Georgetown Sobering Center Canceled, Sound Transit’s Tone-Deaf Fare Enforcement Tweet, and Seattle Times Loses Another African American Writer

In keeping with how quickly news piles up the moment after Labor Day ends, here are a few quick-hit items—in two parts!—from City Hall and beyond.

Round 2, non-City Hall edition:

1. An overnight sobering center, which was supposed to relocate from downtown Seattle to the Georgetown neighborhood this summer, will not open as planned. Neighborhood residents filed a lawsuit to stop the center in June, alleging that the city had filed to do an environmental review of the site or consider impacts on the small neighborhood before approving a permit for Community Psychiatric Clinic to purchase the site. (CPC planned to run the center through a contract with King County).

“Aspects of the Georgetown Neighborhood that make it especially unsuitable for the new facility include lack of supportive services and public transportation, a burgeoning homeless and RV population, pollution, and a proliferation of bars and entertainment venue,” the lawsuit said.

Since then, CPC has merged with Sound, another local mental health-care provider, and withdrawn plans to build the sobering center on the site. Currently, King County has not identified a new location for the center, which was designed to take pressure off local emergency rooms and serve as a place for people experiencing homelessness to sober up under supervision in case any medical emergencies do arise.

2. Sound Transit’s social media manager blew up local Twitter today when the agency’s official account responded to a tweet by local activist and teacher Jesse Hagopian about fare enforcement officers hassling students on the first day of school.

Sound Transit responded in probably the worst way possible, by responding that if the kids in the photo are “like my kids,” the fare enforcement officers probably “gave them a one-day paper ORCA card that covers today. It’s good to remind folks how the system works. And officers have discretion to issue warnings instead of fines.”

This tone-deaf response set off a firestorm of criticism that had Sound Transit listed as the top trending topic on local Twitter for most of the day. Among other things, people pointed out that the author’s kids probably aren’t “like” the kids in the photo, in that they’re probably white kids who are far less likely (statistically speaking) to be hassled by fare enforcement officers. An audit last year found that King County Metro’s fare enforcement policies disproportionately impacted low-income people and people of color, and that most people who failed to pay fare did so because they couldn’t afford the fare.

At the time, Sound Transit board members raised concerns about Sound Transit’s more punitive approach, which can result in a criminal record, but the agency defended the practice. Board member Claudia Balducci, who represents Bellevue on the King County Council, says, “I really think kids riding our trains and taking our buses are the future riders of the system, and we should be doing everything possible to make them into future riders. .. What the audit says is that we should focus on making it possible for people to ride… and that’s not what’s happening.”

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3. Marcus Harrison Green, the founder of the South Seattle Emerald who was hired as a South King County reporter for the Seattle Times last year, has left the Times. He is the third African American writer (along with former homelessness reporter Vernal Coleman, who left for a job in Boston, and former columnist Tyrone Beeson, who took a position in LA) to leave the Times editorial department in the last year. The Times has historically had trouble retaining African American writers (and people of color in general—two other staffers of color, Mohammed Kloub and Jennifer Luxton, also left this year).

Earlier this year, white columnist Nicole Brodeur was demoted to general-assignment reporter after asking a black woman who was interviewing her for a school assignment if she could touch her hair; the incident came after Broduer wrote several racially insensitive columns, including one suggesting that African American parents should stop letting their kids “run[…] wild” and another saying Columbia City had been a dangerous “pass-through” zone until white businesses moved in.

 

3 thoughts on “Georgetown Sobering Center Canceled, Sound Transit’s Tone-Deaf Fare Enforcement Tweet, and Seattle Times Loses Another African American Writer”

  1. For some context, I am a supporter who donates monthly over $10 a month and have for some time. The below disagreement does not change my intention to continue to give. Erica is my favorite journalist in Seattle and does a lot of great work.

    However..

    “An audit last year found that King County Metro fare enforcement officers disproportionately targeted and ticketed people of color”.

    From what I can tell, this is a misportrayal of what the report states.

    Yes, the report states that “The majority of this group [people who received penalties for fare infractions] are people of color.” Given the history of slavery, past and persistent racism in society and wealth and income inequalities, I imagine the ridership of the metro itself is disproportionately people of color and that those committee fare infractions are disproportionately people of color. I am not seeing that evidence that “fare enforcement officers disproportionately targeted and ticketed people of color”.

    This is a really important point. There are certainly racial problems and biases in our society which need to be addressed. However, carelessly assuming that an inequality of outcomes simply equates to bias may locate the problem in the wrong location and turns of many allies.

    1. I’ve clarified the post to note that the issues outlined in the audit, which did in fact find that fare enforcement has a disproportionate impact on low-income people and people of color, were about the policy and system rather than individual officers. The audit goes into this in quite some detail, and concludes that the issue isn’t just that more people of color ride buses, but that enforcement was inequitably distributed on certain lines with higher fare nonpayment, compounding the problem.

      1. Thank you for the prompt and careful reply and nuance on this issue. I agree that there is clearly room for improvement with Metro and that the twitter reply was tone-deaf at best. Thank you for your reporting on this issue.

        I tend to think that when we see an inequality of outcomes, especially for historically marginalized groups, that this is an important thing to pay attention to and consider the roots of. However, I see a lot of well meaning people assuming too readily a simple explanation for such observations.

        Thanks

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