Monthly Archives: July 2006

Gangsta's Paradise

This morning the Tacoma City Council approved funding for a ‘gang unit’. This isn’t the first time Tacoma has had an unit focused on gangs. In the early 90s an anti-gang task force was created, but it was disbanded in the late 90s when gang crime went down. This is a lot like not wearing a bulletproof vest because you didn’t get shot last week. Needless to say, after the task force was disbanded, gang crime went up. Especially on the East Side.

East Side Tacoma has been mired in a gang war since December. There have been over 40 reported shootings and two murders in that area since then. Tacoma’s East Side is one of the poorest areas of the city. And in a lot of ways it’s ignored by most of the rest of the city.

That’s probably not going to change anytime soon. This gang unit’s focus isn’t so much the East Side as it is downtown (Thanks to the shootout last week) and the Ruston Way Waterfront (Thanks to a near-riot between rival gangs on the Fourth of July). The powers that be couldn’t care less if the East Side is reenacting my latest session on Grand Theft Auto, but they draw the line at violence on the waterfront. Actually that isn’t true. This isn’t a line. It’s more like a line in the sand, soon to be washed away.

The funding for this gang unit runs out at the end of the year and there’s no reason to think gang violence will be gone by then. However, it’ll be winter and there won’t be as many people on the waterfront.

The reason that gangs started turning up in Tacoma back in the early 90s in the first place was because place like Los Angeles started to crack down on gangs. What the Tacoma police department doesn’t seem to understand is that unless that crack down is permanent, it won’t work.

There are two kinds of police forces. One responds to crime. The other responds to crime and also tries to prevent crime from happening in the first place. Tacoma’s police force has never been proactive about its policing. This is why the crime rate is what it is in Tacoma.

The Gang Unit (which isn’t even a unit, it’s just approved overtime pay for officers already on the force) is a temporary fix to a permanent problem. It’s paying a phone bill and never expecting another bill.

Come December, the East Side will still be the city’s most dangerous area. Hopefully no one else has to die to prove to the city council that an anti-gang unit is a good idea.


Stupid Guy of the Week

When I worked in police records I used to play a little game I called ‘Spot The Stupid Person’. I’d transcribe the police report and while I was transcribing it, I’d try to figure out if it was the criminal, the victim or both who did something mindblowingly stupid. It was never very difficult. What was interesting was that every crime seemed to have at least one stupid action in it. Someone lets a stranger into their house at ten at night, a guy gets drunk and plays with a gun, someone leaves their car running to warm up outside. If you really want to stop crime, stop the stupidity.

If you were trying to find the stupid person last Friday night, you’d have wanted to be in downtown Tacoma outside a place called Club Friday. It’s an all-ages club near a couple of bars. 18-year-old Rhaczio Simms was one of a handful of gang members who got into a fight that turned into a shootout. There were over ten shots fired and when it was over Simms was dead on the ground and a sixteen-year-old girl who was trying to get to her car was wounded.

After questioning numerous witnesses to the shooting, the police had a name. This name was given out to all patrol officers on the next shift.

 The next night a police officer was on routine patrol in South Tacoma. He spotted a group of teenagers hanging out a little after midnight. There’s a curfew for anyone under 18 between the hours of midnight and 6am. He approached them and asked their names. A seventeen year old told the officer his name and the officer arrested him. And with that, the murder of Simms was closed.

Now let’s see if we can spot the stupid act. Was it

A) Firing a gun in front of a bunch of witnesses

B) Firing over ten shots and hitting your target only twice and hitting a bystander by mistake.

C) Telling a cop the day after you shot someone your real name

D) All of the above

If you answered D give yourself a prize and since all four acts were committed by the same person, I’m fairly certain we have found the Stupid Person. Congratulations sir, in addition to being a murderer who just might get tried as an adult, you’re our Stupid Person of The Week! Let’s hope our judges award you with a long prison sentence.


Hot Town Summer In The City

The Fourth of July brings to Tacoma one of the best fireworks displays in the country. From the right lawn on the North End, you can see not only Tacoma’s exceptional waterfront fireworks display, but in the distance you can see Seattle’s as well. It’s a time that brings thousands of people to my neighborhood and for the most part, it’s a fun experience.

While most of Tacoma was watching the fireworks display, thirty-one year old Jason Outler was doing that other great summer pastime in the Northwest; having drinks with friends at a bar. Outler had a job at the Harmon Brewing Company, a downtown bar in a building that once housed Harmon Mattress Factory. People say he was very friendly and a dedicated father to his young daughter. He had plans two move in with his fiancé soon. By all account Jason Outler was one of those guys that make Tacoma a good place.

Right around last call, Outler asked a stranger for a ride. The stranger agreed but asked to be paid. Outler got in the Crown Victoria. When they arrived at Outler’s home in the 3100 block of North 8th Street, the driver asked for more money than he originally did. What happened next isn’t entirely clear, but the situation escalated very quickly. Soon the two were fighting in the street. Neighbors called the police. The police were already on their way when the driver pulled out a pistol. It appears that Outler attempted to the leave the scene and was shot four times in the back and once in the head. The driver of the vehicle then drove off.

A day and a half later, Tacoma detectives contacted a family and said they needed to talk to a twenty-year-old who lived there. A few hours later the man turned himself in. Further investigation showed that Jason Outler was murdered for nothing more than money for a ride.

The murder of Jason Outler is the very definition of a senseless killing. I think what makes this more striking to me is the fact that I personally have a lot in common with Jason Outler. A thirty-one-year-old single father living in the North End of Tacoma with a good circle of friends who loves nothing more than to play with his child or have a drink with his friends. Up until July 4th, this described both Jason Outler and me. In a very real sense Jason Outler’s death could very easily have been my own and this is probably why it’s taken me a few days to write anything about it.

I have a lot of friends who hear about things like this and can’t understand why I think Tacoma is one of the best places in the world to live. Most of these people don’t live here and so I understand. What it comes down to is this. There isn’t a major city in the country that hasn’t had its share of murders like that of Jason Outler. Anyone paying attention knows that these things happen everywhere. And leaving doesn’t change that. More importantly, the only way to make things better in a city like this is to try to change things. You can’t really do that by leaving.

I realize that I’ve been focusing on the bad aspects of Tacoma for quite a while. There’s a number of reasons for this. The main one being that it’s easy. Following the newspaper and websites on the hunt for homicides is simple. This is what newspapers report. What’s much more difficult is what I have planned next.

What I’ve tried to do is put a human face on these homicides. I want the tragic deaths of these people to be more than a blurb on page B-2. I’m going to attempt to continue to do this, but in addition to that, I’m going to begin telling you a few of the things that make Tacoma great.

In coming weeks, I’ll tell you about Pete Lira, a national champion barber working in downtown Tacoma, the remodeling of the Parkway Tavern, one of the oldest Taverns in Tacoma, and Comic Book Ink, one of the best comic book shops in the state. These are a few of the articles I have planned with a hell of a lot more on the way. These articles will appear once a week. And as always, I’ll keep you up to date on the darker sides of things in Tacoma as well.