It is a case that most fits the “old Hilltop” of the 1980s, when the neighborhood was plagued with drug dealers, gang shootings, street-corner love brokers and random gun shots in the night. But senseless violence struck again this month, and neighbors are worried.
Justin Winter and his fiancée Mishele Dupree were walking with a group of friends earlier this month, when a group of about 20 teens started yelling at them from the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Way and 19th Street. The gaggle of teens then jumped Winters, hitting and kicking him to the ground because he had apparently slighted a female member of the group a few days prior by refusing to give her a cigarette.
“All of a sudden I see five guys stomp my friend in the face,” witness Nikki Weatherhead said. “I don’t want to live in a neighborhood where that goes unnoticed.”
They kept kicking as he fell to the concrete. His jaw shattered by the time the beat down ended.
The victims called police. And they waited, and waited and waited.
The group has been seen at the corner several times since Winter and Dupree were told the case was “under investigation.” They waited.
Then they took to Facebook and told their story. Hilltop residents wanted action, and some suggested vigilante solutions. Others circulated a petition to reopen the Hilltop Police Substation in hopes it would boost patrols of the Upper Tacoma neighborhood.
A community meeting with Tacoma Police Department top brass and Hilltop Action Coalition (HAC) gathered Monday night, Nov. 18, to find solutions for what some fear is a return of the violent days of the neighborhood’s distant past despite Hilltop having the lowest crime rate in Tacoma, according to statistics on reported crimes per capita.
“We aren’t setting off the police alarms,” HAC organizer Lisa Lawrence said. “We know that people are scared. We know that people are concerned, and we know that people are frustrated.”
Despite the recent assault and a few other crimes, she said, the neighborhood, the most diverse in the city, will stay safe if people get involved by watching after their neighbors and calling police whenever they suspect crime.
Much of the Monday meeting echoed those thoughts. Neighbors need to know each other, and they need to watch out for each other. And they have to share their stories. And they need to stay vigilant.
“Local residents took back the streets of Hilltop block by block from gangs and violence back in the 1980's, creating what is now one of, if not the, safest neighborhoods in Tacoma,” stated Lawrence in her meeting announcement. “To allow it to backslide would disrespect the hard work of those brave individuals. We owe it to those who fought, as well as future generations, to continue our vigilance.”
Tacoma Police Chief Donald Ramsdell was a beat cop “back in the day.” He remembers pulling cars over for crimes only to hear gun shots a block away during the arrest. Those days are largely gone because neighbors back then said enough was enough and got involved in their community.
“Public safety is not a spectator’s sport,” he said.
The next Hilltop Action Coalition meeting will be held at the substation at 1524 Martin Luther King Way at 6 p.m. on Dec. 16. For more information, visit HAC's website at http://www.hilltopactioncoalition.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (253) 590-8747. HAC is gathering a comprehensive list of incidents to present to the police after hearing of multiple reports of shots fired, the double shooting in the vicinity of 19th and Ainsworth, stories of intimidation and harassment of citizens.