose some, life goes on.

Nearly 40,000 fans left CenturyLink Field without major incident, pouring onto I-5 and into Pioneer Square, just as they have on many days before.

But it only takes a few to turn a good day bad. On this day, it took three.

The Occidental Park melee began when Mia Jarvinen, a senior finance manager at Amazon, allegedly became enraged at the sight of a homeless man sleeping at the Fallen Firefighters Memorial.

According to witnesses, she started yelling and throwing his food at him and kicking him from where he lay.

Several homeless bystanders attempted to intervene. This is when Jarvinen’s off-duty Seattle fireman friends, Scott Bullene and Robert Howell, allegedly jumped in. While the details are unclear, several homeless men were punched in the face and stomped while another was beaten with his own walking stick.

The trio, according to witnesses, then repaired to McCoy’s Firehouse Grill for a quick beer before returning to Occidental Park for more. At this point, Howell got himself stabbed a few times, and the whole sorry episode came to an end with the better-late-than-never arrival of the Seattle Police Department.

Howell told police he’d been the victim of an unprovoked attack by a black male in a hoodie. Numerous witnesses saw something different and stepped forward to say so. Jarvinen was arrested and eventually released on $20,000 bail. Her anger-prone fireman buddies are on administrative leave, pending investigation.

What are we to make of this? In what sort of universe do middle-class professionals, who really ought to know better, feel entitled to go all whoop-ass on homeless folks in broad daylight?

Allow me to speculate.

One in which the sight of utter misery provokes, for more than a few, more feelings of disgust than pity.

A universe in which the down- and-out and socially discarded are metaphorically kicked from here to the statehouse and back again, and have little reason to hope this will change anytime soon.

Where 3,123 people were counted outdoors and unsheltered in King County this past January between

2 and 5 a.m. after our 6,000-some shelter beds were filled for the night.

Where “compassion fatigue” seems like a reasonable response to four decades of growing inequality and institutionalized homelessness, and right-wing extremists like Sen. Paul Ryan masquerade as political centrists.

But this is what we know. Seattle, the city we love, is better than this. And Sounders fans, we all know, are better than this, too, and our firefighters, who are often the first responders to the street emergencies of the miserable class, are better than this as well.

In the darkness and light of social abandonment and redemption, there are many who choose hope and love over resignation and hate and can imagine a city where no one needs to sleep in a park, pee in an alley or shit in a doorway.

This is the city we can have, but we need to work for it.

On March 27, 5:30 p.m., in Occidental Park, Seattle will Stand for Compassion. We will come together as the caring city we know ourselves to be. And we will find ways to engage and act to become that to which we aspire. It will rain, on poor and prosperous alike, and we will all be in it together.

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