18-year campaign pays off
The corner of 22nd and Madison in Seattle stands frozen, for the moment, as a sort of museum of urban pathology and citizen struggle. The old Deano's grocery...
Seattle Times staff columnist
The corner of 22nd and Madison in Seattle stands frozen, for the moment, as a sort of museum of urban pathology and citizen struggle.
The old Deano's grocery store, two defunct bars and some houses sit blank behind spray-painted windows.The alley is posted with fruitless drug-abatement signs, warning the public never to enter between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. On the ground you can still find a crack baggie or two.
And then there are the infamous "No Loitering" signs, stenciled everywhere. They used to draw quite the crowd.
Not any more. What's most striking about one of Seattle's busiest drug galleries is how serene it is today.
"It happened literally — not metaphorically, but literally — overnight," says Andrew Taylor, who lives a few blocks away. "The drug dealers, the users, everyone hanging out on the street — they all vanished.
"People in the neighborhood were walking around just stunned," he says. "We weren't sure it would ever happen."
This sounds like a happy tale, but it isn't that simple. For one thing, the drug market, though not all the same dealers, relocated with a vengeance six blocks south. That is 23rd and Union, site of a series of recent shootings, including a deadly one last week.
The other thing is that Taylor, who worked for 18 years to rid 22nd and Madison of its demons, has no easy answers when asked: What worked?
He and his neighbors did all the things besieged citizens usually do, and then some. They formed block watches. Launched citizen patrols and cleanups. They tried patronizing the businesses where the drug trade congregated, to claim the turf themselves.
They badgered cops to increase patrols, and to do drug-buy stings. They ran a campaign to host City Council sleepovers on the block, to try to jar them into action. (None came.)
The neighbors even tried to love the problems away, by working with police on a novel "street school." It offered drug dealers and addicts help finding treatment, jobs or housing.
Looking back, Taylor, who heads the neighborhood association, says the hard truth is that none of it really worked.
It's not that it did no good, he says. But the bottom line is that "almost every day, every night for two decades, no matter what we did, you could go by there and see a dozen people buying and selling drugs."
Until last March, that is. That's when all the pressure from all those years of citizen effort paid off. A troublesome bar, Club Chocolate City, finally lost its liquor license and closed. Recent court documents show that drug dealers operated from inside that bar, meeting customers there.
The next day, Taylor says, a 20-year pestilence ended. Or at least moved on.
Now he gets asked by folks at 23rd and Union and other crime hot spots: How can they take their corners back?
Try it all, he says. Even if it's futile. Even if you see no result.
Because at 22nd and Madison, it turned out what worked and what didn't was irrelevant. What mattered — what won the neighborhood back — was the act of trying itself.
Danny Westneat's column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or email@example.com.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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