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5 Question Friday With Tacoma City Councilman Justin Camarata

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Photo by Silong Chhun

Earlier this year City Councilman Robert Thoms was deployed to Afghanistan as part of his commitment to the National Guard. Rather than have an election for a post that would only be necessary for a few months, the city asked for applicants and appointed one from the list of applicants. I was one of those applicants, but the city rightly chose Justin Camarata to fill that spot. When I saw Justin’s name on the list of potential appointees, his name along with a couple of others were people I honestly felt would do a better job than myself.

As Justin winds up his short tenure as councilman, I thought it might be good to have him do a 5 Question Friday and let us know what he thought of the experience. Here’s Justin:

1. Why did you choose to throw your hat into the ring to be a City Councilman?

I won’t lie – I’ve been interested in doing this for a long time. I love this city, I love policy and politics, I love working with a broad range of people, and I felt I had things to contribute and the ability to get into the weeds when necessary. It all happened pretty fast, but the timing was right and I think there was excitement over what we could get done with my being there.


2. What do you wish you knew before you began serving as a City Councilman?

The biggest one would be that if something seems like an obvious or easy policy fix from the outside, there’s a 95% chance it isn’t. There are often studies to commission, individual councilmember concerns to address, other governmental jurisdictions or City departments that need to (or want to) weigh in, and generally you can’t just wave something into or out of existence. I sort of knew and expected this to a degree, but seeing things from this perspective has been really eye opening and I think I’ll always view government a little differently as a result.
3. What are some of the highlights of your time on the council?
The City’s relationship with the Puyallup Tribe has been improving this year–getting to know their tribal council, being a guest at events they’ve hosted, and cosponsoring the resolution to place their flag in Council chambers has been something I’ll remember for the rest of my life. There are still big things to work through with them but given how strained it’s often been in the past, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say Tacoma history has been happening and I’m genuinely happy to get to be part of that.

Working on housing issues has been frustrating at times, especially as the market has absolutely exploded over the past year or two, but knowing we’re doing things that will help literally tens of thousands of people keep a roof over their heads is gratifying. Be on the lookout for a big renters rights ordinance very soon, in addition to a continued focus on adding a lot more affordable housing inventory.

Voting to appoint the first woman to be the new Director of Tacoma Public Utilities, during the first time the Council got to vote on that appointment, was pretty cool. Jackie Flowers is incredibly talented and accomplished, including in municipal broadband (we need that for Click), and she’s going to do an amazing job in a role that’s really critical for the overall quality of life in Tacoma.

Beyond all of this, I’ve also been on a tour of organizations and events throughout the city. I’ve met with businesses, labor unions, political groups, neighborhood councils, faith organizations, business districts and associations, and activist groups and gone to dozens of events. It’s been a blast and I’ve met so many great people who deeply love and care about Tacoma in their own ways and want to help it succeed. That’s absolutely been a highlight.

4. What’s something many people don’t know about the City Council?

Six of the nine of us are in our early 40s or younger, and six of the nine of us (though not the same six of the nine) are transplants to Tacoma from other places. I personally think that’s really great, because Tacoma as a city is likewise full of people who wound up here for some reason or another and chose to stay.

Also, this Council is very accessible. If you want a meeting with any of us, or with Mayor Woodards, you can probably get one. One of the things I love about local government in a city like ours is that you can get involved, meet key people, and have a real impact on things in a way you can’t at the national level. I think people often assume their local leaders are out of touch and inaccessible, but that is not the case at all. You’ll see us in many of the same places you go to yourself and we’re generally always happy to talk.

5. What are your post-City Councilman plans?

I’m still figuring that out. I’m definitely not going anywhere, and I’m going to keep working on things just like I was before I joined Council, whatever form that takes. Short term, I’ve got a stack of books I want to read and my wife and kids wouldn’t mind a vacation.

Thanks to Justin for serving as City Councilman and taking the time to participate in 5 Question Friday. If you or someone you know would like to join me for a 5 Question Friday drop me a line at jackcameronis@gmail.com.

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Sixth Tacoma Homicide of 2018: Robert ‘Big Dave’ Crall

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It was just after 5:00am on Thursday March 15th when 54-year-old Robert ‘Big Dave’ Crall took his last cab fare near the 5800 block of South Montgomery. The 19-year-old man got in the cab. They made it about a quarter mile. The 19-year-old pulled a bandana over his face and tried to rob Big Dave. The confrontation ended with Big Dave shot in the chest and the 19-year-old on the run. The shooter would be arrested later that day and implicated in a couple of home invasions and at least one other robbery.

As Robert ‘Big Dave’ Crall lay dying outside his cab with a chest wound, a nearby neighbor held his hand. He becomes the sixth Tacoma homicide this year. Six homicides by March is nearly double our typical homicide rate. It is difficult to find a cause for this sudden uptick in violence in the city. It’s also worth noting that the amount of homicides is not a very good measure of such things as there are aggravated assaults that are just as violent and amount to attempted homicides.

Family and friends say that Robert ‘Big Dave’ Crall was incredibly friendly and generous. He had a 27-year-old son and an ex-wife who he was good friends with. He was funny.  He’d been driving a cab for two years. That particular morning they had asked him to skip work because he was tired, but he went out to do the job like so many of us do.

Once again I have to apologize for the delay in getting this article written. It has been four months since Big Dave’s death. I am sure friends and family still feel like it was yesterday. It’s difficult to explain to someone who hasn’t lost anyone close what it means when there’s a hole in your life where there used to be a smiling person you loved. It’s not just something that happened. It’s something that happens every day when you look at the world and don’t see them in it.

As always the comments section is reserved for those who knew and loved Big Dave. Comments are moderated and have to be approved by me before they appear. By all accounts Big Dave was one of those people who made Tacoma what it is and the city is a little less having lost him.

– Jack Cameron

Fifth Tacoma Homicide of 2018 Tyler Zimmerman

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It’s was almost 2am on Wednesday, February 21st. 27-year-old Tyler Zimmerman was at a friend’s house in the 6110 block of South Fawcett. They decided to purchase some magic mushrooms and invited a dealer over. The 26-year-old dealer showed up with a friend. Tyler handed over $300. The dealer pulled out the mushrooms, but when Tyler saw them he decided they weren’t worth the money and asked for the money back. The dealer refused. A fight ensued. The fight spilled into the yard. At one point the dealer pulled a knife and stabbed Tyler in the back.

“Ow, what did you hit me with? What did you hit me with?” Tyler said before collapsing to the ground. After police arrived, Tyler was transported to the hospital where he later died.

The drug dealer and the drug dealer’s friend were both arrested. This is the fifth Tacoma homicide this year. This is a sharp increase in homicides compared to last year.

Tyler was the oldest of five children and had a seven-year-old daughter. He worked at a company that set up offices. In his off time he liked working on cars. He also liked gardening. He grew roses in his mother’s yard.

There are some who would argue that anyone involved in illegal drugs should not find it unexpected when things turn violent or fatal, but those people lack empathy, compassion, or awareness. Odds are that those same people have close friends and relatives who engage in such behavior and would feel very differently if the victim were one of their own.

Every death matters. Every killing is a loss. Right now there is a seven-year-old little girl who will grow up without her father because another man chose to end her father’s life over $300.

As always, the comments section is reserved for those who knew Tyler to share memories or thoughts of him. All comments are monitored and approved by me.

I would also like to take this moment to apologize to Tyler’s friends and family for the delay in getting this article written. I have been writing about Tacoma homicides for over a decade. This sort of writing and research takes a toll. I had to give myself some time away and as this is a one-man website, that meant a delay in getting this done. Tyler is not forgotten.

  • Jack Cameron

Third Tacoma Homicide of 2018 Hector Gonzales

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It was just after 1:00am early Saturday morning on January 27th. Fifteen-year-old Hector Gonzales and his 15-year-old best friend waited in the alley behind his best friend’s girlfriend’s house in the 5100 block of South Oakes Street. Hector had a baseball bat. The plan was that his best friend’s girlfriend had invited an acquaintance over. They knew this acquaintance had marijuana. Their plan was to rob him and take it.

The acquaintance came to the house expecting to have sex with the girl, but when he got there his gun fell out of his pocket. The girl told him to leave and texted her boyfriend to warn him about the gun. The acquaintance exited the house and was attacked. He was hit several times with the bat before pulling out his gun and firing one shot. The shot hit Hector Gonzales in the chest. The acquaintance ran away tossing the gun in some nearby bushes. Fifteen-year-old Hector Gonzales died at the scene becoming Tacoma’s third Tacoma homicide of 2018. Prosecutors have declined to file charges against Hector’s killer as it was deemed self-defense.

Whenever a teenager is murdered regardless of the circumstances it is a tragedy. In this case, it is difficult to see anything but tragedy. It is every parent’s nightmare. There is no one in this story you want to imagine your child being. And for four families, it is not imagination, but hard, cruel reality. Teenagers are not fully formed people. They have not figured out who they are yet. We do not know and will never know who Hector Gonzales would have turned out to be. Hector’s family has started a GoFundMe campaign in his name.

As always, the comments section is reserved for friends and family of the victim. The comment section is moderated and I personally approve each comment before it shows. If you are a friend or family of the victim and would like to get in touch with me privately, you can contact me at jackcameronis@gmail.com.

– Jack Cameron

Second Tacoma Homicide of 2018 Jawuan Swift

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It was 2:30am on Wednesday January 17th. Two men wearing dark clothing with their faces covered kicked in the door of one of the apartments of a four-plex in the 600 block of South Steele Street. At least one of them was armed. Inside the apartment 24-year-old Jawuan Swift was asleep with his 23-year-old girlfriend. Their five-year-old son was also asleep at the residence. Jawuan got up after hearing the door being kicked in. He exited the bedroom and was shot. The robbers also stole money before leaving.

Jawuan’s girlfriend called 911, but first responders were unable to revive Jawuan after doing CPR. Jawuan Swift becomes the second Tacoma homicide of 2018.

Jawuan was a graduate of Franklin Pierce High School and graduated Tacoma Community College in 2014 where he studied childhood education. He was very interested in sports and loved helping children learn. He wanted to be a teacher.

It is impossible to overstate how devastating the sudden loss of a loved one can be. This is especially true when the person is literally taken from you in your own home. My thoughts are with Jawuan’s friends and family.

Police believe that Jawuan knew the people who murdered him. They have not made any arrests at this time. Anyone with knowledge of this incident is encouraged to call that Tacoma Crimestoppers at 253-591-5959.

As always the comments section is monitored and reserved for those who knew Jawuan and want to share any thoughts of memories of him.

– Jack Cameron

Tenth Tacoma Homicide of 2017: James Timmons

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In the early morning hours of November 4th, 45-year-old James Timmons was on the hunt. He was looking for a Pokemon. James had been playing the smartphone game, Pokemon Go for a while now. It was a common occurrence to see him in the neighborhood taking a walk looking for a rare Pokemon. A little after two in the morning near South 66th and Tyler, James encountered someone with a gun. Neighbors report hearing gunshots around 2:25am. When the paramedics arrived James Timmons was already dead becoming the TKth Tacoma homicide this year. He was three blocks from his house.

James worked odd jobs and volunteered 20 hours a week managing the Mount Tahoma High School concessions stand where he was well known and well liked. He had an innocence about him and a genuine desire to help and engage with others.

Two months before his death James’ grandmother died. His mother died only a month before James’ murder. He had been staying a friend’s house for the last few months, but he was doing what he could to get by. I can imagine in such circumstances how escaping into a game like Pokemon Go would be a temporary relief. This murder is as senseless as any I have written up in the last eleven years.

At the time of this writing Tacoma police have not announced any suspect information, have not arrested anyone, and are asking for the public’s help. If anyone has any information on this murder, Pierce County Crime Stoppers are offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and charges in this case. You can contact them at 1-800-222-8477.

A crowdfunding campaign has been created to pay for James’ memorial. If you’d like to help, here is the link: https://www.youcaring.com/rhondastinsonandmounttahomaboosterclub-1002491 I have talked to families who do these crowdfunding campaigns. Every donation is meaningful. If you are looking for a direct way to help someone, this is it.

As always, the comments section is moderated and reserved for family and friends who knew James Timmons and want to share stories, memories, or other positive thoughts about him.

– Jack Cameron

Ninth Tacoma Homicide of 2017: Daquan Foster

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It was near closing time at the nightclub Latitude 84 in the 8400 block of South Hosmer. Around 1:40am on Sunday October 29th, 22-year-old Daquan Foster and his wife stepped out of the nightclub with a couple of friends. They had a young child at home and were enjoying a night out. A couple of men approached them in the parking lot. One of the men hit Daquan in the face. Daquan’s wife tried to break up the fight. The other man pulled out a gun. At this point Daquan and his wife ran. Over the next few seconds seventeen shots were fired. Daquan’s wife was hit once. Daquan was hit multiple times. Daquan died at the scene becoming Tacoma’s ninth homicide this year.

Police caught up to the alleged shooter in Kent a few days later. He has been arrested and charged with second degree murder. The man who punched Daquan was also arrested this past Monday. Daquan’s wife is going to survive her injuries.

This is the first homicide in the Hosmer area in two years, but it is an area known for violent crime.

Daquan was originally from New York, but was an active duty private at Joint Base Lewis McChord (JBLM), bringing him to Tacoma. He had been in the military eleven months. He was known as a good family man. This should have been the beginning of a good life for him. My thoughts are with his wife, child, and extended family and friends. May she have a quick recovery and all the support that she needs.

As always, the comments section is reserved for people who knew Daquan to share memories and thoughts. I am sorry for your loss. All comments are moderated and approved before they are posted.

–  Jack Cameron