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Against dehumanization

Tacoma’s Business Summit seeks solutions over division

Photo by Timothy Harris

Teryn Reche of RAIN Incubator asks us to listen more and blame less.


By Timothy Harris

Dignity City executive director

One can’t really talk about January’s Tacoma SAFE Business Summit without first talking about the other thing that happened.

While Tacoma and Pierce County elected officials gathered at the LeMay Car Museum to hear business owners’ concerns, a blue pick-up truck veered into a group of protesters outside, hospitalizing 49-year-old mother and community activist Theresa Evans with a shattered pelvis and other severe injuries.

Witnesses report that the truck never braked as it jumped the curb and then sped off. Five years ago, such an attack would have been nearly unthinkable. Now, fueled by a proliferation of right-wing memes, this form of political violence has become increasingly common.

While a GoFundMe has been started to assist Evans in her recovery, our community will not heal until the perpetrator of this vicious and cowardly attack is brought to justice.

It’s all too easy to dehumanize those with whom we disagree. And that division can lead to some very dark places. As more than 300 people gathered to plead for increased public safety and alternatives to public camping, organizers asked attendees to turn their anger into a search for solutions.

Prior to the gathering, Mayor Victoria Woodards agreed to reinstitute Tacoma’s business advisory council to better address community concerns. While Tacoma SAFE welcomed the dialogue, they view the action as a first step toward increased public accountability.

Tacoma business owners described crushing security costs, smashed windows and constant break-ins and thefts that threaten their survival. They see police response times of four-to-five hours — if they show up at all — as a reflection of a city leadership that doesn’t care.

Michael Okuro, the owner of Hilltop districts’ Limitless Apparel, defined the problem succinctly. “The crime rate is very high and the police response rate is very low.”

A senior manager from Brown & Haley asked how he’s supposed to tell his workers they’re safe coming to work when a man who was stabbed across the street staggered over to their outdoor lunch table to die.

A CEO from Wayne + Flitch said that added security and costs from damage and theft had undermined their ability to increase employee wages. Another man said he’d watched his neighborhood turn into “Zombieland.”

But there was more than just anger. The biggest applause of the evening came when Teryn Reche of RAIN Incubator said, “This is the first time people are listening to each other. It’s not a political issue when people are dying. It’s not a racial issue when people are dying. It is a human issue.”

“There is a danger when we are just attacking. When we say this person is not doing enough, that person is not doing enough. I don’t like this person. What is that doing? That is not doing anything.

“When I listen, it humanizes everyone around me. When you look a person in the eye, it humanizes their pain. It humanizes their frustration. It humanizes everyone’s experience. I think the first step to take is to shift our mindset, to not blame, to not defame people. To not take away someone’s voice.”

“We are not here to mirror the polarization of our national politics,” said Tacoma SAFE leader Kristina Maritczak. “Our work is to take that anger that is a negative energy, and turn it into something positive.”

That isn’t just the work of Tacoma SAFE. In these toxic and divided times, that is the work of all of us.

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