Friday morning, near the bus stop at Bryant Montessori School at 717 South Grant in the Hilltop neighborhood, 24-year-old Julius Williams breathed his last breath and became Tacoma’s 20th homicide of 2006. Children arriving for school were quickly escorted away from the scene and a yellow tarp was put over his body.
Julius died of multiple gunshot wounds though there were no reports that morning of gunshots. The previous night there were reports of gunshots on nearby South 8th and Ainsworth, but responding officers only found a man with a crack pipe. It’s unknown if the gunshots are related to the homicide. Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood has often been a place of drugs and violence though less so now than in the 90’s. Gun shots are not uncommon and not always reported. Many don’t report gunshots simply because they don’t want to call the police on an almost nightly basis.
Little is known about Julius Williams’ final days. He was a soldier from Fort Lewis, but has been absent without leave for weeks. He had a wife though he hadn’t been staying at his house. With very little to go one and very little known about his life in the weeks leading up to this, it’s unlikely detectives will have an easy time solving this one.
Hilltop has had a sketchy history. In the 90’s it was a haven for gangs, drugs, and violence. Gangsters came up from California and brought their violence with them. An anti-gang task force was set up and by late 90’s gang crime was down and Hilltop was making a comeback as a good neighborhood. Then a few years ago the task force was shut down and gang and drug crime began to increase. Still the crime in Hilltop now is nothing compared to the days of the early 90’s when I’d go to sleep to the sound of gunshots and sirens.
Like many police forces, Tacoma’s tends to be a bit reactionary rather than proactive. It’s not entirely the fault of the department. It’s hard to get money for something that’s not a problem. So if gang crime is down and the budget is tight, it’s easy to think that a gang task force isn’t necessary.
I don’t know if Julius Williams’ death was gang or drug related though the locale makes it a distinct possibility. What is clear is that Tacoma’s homicide rate has jumped from 13 last year to 20 this year and promises to go higher before the year is out and this is not an issue simply for the police department but for the community as a whole.