Tacoma City Council members got a rare demonstration of neighborhood activism last Tuesday: 20 people showed up to protest a single item that wasn’t even on the agenda. Those people, all residents of the Hilltop neighborhood, were there to speak out against the rumored addition of a sex offender halfway house in their neighborhood. Whether or not the possibility existed (the answer is probably not), their presence was at least a reminder that a united neighborhood, aka a community, is a power to be reckoned with.
For proof you need look no farther than the Hilltop today. Vital businesses have returned, houses are being built or refurbished, and long time residents are demonstrating true pride in ownership – of their homes as well as their neighborhood. That was not always the case.
In 1994 I transferred to the Tacoma Police Department from another Puget Sound agency. Within six months I began working the 1 Sector on swing shift (which includes the Hilltop and downtown), staying in the assignment for the next three years.
The Hilltop I knew at that time was a far different place. Boarded up homes plagued every street providing haven for the homeless, a quick shelter to inject drugs or turn tricks. Corner stores (“Stop and robs” as they were then called), seemed to be the only thriving businesses. Street corners were reserved for gang members and drug dealers (often one and the same). The days were filled with tension. Nights were filled with gunfire.
Finally, the neighbors decided enough was enough. They formed action coalitions. They spoke out at church and community gatherings. They engaged with eachother. They engaged with the police department. Together, over a period of time residents managed to erase much of the blight. With their efforts, and the backing of the city, businesses and banks, the Hilltop recreated itself.
Sure, there are still problems – there is no magic wand that erases every possible criminal or societal condition found in inner city neighborhoods. But under the veneer of a struggling neighborhood, the Hilltop has (and probably always did have) a passionate sense of community.
That sense is what brought 20 people to the Tacoma City Council meeting on Tuesday. If you think that accomplishment is no big deal, I challenge you to find any issue that would bring 20 of your neighbors to a windowless room on a beautiful evening in the middle of the week.
The people who live in the Hilltop today, especially those who lived through uglier times, deserve their time at the podium. They have worked too hard to stand by, with fingers crossed, hoping their neighborhood won’t be the release point for more ex-cons.
That wouldn’t be fair. After all these years, the Hilltop deserves better.