“Down these streets the fools rule
There’s no freedom or self respect,
A knife’s point or a trip to the joint
Is about all you can expect.”
-Bob Dylan, Band of the Hand
Last night less than a mile from my apartment a 51 year old Randy Kaskin stopped at a check cashing place. He was giving his wife’s caregiver a ride to cash a check. They got out of the car and were approached by a woman who asked for a ride. They refused, went in to cash the check, but were unable to. When they came out, the girl again asked for a ride but this time she had two men with her. This time she also asked for money. They again refused and got into thier car. One of the other men also got into his car. A fight insued ending with the other man shooting the driver in the head. He then pistol whipped the caregiver until she got out of the car and the three left her and Randy Kaskin’s body in the street, driving off into the night in a red Mitsubishi. The car was found a few hours later in a South Tacoma neighborhood.
This happened at the intersection of Sprague and Division. Across the street from the check-cashing place is Jason Lee Middle School. Within a mile of this spot there have been other murders, police shootings, robberies, and muggings. That particular intersection has not been considered ‘safe’ in my adult life.
Tacoma street murders like this are not uncommon and they are rarely solved. I once asked a Tacoma homicide detective about the murder of a friend that had been shot by a man trying to steal his car. The man replied with more expletives than a Tarantino movie and said “Christ, the only f*cking person who isn’t a godd*mn suspect in that sh*tty neighborhood is the f*cking vic.” Needless to say his murder was never solved.
In the early 90’s, when gang shootings were so rampant that I had a side hobby of collecting shell casings, the Tacoma Police Department formed an anti-gangs unit to deal with the problem. Crime on the Hilltop and all around Tacoma dropped. In response to this, the Tacoma Police Department disbanded the unit. Since then, gangs have increased along with violent crime. Evidently the bean counters do not understand that a good police force is pro-active rather than reactive. Disbanding the anti-gang unit because crime is down is a lot like not wearing a seatbelt anymore because you haven’t been in an accident lately.
The thing I have learned in my lifetime in Tacoma is that the police will not save you. Not in this city and likely not anywhere. Given some luck and an absolutely stupid criminal they may solve whatever crime you are the victim of, but do not expect them to make dangerous streets safer.
When I worked in police records in Tacoma I had the chance to test a theory of mine. The theory was that in every crime there was at least one stupid person. It became a game. Every report I tracked down, I tried to ‘find the stupid one’. Whether it was a victim who left the keys to his car in the ignition or the criminal who robbed the place he was fired from the day before, there was always someone doing something stupid.
As a citizen living in Tacoma you can’t really protect yourself from a stupid criminal. Because a stupid criminal will shoot you in front of witnesses. He will not listen to reason. He will make too much noise when he steals from you. He will for lack of a better word, be stupid.
What you can do is try your best to not do anything stupid because criminals are watching. If you walk down a dark alley alone, if you leave your car windows open at night, if you cash a check in the middle of the night, or walk through a park alone, you can’t call it unexpected when something bad happens to you.
Let me be clear here. I am not blaming the victim for the crime and in a better world, you’d be able to leave your windows open and walk in the park whenever you like. What I’m saying is that the number one thing that helps criminals commit crimes is creating an opportunity to commit them.
Having said all this, I’d also like to say that I still do not believe Tacoma is a bad city. Yes, bad things happen here all the time, but they happen in your city too. Much more often than you likely think they do. That’s the nature of a city. Miracles and tragedies happen all around you and if you stick around long enough, you’ll encounter them both. The trick is to remember the miracles during the tragedies.