Tacoma celebrates National Night Out with fried chicken, wide smiles

Fried food and laughter filled the air on Tacoma’s Hilltop on Tuesday evening in celebration of National Night Out, a yearly effort to deter crime, unite as a community and discuss problems in neighborhoods around America.

Tables of food were set up outside a house on J Street while family and friends filled the sidewalk.

Police officers and firefighters talked with community members over plates of fried chicken.

Children gathered for free temporary tattoos from Brian Hardy, a battalion chief from the Tacoma Fire Department. Kids wore Tacoma Police stickers, too.

From North Tacoma to Roy, thousands of South Sound residents met in the streets to take part in the 31st annual National Night Out. The event is traditionally held on the first Tuesday in August.

Neighbors gathered at more than 100 locations around the South Sound, blocking off streets and firing up grills.

“It’s like a family reunion,” said Bradley Killian, lead organizer of a block party on Sheridan Avenue in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood.

Killian, who has lived in the neighborhood more than four decades, said he remembers a time when a block party might not have been possible.

The retired barber said his neighborhood used to be infested with gang members who dealt hard drugs and sold weapons. He said many neighbors were scared even to sit on their porches.

Tacoma-based nonprofit Safe Streets helped several groups register for the event.

Wanda Rochelle, operations director at the organization, said although the number of block party locations has leveled, the number of people turning out at individual events is increasing.

She said a block party is often a more comfortable event for people to express their concerns in the neighborhood, rather than a meeting in somebody’s house.

Although Hilltop still faces problems, Killian said he couldn’t help but feel a sense of accomplishment seeing neighbors gather in the street.

“It brings pride to the community,” he said. “It wasn’t all for nothing.”