Tacoma Safe – if we are not safe, what are we?

By Morf Morford

Tacoma Daily Index

About 500 people gathered at the LeMay Car Museum in late January with one thought in mind – restoring a sense of safety in and around the business districts of Tacoma.

Tacoma is far from alone in this experience, and all too often with direct encounters with near continual threat of crime, harm or even murder.

There is no other more universal baseline than a sense of safety.

From being able to get a good night’s sleep to keeping the lights on in a local business, personal safety could not be more basic.

And, as we Tacoma natives know, safety has been an issue here for years – if not decades.

When it comes to crime, for those of us in Tacoma, our reputation precedes us.

If there is anything those from outside of Tacoma seem to know for sure about Tacoma it is our crime rate.

From The New York Times, to the county north of us, everyone seems to be an expert on crime in Tacoma.

How many of us know people form King County literally afraid to come to Tacoma?

I know several.

Crime, like love, only matters when it happens to you

Crime, like love, is really only known when you encounter it. Or when it encounters you.

In other words, crime is situational. Some areas are, statistically at least, safer than others.

Crime, of course, can, and does, happen anywhere.

Here, as with every city perhaps, we “tolerate” certain crimes in certain places.

But somehow, in the past couple years, some of the would-be criminals didn’t get the memo.

Crimes, ever more serious – even violent – began to creep out of the “allowed” areas and into parts of town where it became more visible – and more prevalent.

To see a crime “heat-map” of Tacoma, look here: https://crimegrade.org/safest-places-in-tacoma-wa/.

Or to look at crime another way, you can see it represented in a series of neighborhood profiles here: www.areavibes.com/tacoma-wa/safest-neighborhoods/.

If you know Tacoma at all, you won’t see many surprises there.

Causes and Solutions

The meeting at LeMay was, in a sense, an inversion, a semi-grass roots gathering where we, and the many elected officials present, heard stories of petty (and not-so-petty) crime draining the budgets and morale of entrepreneurs and business owners across the city.

Most of these speakers were angry – and resolved. They were determined to stay in Tacoma – and stick with their vision.

One guiding principle informed the discussion – there is no single cause, and no simple solution.

And, for whatever reason, all participants, from shop owners to police officers, seemed to agree that our landscape, when it came to safety, has changed dramatically in the past two or so years.

To restate the obvious, we’ve all been through a lot the last few years.

We have far fewer police on the street than ten or so years ago, far more weapons, far more powerful and addictive drugs, far more homeless people, far more people incarcerated and far less money to take care of those in ever more desperate need.

And at the same time, public standards of behavior and decorum, from school board meetings to international flights began to turn upside down.

Flash mobs, that just a few years ago were the opportunity to sing or support a struggling business, became the preferred format for robbing jewelry and hardware stores.

It would be easy to make the argument that we are all experiencing and responding (in our own ways) to a shared, but also isolating trauma.

Way back in 2014, the United States’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) published a landmark report titled “SAMHSA’s Concept of Trauma and Guidance for a Trauma-Informed Approach.”

Here’s how they defined trauma: “Individual trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being”.

From COVID to homelessness (even just seeing it on our streets) to economic swings that defy definition, we are all in the midst of trauma that we can barely even recognize as we are coping with the stresses and headlines of any given day.

Those homeless or in an abusive situation are even more at risk.

Drug use and crime increased, with fewer and fewer cultural or legal restraints, and we have found ourselves and our communities on the receiving end of a geometrically expanding accumulation of forces that seem to, at least for now, overwhelm us.

It takes a village

A phrase that came up at the meeting at LeMay was “It takes a village” – and it does.

It takes every one of us.

As one of the law enforcement representatives put it, crime is not police business, it’s our business.

Crime is not an abstraction – crime impacts our livelihoods, our mental health, our relationships, our personal safety and our sense of well-being in every area of our lives.

And we all have our place in this “village” we call home.

We need to make our voices heard at community meetings, city council sessions and much more.

As one elected official put it, if you are not in the room, your voice is not heard.

Tacoma Safe, like Safe Streets and a dozen other community organizations, is not THE solution, but it is a solid move in an essential direction.

Tacoma Safe is based on hearing every voice and is dedicated to holding public meetings in neighborhoods and business districts across Tacoma and inviting the people there to take part in organizing them.

The next community meetings are February 2, 11 a.m., at Spud’s Pizza Parlor and Trophy Room, 7025 Pacific Ave; Feb. 16, 10 a.m., at McDuff’s Café, Highlands Golf Course, at 1400 N. Highlands Pkwy.; and March 2, 6 p.m., in the Lincoln District at Vien Dong restaurant, 3801 S. Yakima Ave.

We are still living through a collective trauma; if we want to arrive at a place of hope, we must come together as a community to accept that we’re living through trauma, look toward the work of repair and take concrete steps toward a community and a common ground we all would like to share.