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Tacoma community groups call for more action after teen shootings

Pierce County’s homicide rate increased last year, with most of those homicides taking place in Tacoma.

TACOMA, Wash. — Candace Wesley and James Watson of Tacoma Ceasefire say keeping up with Tacoma’s increasing homicide rate can be frustrating.

“It seems like this is happening week after week, and we’re hearing, especially in this Eastside community, where they’re hearing gunshots every night,” said co-founder James Watson.

Last year was the deadliest in Tacoma’s history. According to the Tacoma Police Department, 45 of Pierce County’s 79 homicides occurred in Tacoma last year, and 43 of them were shootings.

Police say there’s also been an uptick in juveniles committing violent crimes.

Last week, Tacoma saw three shootings involving teenagers, with one leading to the death of 14-year-old Xaviar Siess.

Tacoma Ceasefire co-founder Candace Wesley says while violence can be traumatizing to anyone who experiences it, it hits a little harder when the youth are involved.

“It’s a harsh reality that things are progressively getting worse,” she said. “They’re in survival mode, whether it’s getting home from school in a safe manner, or even receiving a proper education in a safe manner, and so it is alarming for me and it’s disheartening as well.”

Last August, the city released an assessment on youth violence, stating that Tacomans under age 30 die from assault at a similar rate to car crashes.

The assessment described youth violence as a public health issue, and the city should take a more family-based approach to addressing it.

“Our model says that we will help anyone that is high risk, and if this person is high risk, so likely is their family members,” said Vicky McLaurin, who works for the City of Tacoma’s Neighborhood and Community Services. “So we want to help them as well in order to reduce the impact of violence.”

That help comes in the form of group therapy sessions, one-on-one mentorship opportunities and monthly meetings to get input from the community, tools that Watson says are sorely needed to make sure Tacoma’s young people aren’t swept up by the rising violence.

“We’re tired of seeing the shootings that’re going on, but we’re not tired of doing the work,” he said. “We’re going to continue because we know it can get better. We know that we have to impact [our children] in a positive way, let them know that there are better ways of communicating, better ways of solving their issues and problems than by picking up a gun.”

Wesley says it’s a great step, but hopes the City can make it easier for grassroots organizations to get the resources they need.

“For those grassroots organizations, and for those volunteers who’re on the frontlines doing the work, if they simplified that application process in regards to obtaining or applying for funding to do the work,” she said. 

Tacoma CeaseFire will be organizing an event this Saturday in the Salishan neighborhood, and will be collaborating with the city and other community groups to provide resources for people that’re dealing with the impact of violence. 

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