The tragic shootings on May 30, 2012 in downtown Seattle and the University District that left six people dead (including the shooter) and one wounded, left many unanswered questions. The shooter, Ian Lee Stawicki, 40, was described by friends and family as “erratic” and suffering from mental illness. As traumatic as the shootings were for people in Seattle, this violence is something other communities in the city face daily, and there are no headlines to address it.
IE: In reflections from the shootings, many news commentators talk about tightening gun control and unaddressed mental health issues. We as a public always want to know “why” this happened and how to avoid or minimize it from happening again. What message do you think is missing in these shootings?
Geo: I think it’s good that people are acknowledging that gun violence is a problem but unfortunately, like many other issues affecting working class communities and communities of color, it seems to gain attention when it affects communities where it’s considered out of the norm. I think that gets lost in the conversation: that its been a problem for many of us already. Not to mention other types of violence—domestic violence, police brutality, school bullying, etc.—that only become topics of conversation when it becomes a news headline.
IE: In a recent KUOW interview, you mentioned that shootings and violence have been happening in the south end for a long time, but rarely does it get media attention or when it does, it’s minimal. Is the attention a class issue—that if these incidents are happening to communities of color “elsewhere” in neighborhoods where Whites are not a prominent presence, that it’s not important? Why was there so much attention on these shootings and not as much on violence in other parts of the city—particularly in neighborhoods of color?
Geo: Yes, I do think it is a class issue and if you talk to anybody in a neighborhood affected by violence in any city, they’ll all tell you the same thing: that it’s considered “normal” for our neighborhoods and not for others, and that it is only news when it happens outside their neighborhood. So when “solutions” are being proposed only after it happens elsewhere, we can’t help but feel that the city is taking measures to ensure violence doesn’t happen where it’s not expected but implicitly allowing it to continue in other neighborhoods.
IE: What inspired you to write and perform a poem recently for the Seattle Times (and thus, for everyone) addressing violence that touches lives across the city?
Geo: I was approached by the opinion editor, who saw me perform a short piece at the International Examiner annual banquet last year. She was open to me trying a different approach than a traditional op-ed article.
IE: Why is it important to have this conversation? What do you hope to achieve?
Geo: Like any parent, I would like to see my children grow up in a safe environment. I do believe that the amount of violence we see in our communities is directly tied to (the lack of) quality of living and access to resources like jobs, health care, social services, etc. Every time a high profile shooting happens, we hear the same “solutions” = more police presence, harsher and more restrictive gun laws, or even misguided things such as placing blame solely on media and culture. All those things do not address the root cause.
IE: Thank you Geo for your time and insight. What’s the update on what Blue Scholars is doing?
Geo: We’re currently on tour hiatus but recording in our new office/studio and will be putting out more music videos and new songs this year. At the same time, Sabzi and I are pursuing solo endeavors—I’m working on a solo release and a follow-up collaboration record with Bambu via Beatrock Music, and you can check out Saba’s instrumental work at www.townfo.lk and another musical collaboration with Made In Heights. (Visit Blue Scholars at: www.bluescholars.com.)