KING COUNTY, Wash. — King County is on track to set another deadly record for gun violence this year.
According to data from the county, Black, Latinx and Indigenous people were disproportionately impacted as victims, bystanders, and perpetrators.
In the first quarter of 2021, there were 253 shots fired incidents, which is a 25% increase compared to a four-year average of the same time period from 2017 to 2020.
A total of 69 people were shot in King County during the first quarter of 2021, 16 of those people died. Of the 69 total shooting victims, about 80% were men, 42% were between the ages of 18 and 24, and 78% were people of color.
"There's little to no change in who is most likely to be the most impacted," said Derrick Wheeler-Smith, director of Zero Youth Detention. "[About] 40% of the reported firearm-related violence has been concentrated in south King County, and the highest concentration of Black people live in South King County."
The number of homicide victims as a result of gun violence was also up 36% in the first quarter of 2021.
"There's a correlation between impoverished neighborhoods and crime regardless of race," said Wheeler-Smith. "We have to be willing to look at the long absence of government resources to understand and address the root causes of gun violence overwhelmingly impacting communities of color in this country.”
On Friday, King County will host events in Skyway and Kent on National Gun Violence Awareness Day to commemorate the launch of a new pilot program called the King County Regional Peacekeepers Collective.
This will provide services to families and youth most impacted by gun violence.
"We recognize and we see the pain of the realities that people are navigating and dealing with on a daily basis," said Wheeler-Smith.
The county also recently declared June 4 as King County Regional Community Safety and Well-being Day.
The first 100 residents to attend the county's events Friday will get a free gun lockbox and receive training as well as education.
Wheeler-Smith said his work to prevent this kind of violence and his personal experiences of losing friends, mentees, and loved ones drive his passion to be a part of the solution.
He said programs are not enough.
"Focusing on programs rather than infrastructure is really like building only small stretches of roads or railways that never connect," said Wheeler-Smith. "The goal starts with ending gun violence, one of the fastest ways that our young people are dying. While at the same time, working to create the conditions that allows equitable quality and quantity of life."