Seattle Mayor Engages Students in Discussion on School Safety at ‘Back to the Future’ Town Hall & Free Resource Fair

Sean Wu // The Watchdog

The “Back to the Future” town hall for teens took place on June 7 at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center (LHPAC) in Seattle’s Central District. At least three out of the seven people speaking onstage — Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell, the emcee and one student — had attended or were attending Garfield High School. Presumably, many of the students in the audience go to Garfield and other Seattle public schools. The panel discussed the issues that students of the high-school generation are facing, such as concerns with school safety and different public programs to help students.

The issue of gun control was a big topic during the Town Hall because of its relevance and pressing nature. Last year, a student was shot and killed at Ingraham High School. More recently, several shootings occurred near Garfield High School, and a shooting threat was directed towards the campus, leading to virtual classes last Friday. Multiple students brought up questions about how the city of Seattle is going to keep kids safe at school.

An incoming Garfield student asked what the panel was going to do about preventing people from bringing guns to school. Mayor Bruce Harrell was passionate about gun control but also candid about the struggles that come with combating gun violence. 

He responded, “The fact of the matter is that gun policies are dictated by a law, RCW 9.41.290; it’s the state law. So, me as the mayor, even though I have a $7 billion budget and 14,000 employees, I can’t pass one law regarding gun safety. So part of our efforts, and I’m working with my gun policy champions, how do I get exempted from that law?… We’ve recovered over 13,050 guns. The first three months of this year we recovered over 400 guns. We are aggressively looking for them.” At this, loud applause erupted in the audience.

There seem to be ongoing efforts being spearheaded by the mayor’s office, but exact details are still being hammered out. There is much room for progress and student input.

The mayor said, “I think some of the best solutions, outside of the fancy policy stuff talked about, are going to come from you and what makes you feel safe…As part of our press conference this morning, we had three student leaders from different schools, out of Ingraham where we lost someone…You’re going to help us find some solutions because we need to know how you feel, so it’s going to be [a] very youth-based [process] as well.”

In response to yet another question about guns in schools, the mayor said, “I’m having discussions with our police department and our specialists working with the school district on what makes sense [to make schools more safe]. And that’s why I say I want to bring in the voices of youth. They may say ‘I’m not walking through a darn metal detector every time I come into school’ and some schools may say ‘I want to feel safe when I’m in the lunchroom.’”

Shukri Olow from the Seattle Human Service Department provided some resources for students to stay safe off-campus as well.

She said, “Seattle Community Safety Initiative is four partner organizations who provide safe passage…Community Passageways is over in the [Central District]. They just opened up their Service Center on 23rd and Jackson…The YMCA Alive & Free program is over in West Seattle…What they do is they deescalate incidents before they get to the campus and it’s community-led, place-based services, street-outreach teams. They try to walk students to and from the buses back home or try to deescalate any incidents, fights at a bus stop…These are street-outreach teams that work in these hubs – there’s a south-end hub, a West Seattle hub, and a [Central District] hub. Seattle has made an investment in community-led safety to try to protect students, to deescalate fights that happen before they arrive on campus.”

On a more positive note, Dwane Chapelle, from the Department of Education & Early Learning, mentioned some of the resources at the fair, which took place after the Q&A portion. 

“I want to just connect that to a question that was asked earlier that asked ‘What opportunities are out there?’ In our [Seattle] Department of Education & Early Learning we support many organizations, but I can think of several of them that are opening their doors this summer and throughout the year for young people to come and learn some specific tools on how to use multimedia, social media, for positive things to help them further what their dreams are. I think about organizations I just saw downstairs in the resource fair that take young people on college tours. They’re here.” 

The Office of the Mayor website listed some of these resources: Big Brothers Big Sisters of Puget Sound, Girls on the Run Puget Sound, King County Play Equity Coalition, Seattle CARES, Solar Ink Printing, Seattle Youth Employment Program, Acts on Stage, WA Therapy Fund Foundation, Associated Recreation Council, the Service Board, VITAES, and more.

He also urges students to think about the Seattle Promise. “Students can graduate from high school and go to any one of the Seattle – North, South, Central – colleges. And when you go, whatever your vision is, whether you want to complete a two-year degree and transfer to UW, you can do it. Whether you want to get some type of career or technical training or some type of credential to make sure that you’re going to be financially secure, you can do it…I’ve seen many things change and to be honest with you, I appreciate the times we have now because there’s so much opportunity we can use to become whatever it is we want to do in life.”

Another resource mentioned was the Liberty Project, a partnership with the University of Washington, Seattle University and Tabor 100 — the mayor described it as “a Black chamber of commerce” — which provides “technical systems, strategic planning, social media skills.” Shukri Olow also mentioned the “Seattle Youth Employment Program, summer internships during the summer months and Learn & Earn pathways for getting people interested in the healthcare sector or in STEM occupations.”

The event was full of the promise of a better tomorrow, as well as the acknowledgement that there is still much progress to be made for Seattle youth.