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Seattle has been long viewed as one of the safest cities in the United States. Each year, it’s a destination for tens of thousands of Canadians, especially from B.C. While the city has taken on a more violent tinge in recent years, it hasn’t seen anything like this in quite a while. (Anthony Bolante/Reuters/Anthony Bolante/Reuters)
Seattle has been long viewed as one of the safest cities in the United States. Each year, it’s a destination for tens of thousands of Canadians, especially from B.C. While the city has taken on a more violent tinge in recent years, it hasn’t seen anything like this in quite a while. (Anthony Bolante/Reuters/Anthony Bolante/Reuters)

Gary Mason

Spike in gun violence baffles Seattle police Add to ...

It was the type of killing that stops a city and prompts its citizens to question where they live.

Justin Ferrari was driving to the store along a route he’d likely travelled hundreds of times. The 43-year-old software engineer and his physician wife, Maggie Hooks, were heading out of town for the weekend – the first time the couple were going to get away, alone, since the birth of their two children, who are now 5 and 7.

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Mr. Ferrari’s parents had flown up from California to look after their grandchildren. The kids and their grandpa were accompanying Mr. Ferrari to the store. As they pulled up to an intersection in the Central district of the city, someone opened fire. A bullet that had been intended for another person hit Mr. Ferrari in the head. He slumped over the steering wheel of his van and would die in the arms of his father, who was sitting in the passenger seat beside him.

It was 4:30 in the afternoon.

The killing has shocked Seattle, a normally safe city that is experiencing a rash of gun violence. It was the 15th homicide of the year, and came just a month after a stray bullet killed a 21-year-old woman walking home through the city’s historic Pioneer Square district.

On Saturday, a gunman opened fire near the city’s Space Needle, where an outdoor folk festival was under way. After firing five or six shots, the man ran through the crowd before being apprehended by police. One person was taken to hospital with a bullet wound to the leg.

Seattle has been long viewed as one of the safest cities in the United States. Each year, it’s a destination for tens of thousands of Canadians, especially from B.C. While the city has taken on a more violent tinge in recent years, it hasn’t seen anything like this in quite a while.

Mayor Mike McGinn said he’s “deeply concerned” by the rise in gun violence. The 15 homicides so far this year compare to 21 for all of 2011. (Vancouver, by comparison, had 15 last year). But the Ferrari shooting and the death of Nicole Westbrook a month earlier have affected the city in a profound way. When a father can’t go to the store without fear of being randomly shot in the head, your city has a problem. When a young culinary student can’t walk through Pioneer Square with her boyfriend without being shot from a moving car, your city has a problem.

The mayor and police chief have pleaded with citizens to share any information they have about the shootings. But people are reluctant to help police out. In fact, it’s just the opposite. The police have responded to a couple of shootings recently in which a volatile and hostile crowd surrounded the officers, urging them to leave. Some of the younger men in the crowd reportedly stripped off their shirts and challenged the officers to a fight.

The crowds have prevented paramedics from treating the injured. Under city policy, the fire department and medics can’t arrive at the scene of a shooting until police deem the area safe and secure.

Concerns about the spike in gun violence are so pervasive that the deputy police chief was recently asked if the cops had lost control of the city. His response? “I don’t believe so,” he said. Ah, that doesn’t sound too reassuring to me.

The police say the city has seen sporadic increases in gun violence in the past and insist this is just more of the same. But police have usually been able to explain those outbursts, whether they were related to drugs or gangs or whatever. This time, the police seem truly baffled about what’s behind it, which is worse.

They do have one theory, though.

The police have pointed fingers at the U.S. Department of Justice, which has been critical of the SPD for using excessive force. Because of a court order, the police had to change their ways. And they’re now suggesting a link between their milder, gentler methods and the increase in gun violence.

Seems like a stretch. And a horrible excuse.

The death of Justin Ferrari had nothing to do with the police and the way they take down suspects. He was driving to the store with his dad and kids and now he’s dead. And the person who shot him is still walking the streets somewhere.

And that’s a tragedy.

Follow on Twitter: @garymasonglobe

 

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