Tag Archives: Hilltop

Eleventh Tacoma Homicide of 2015: Steven ‘Little Stevie’ Speakman

StevenSpeakman

On Tuesday morning a man was walking back home after walking his wife to work in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood. It was just after six in the morning. On South 10th and Martin Luther King Jr. Way he found 26-year-old Steven Speakman on the sidewalk. He’d been shot three times and had died from his wounds. The man tried to wave down a car for help, but it was a few minutes before anyone stopped.

Steven Speakman is the 11th Tacoma homicide of 2015 and the second to occur this week, with the shooting of Elijah Crawford happening just seven hours earlier on Tacoma’s East Side.

Steven was 26 years old but was intellectually disabled and functioned at the level of a ten year old. He lived only two blocks from where he was found and was well known and well liked in the neighborhood. People called him ‘Little Stevie’. A small memorial stands where Steven was found.

At this time police do not have a suspect or a motive. He was not robbed of anything but his life. Police are asking for anyone who might have information or been in the area around that time to contact them.

Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood is notorious for its high crime rate in the early 1990s, but this is actually the first homicide in Hilltop in over a year. What once was a neighborhood that people were rightly afraid to go into has become a much safer, more vibrant part of Tacoma.

As always, the comments section is moderated by me and reserved for those who want to share thoughts and memories of Little Stevie.

– Jack Cameron

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Eleventh Tacoma Homicide of 2014 John Scott Ware Jr.

Two weeks ago a portable speaker was stolen from a 38-year-old man. For reasons unknown, he blamed 35-year-old John Scott Ware Jr. Last week he confronted John and the two of them got into an argument. This past Monday John Scott Ware Jr. was walking near South 12th and State Street. The same man started following him on a bicycle. At some point the man confronted John again. He knocked John to the ground and stabbed him repeatedly while asking him to beg for his life.

At some point John managed to get away from his attacker and went to a nearby house. He knocked on the door. A stranger answered the door. John said, “Help me.” before collapsing. Unfortunately his injuries were too severe and he died.

A few days later, police officers were able to arrest John’s killer using eyewitness testimony, surveillance footage from a camera at a house, and good police work.

This is Tacoma’s eleventh Tacoma homicide this year and the third homicide this year on Tacoma’s Hilltop. Unfortunately as the year winds down, our homicide rate seems to be increasing despite starting the year with almost three months with no homicides at all.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to find much about John Scott Ware Jr. As always, the comments section is reserved for those who knew the victim. Please share your thoughts or memories of John. If any loved one has a photo they’d like to share, please email it to jackcameronis@gmail.com.  I am sorry for your loss.

– Jack Cameron

A Robbery In Tacoma

pistolYesterday morning at around 6:30am, a stepfather went to the Chevron station on South 11th and Sprague. His stepson was working the counter there and soon to get off shift. Unfortunately, his shift ended with a black male in his 20s wearing a black bandanna over his face pointing a pistol at him and robbing the gas station. The robber took off on foot.

You didn’t read about this in The News Tribune. It wasn’t covered by any of the local news stations. I wouldn’t even know about it except that the stepfather contacted me about it. I asked Tacoma Police Spokesperson Loretta Cool about it. She said that there had not been any similar robberies in the area.

No one ever forgets having a gun pointed at them. During those moments you are acutely aware that your life is in immediate danger. It can be a life altering or life ending experience. And so I’m entirely sympathetic with the stepfather’s pleas that someone takes notice of this case. If someone had pointed a gun at my son, I’d want the person found immediately and non-stop police and media coverage until the person was found. I understand.

Years ago I worked for the Law Enforcement Support Agency (L.E.S.A.). I was one of a handful of people whose job was to take the hand written reports from police officers and transcribe them into the computer. In a lot of ways it was a dream job for an aspiring writer with an interest in his hometown of Tacoma. I got to read 50 new real crime stories a day.

The first thing I noticed was that the vast majority of the crime reports I transcribed were never mentioned in the media at all. Some of them were major events that I would have thought would garner all sorts of media attention. And yet, if you weren’t a part of the crime or a part of the police department you might never know they even happened.

At one point I asked how the media decides what goes in their reports. I was told that every morning the police beat person would call in and the desk sergeant would give them a group of incidents that had happened the previous night. Of course there were things that managed to get the attention of the media without the phone call, but in the two years I worked there, I encountered hundreds of reports that I felt were things the public should know about that were never mentioned anywhere in the media.

Initially, it may seem that the media and/or authorities don’t care about certain crimes. However, when you take a look at the numbers, it starts to make more sense. In 2012 there were 486 robberies in Tacoma. That works out to about nine robberies a week or more than one a day. (There were over 1,400 in Seattle. Per capita, our rate of robbery is only slightly higher than Seattle’s.) Even if the police or the media wanted to publicly post about every single robbery that occurred in Tacoma, the truth is almost no one would read it.

This brings me to this weekend’s robbery at the Chevron. A black male robbed a gas station on Hilltop over the weekend with a gun. The facts of the case are sadly so typical that it’s entirely understandable why it never made the news. Despite vast improvements from the crime filled days of the 1990s, Hilltop is still a neighborhood where crime is not uncommon. More to the point, Hilltop’s reputation from the 1990s has yet to fade. No one got physically hurt. (There’s a lot of truth to ‘if it bleeds it leads’.) There wasn’t a beautiful young woman involved. From a public interest standpoint, there’s nothing remarkable about a Hilltop gas station getting robbed over the weekend.

Having said all that, it’s important to point out that none of this justifies a criminal pointing a gun at an innocent person just doing his job and robbing him. Being the victim of a robbery is an extremely traumatic event. And it’s one that cries out for justice. I entirely understand the victim’s stepfather wanting to put a spotlight on this and find the perpetrator. And while it may not seem like it, the police department really does want to find this guy. But today they’re going to be responding to another robbery. And tomorrow another. Most of these you will never hear about. Some will be solved. Some will not. All of them will leave their mark on their victim.

The crime rate in Tacoma has gone down dramatically over the years. Unfortunately, it is not so low that the media or sites like this can cover all of the violent crime in Tacoma. Perhaps that’s not a possibility in a city of almost 300,000 people. I feel for the victims of any crime in Tacoma. I wish there were something more that I could do, but I don’t have the time or access to the information to write about it all.

–          Jack Cameron

5 Question Friday with Tacoma Police Department Public Information Officer Loretta Cool

tacoma-police-genericWhen I read about police spokespeople online or see them on television I always feel a little bad. It seems like they never sleep and are always talking to the press on a near endless schedule. They all seem to need a vacation. I’m sure Loretta Cool, the Public Information Officer of the Tacoma Police Department is the same way, but I couldn’t tell. Despite a workload I don’t even want to think about, she took the time to talk to me and participate in 5 Question Friday.

Given recent events in Tacoma, I felt it would be good to get to Tacoma to the TPD. I also wanted a bit of a historical perspective on the crime in Tacoma. I’ve probably introduced her enough. Here’s Loretta.

1. What is the most misunderstood part about Police Work?

I think there are many misunderstood areas of Police work. Lately, an issue that seems to keep popping up is about Police being able to arrest someone based on an identification by a victim or witness. Everyone seems to think if a victim points out someone they believe committed a crime, the Police can arrest them.  On the surface I guess that would be wonderful, as long as you were not the one wrongly pointed out. Police have to be able to link a suspect to a crime through many avenues, the identification is just one part. Police can have a victim swear up and down that this particular person committed the crime. Police then discover that the “identified person” was nowhere near the crime.  It seems I spend a lot of time explaining that identification of a possible suspect may not culminate in an arrest. If Police are able to tie the suspect to the crime, the identification helps tremendously.

2. Recently two people have been shot and others have been attacked on South 19th in Tacoma’s Hilltop area reminding long time residents of the early 1990s when Hilltop was genuinely dangerousWhat do you feel the police can do to help keep Hilltop safe?

I do appreciate the wording here about the Hilltop being genuinely dangerous. In the early 90’s Police responded to multiple gunshots being fired per shift and many people being robbed, shot or killed. Tacoma has come a long way since that time. Two incidents in near proximity to each other do not make the Hilltop like it was back then. The crime was not just limited to the Hilltop, we had rampant crime throughout the city. The Police took proactive measures to make the City a much safer place. With these two incidents and any others, the Police will continue to actively seek out those responsible and hopefully be able to arrest and convict them.

The things that we have been doing since that time. Being out in the community, getting to know the people who live, work and play here. Actively Patrolling so that the Police presence is felt and citizens feel good about going to Police for help.  Continue using all available resources and tools to apprehend the persons responsible for committing the crimes. And develop more connections to leverage what we have.

3. What do you feel the general public can do to help keep Hilltop safe?

Be out and about. The more good people are visible the bad people tend to go away.  Report the suspicious activity, gatherings and crimes when they occur. A lot of Police work is still reactionary, if nothing is reported, it is like nothing is happening. When things are reported the Police are aware of those areas that need the high visibility of Police.

4. What changes have you seen in Tacoma in the time you’ve been here?

I have already touched on a few of these. What amazes me is the cleanup of many areas.  On Pacific Ave from 7th to 25th Street there used to be something like 40 bars. Now there are businesses that promote growth, not to mention the UW. The same was true on MLK there used to be about 25 Bars between 6th Ave and 25th Street. Now there are businesses that attract more family activities. Even the expansion of St. Joseph’s hospital, Tacoma General and Mary Bridge. On the eastside of Tacoma, the Boys and Girls club, skate park, pool and a welcoming avenue with street improvements, instead of decrepit apartments and bars lining the streets. These are just a few changes that I think are for the better.  There are still improvements to be made all across the City but I think in the last 30 or so years the City of Tacoma has come a long way.

 

5. It’s lunch time. With the whole city available, where do you get a good bite to eat?

This one is not as easy as it sounds. I work with a group of about 15 people. We try to go to lunch somewhere every couple of months. One person will pick their favorite place to go. I have been out with them about 5 times so far, each time a different new spot for me. And each time it has been a great place to go. So, what I would offer here is Google Tacoma Restaurants and pick the type of food you like, my guess is the place will be a great place to eat since so far I like them all.

 

I’d like to thank Loretta Cool for joining me on 5 Question Friday. If you or someone you know would like to join me in a future installment, drop me a line at jackcameronis@gmail.com.

–          Jack Cameron

5 Question Friday With HilltopTacoma.com’s Amy Potter

In 1992 I went to New Zealand. This attractive girl there heard I was from the States she asked which state. I said Washington.

She said, “Oh. The Capital.”

I said, “No. I’m from a city near Seattle.” She still had a blank look. “I’m actually from a city called Tacoma.” Her eyes brightened.

“Oh! That’s where Hilltop is. Right?”

Now it was my turn to have a blank look.

“I’m on the other side of the planet. How do you know about Hilltop?”

“It was on Cops last week. Hey, have you been mugged before?”

My point here is that when I say that Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood was known the world over as a crime-filled, scary place to live, I’m not kidding. Since then things have changed substantially.

Today’s 5 Question Friday is with someone who knows this first hand. Her name is Amy Potter. She lives in Hilltop and she writes the neighborhood blog HilltopTacoma.com. She’s also a high school English teacher at a Native American school in the area. It’s safe to say, she’s exactly the sort of person who is making Hilltop and Tacoma a better place. Here’s Amy’s answers:

1. What changes have you seen in Tacoma’s Hilltop in the time you’ve lived there?

In the seven years I have owned my home here on Hilltop, I have seen many changes. When I first bought the house, the neighborhood was a bit scary. Drugs were all around, a prostitute set up shop on my porch one winter when the home was vacant, homeless men pushed carts full of their belongings around, and some people’s behavior was just plain odd. I remember a man came by while I was gardening one day and tried to sell me old curtains that looked like they’d just been taken from a Motel 6. Now it is much different. We spend much of our time on the porch watching people, cars, and fire trucks go by. More and more people are buying homes knowing that they are helping to make it a better place. Our MLK corridor, however, has not weathered the years well. We have lost many local businesses and it is a bit of a ghost town. The business heart of our neighborhood needs help.

2. What is the biggest misconception people have about Hilltop?

Some people think this is a dangerous place plagued with gangs and guns. I’m not going to say we don’t have problems, but I don’t choose to see the negative. Our friend, Prince, who’s from Fresno, told us that down there people still refer to it as “Killtop.” It is simply not that at all. Hilltop is warm and friendly. Come as you are, stand on the sidewalk, look at the realness of our people, and enjoy.

3. It’s clear that you love your neighborhood. Why do you love living on Hilltop?

The people here are fun. They’re storytellers. They have something to say if you take the time to ask. Hilltop is vibrant and full of life. It has taught me that everyone can find their place in the city.

4. What’s something Hilltop needs that it does not have?

Hilltop needs a thriving business district. We need investors and business owners to trust in our neighborhood’s future. A street named after Martin Luther King Jr. should not be suffering.

5. What do you see for the future of Hilltop?

I see Hilltop continuing to grow with positive change. More and more people are realizing that this is a wonderful little piece of Tacoma, not just a place to drive through on the way to somewhere else. I think we’ve moved past the days where we wanted to take the streets back. Now we need to look into the past when people settled here with high hopes for the future and figure out how to move forward.


I want to thank Amy for participating in 5 Question Friday. And if you haven’t had a chance to check out HilltopTacoma.com, you really should.

As always, if you or anyone you know wants to be a part of 5 Question Friday or if you would like to suggest someone for it, email me at jackcameronis@gmail.com

–          Jack Cameron

5 Question Friday With L. Lisa Lawrence

Lisa Spinning Fire

This week’s 5 Question Friday, we have L. Lisa Lawrence. She’s a photographer. She’s a gardener. She runs marathons. She’s a community organizer. She’s a fire spinner. She was once a park ranger. She is someone who just might have more stories than I do.

1.Hilltop is one of the most infamous neighborhoods on the West Coast. What made you choose the Hilltop as the place to make your home and how do you like it?

What attracted me to the Hilltop is the fabulous 100 year old houses, the early history of the people who built this town (my house was built by Italian immigrants), and the spirit of the neighborhood. Hilltop was my first choice for these reasons, as well as the fact that it is still affordable and was a damn smart investment.

This neighborhood (which deserves respect) had to pull its self together and fight what it was becoming. I Love my neighbors. We all watch out for each other, pay attention to what is going on and communicate with each other and the Community Liaison Officers from TPD. This is the safest most peaceful place I have lived in Tacoma.

People wave to each other, we sit on our front porches and we walk through the neighborhood, people stop to ask if someone needs help carrying groceries or digging a hole to plant a tree. In some ways, the Hilltop is Mayberry.

2. You’ve done everything from being a tri-athlete to spinning fire. Your interests seem to be all over the map. What do you want to do next?

I’m actually hoping to get back to some things that were put on the back burner when my mother was sick and dying, specifically playing my violin/fiddle and guitar. I’ve been learning to spin (fiber, not fire) and knit (don’t laugh, some of the most badass athletes and backpackers I know are knitters) I’m all about my urban farm, community and sustainability. Stillness is death-I never want to stagnate or stop learning.

3. Speaking of spinning fire, could you tell us about that?

I was a theater kid, I have a dance background. I love grace, rhythm and music. Fire is a primal force-something that is beautiful and which must be worked with carefully and with respect; in addition to the artistic aspect, there is a highly technical aspect which totally turns a geek like me on. In short, it is a rush.

Tacoma is home to some amazing fire dancers who I am proud to call friends and mentors, including Deanna Reilly , Cathy Marcotte, and Tabitha Andrews. (we’re for hire, check us out, monkey fist poi and fuel aren’t free)

4. You were part of the Speakeasy Arts Co-op. What do you think Tacoma needs next in support of the visual and perfoming arts?

The Tacoma art community is in some ways is a “victim of it’s success” there are so many art events, galleries and cooperatives that on any given night one is faced with so many choices that it’s impossible to do it all. This is not necessarily a bad thing. I suppose more coordination would be nice…

5. What’s one thing you want everyone to know about you?

What do I want people to know about me? For the most part, I am an open book-one of the reasons I’ve been told that I am a good writer is because I am accessible and am not afraid to “open a vein” if it touches or moves someone (just friend me on Facebook or read my blog http://wildcelticrose.net/ blog.

I guess the short answer is, I am not what you expect, I am much like the heyoka of Lakota tradition (healer and sacred clown) or coyote; I am contrary. I may do something incredibly non traditional and badass during the day, and then sit and knit and/or cook a gourmet meal later that evening. Much like the old Enjoli commercials in the 70s,”I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan, and never ever let you forget you’re a man”. I believe that stereotypes and labels are limiting; I chose to ignore the stereotypes and limits.

I am me, passionately and unapologetically me. People generally love me or hate me; there is not much middle ground. I’m good with that. How sad would it be to be someone people are indifferent about?

Thanks to L. Lisa Lawrence for participating in 5 Question Friday. To find out more about her, visit her blog at http://wildcelticrose.net