(Though the live event is over, it’s archived already, so you can replay it above)
6:44 PM: Click “play” and that should get you into the Seattle Channel live stream of an event that just started in the auditorium at Chief Sealth International High School right now – Mayor Jenny Durkan hosting a town hall on the topic “Students Stopping Gun Violence.” We’ll be chronicling it as it goes, and will substitute archived video when it’s over.
West Seattle/South Park school-board director Leslie Harris opened the town hall – she is president of the board, which passed a gun-violence resolution unanimously last week. (She is also parent of a Chief Sealth IHS graduate, as she noted.) She introduced TV journalist Natalie Brand and radio veteran Ross Reynolds, who are moderating the event. “This violence has to stop,” Harris declared in closing. The moderators note that they are using an interactive platform for this, and you can access it – pigeonhole.at – enter passcode ENDGUNVIOLENCE. Panelists along with Mayor Durkan include a principal, a student, a gun-violence researcher, and a leader from the Duwamish Valley Youth Corps.
Also introduced as being in the audience are dignitaries including City Councilmember Lisa Herbold, County Councilmember Joe McDermott, SPS superintendent Dr. Larry Nyland. SPD Chief Carmen Best is here too (below with Harris).
First question seeks elaboration on the SPS gun-violence resolution. Harris says it also underscores the importance of services for students. Second, “will Seattle be taking an interest in preventive legislation as well as retroactive legislation?” Durkan says, “We will do what we can and will continue to press Olympia to give us power to protect our communities.” She adds, “I personally believe we need an assault-weapons ban.” And she mentions those killed in shootings that are suicide or accidents, and that she wants to address that too. She asks the student on the panel for his thoughts; gun availability is a key issue, Rainier Beach HS student Gregory Pleasant says.
“If I leave my house every day and I feel like if I don’t have a gun on me, I can’t walk back out that door, that’s going to change the way I live.” The mayor asks about his T-shirt, which reads WHO’S NEXT? That question can apply to positive answers as well as negative, he said.
75 percent of gun deaths in our state are suicides, says the academic, Dr. Frederick Rivara. Proper storage of guns could make a difference. The mayor piggybacks on that by raising the issue of gun theft. She also brings up 16-year-old Dallas Esparza, recently killed in a shooting in South Park. The youth of SP are frightened, says Carmen Martinez of the Duwamish Valley Youth Corps.
Education about the danger of guns is important – people have the right to bear arms, but need to do so responsibly, she says.
6:58 PM: Einstein Middle School principal Nyla Fritz speaks next. She speaks to the youth in the crowd and says she is sorry – sorry that adults have feeling them. Her brother was shot to death at school more than 20 years ago. She also says there are things “all schools can do” to be safer. It’s not all about the security measures or “arming teachers” – “safety and security are two different things; I really worry about some of the language I’m hearing.” Access to guns needs to be looked at, she said.
Next question: Some say “guns don’t kill people, people kill people. How is the mental health component of gun violence being addressed?” Dr. Rivara says that mental illness factors into only a tiny fraction of incidents. The mayor brings up “extreme risk protection orders” that can be used to take guns from those who might be a risk to themselves and/or others. Almost all the referrals so far come from law enforcement, but can come from family members and others, Durkan said. She also lauds community organizations for “disrupting violence” in neighborhoods: “How do we empower those organizations” and youth? She again brings up assault rifles, calling them “weapons of war that have no business being in civilian hands.”
She gets the next question – “what is Seattle doing to help prevent gun violence locally?” She brings up the voting-rights legislation recently passed, telling 16-17-year-olds they will be pre-registered so they can vote when they turn 18, and urging them to stand up – which they do. She says other laws will be looked at, and says money from the city’s ammunition tax will be used for research. She will ask City Councilmembers to dedicate $100,000 every year to learn about victims when they arrive at the hospital – because it often won’t be their first time.
7:10 PM: Next question is from a student who says he was involved in a threat situation and didn’t know how to handle it – “how will we be taught better in the future?” Principal Fritz says it’s important for teachers and parents to send the message that “there is no joke” in these situations – they have to be reported. The student panelist says most people he knows wouldn’t say anything, because they wouldn’t take it seriously. Martinez from South Park says more mentorship is needed. She also says it’s important to be aware that if there’s a shooting, there might be retaliation. She shouts out to an ally in SPD – Lt. Adrian Diaz (who is here, offstage).
The student panelist says a lack of opportunity is a big problem. The mayor agrees, adding that “decades of systemic racism” also factor into violence. The principal says having mental-health professionals present on campus is important too. But “schools can’t do it all – we need our lawmakers, we need our community members to (tell) our lawmakers, we want change.” She says it’s “shameful” that some laws are having to go through the initiative process because lawmakers wouldn’t vote on them. She says the young future voters need to be sure the elected officials are aware they’re watching too.
The mayor says she’s glad that youth are going to march (March 24th) and walk out of their classes (March 14th). She again brings up an assault-weapons ban, saying “our lawmakers need to change the law.”
Next question: What kind of outreach is the city doing to marginalized communities affected by gun violence? Durkan says over the past 4 to 6 years “the city was going the wrong way,” with a “top-down” approach. She names communities, first mentioning White Center – then saying “White Center’s not in our city, yet” (a reference to the long-drawn-out potential-annexation process) – and going on to say “youth respond best if they are supported and led by their communities.” The student panelist says simple things like making sure students don’t go hungry will help.
Next question: “The NRA spends $17 million in schools to teach kids to use guns. Does any school district have plans to teach the true facts of gun violence and the history of the 2nd Amendment?” Fritz says the 2nd Amendment, yes. The rest of it, only by some “courageous educators,” she says. “We’re at a place in our world where we’re telling educators ‘don’t get political,’ but we’re politicizing everything about our kids and the world they’re in.” She urges students to ask questions in their classes.
Dr. Rivara says that people are taught how to handle guns but not that simply having one is a threat to their life; the student panelist agrees.
What policies are effective at reducing gun violence and which policies are making it worse? Universal background checks will make a difference, he says. The extreme-risk protection orders too. Allowing gun purchases at 18 makes it worse, he added.
Next question: “How as students who can’t vote yet can we make change and what can our city government do to support, sponsor, and defend students’ opinions?” Mayor Durkan says, this event is an example. She also urges sustaining the energy, and lauds the students – “You have changed the dialogue … and I am so thankful that you have. … Make sure you hold adults accountable.” Martinez says the city is working to get more resources for youth but those resources have to be taken advantage of when they’re available. “And you have to learn that the hardest thing you’re going to say in your life is ‘no’. … I don’t want to attend another funeral any time soon. I went to Dallas’s and cried my eyes out.”
Question: “Your scholars do not understand how and when to report about their peers. Parents don’t know how SPD handles violent threats. How are you improving this lack of education?” The mayor acknowledges that “red flags” have been ignored in the past. And: The strongest influence on teenagers is their friends/peers. Think about “how do you make it uncool to have a gun” so that instead of it impressing people, it evokes “man, that’s stupid.” Principal Fritz adds that there needs to be more talk about suicide, including survivors of suicide attempts saying they’re glad they survived – but when a gun is involved, there’s a much smaller chance of surviving. Know the warning signs, she urged. (See them here.)
7:45 PM: The student invites the mayor to a Youth For Peace event coming up. And this is now wrapping up, with Reynolds mentioning that the panelists will be around, as will the others mentioned earlier (and there’s a mention that Councilmember Lorena González is here as well as those listed previously).
We’ll substitute archived video from the Seattle Channel feed above as soon as it’s available, and will add photos when we get back to HQ.
8:57 PM: Photos added as well as all panelists’ names. The embedded video also now plays back what was streamed via YouTube.