Many of the men sitting around the table had been to prison.
Many had worn gang colors, red or blue.
Nearly all had been on the streets at one point in their lives, engaged in a lifestyle that they’re now watching a new generation trying to survive.
On Tuesday afternoon, many were somewhere they had never been before: Tacoma City Hall.
Collectively, they gathered with resolve — as they had the Saturday before for a march on Tacoma’s Eastside — to deliver an urgent message from the heart.
The killing and bloodshed must stop, they pleaded. A City Council proclamation followed, echoing the sentiment.
“The biggest thing that’s going on is our children are being killed,” said 41-year-old Carlos Powell, earning vocal affirmations from those sitting around him.
“I mean we grew up in that lifestyle, but we were kids at the time,” continued Powell, whose time in Tacoma dates back to 1988. “Now that we’re older and we have kids, we’re watching our kids running through that same lifestyle, and we don’t want that.”
As I wrote in a column last week, thoughtless violence has wreaked havoc on Tacoma so far this year. There have been drive-bys, suspected retaliations, and someone left paralyzed. The list goes on.
In the first eight months of the year, there were more homicides in the City of Destiny than all of 2018 combined. Though hard data and specifics are limited, there’s a sense among residents and elected officials that gang activity is on the rise — bringing back bad memories and reopening wounds.
What do we know for certain? Too many bullets have flown, and far too many lives have been lost or forever altered.
“There is something specifically going on right now in the city that needs to be addressed,” Mayor Victoria Woodards told me last week.
Of course, it’s one thing for a columnist behind a keyboard to call for a collective community response. Though the mayor’s voice carries more weight, to be certain, there’s only so much words and policy objectives alone can accomplish.
That’s why these men — more than a dozen of them — were sitting in a City Hall conference room Tuesday.
They know what it’s like to grow up in Tacoma. They know Hilltop and the Eastside. They understand the social and systemic factors that contribute to poverty, gangs, violence and crime.
They’ve been there, done that.
Now, they want to do something to help the kids of today before another crime scene is taped off.
I”m here to be a part of the solution,” said 47-year-old Peter Chase.
“For me,” Chase added, “O.G. means ‘old guy’ now.”
Only a week before they descended on City Hall, the men had been gathered by 51-year-old Candace Wesley. Like them, Wesley grew up in Tacoma.
Wesley knows these men, their stories and their backgrounds. She believes they’ll be listened to.
Most of all, Wesley said she has faith that they can affect change.
Together, they planned and organized last week’s Ceasefire Tacoma march against violence — with a message, she says, intended not just for Tacoma’s youth but for the community at large.
Now, they’re plotting their next steps.
“Collectively, as a group, I’m confident in saying that the youth and young adult population in our community, their lives are full of so much promise,” Wesley said. “How can we live in the City of Destiny and allow violence to suck the life out of the very meaning of the City of Destiny?”
“The beauty in this team ... is it’s diverse, yet so similar as it relates to mistakes or sending out a message that was unhealthy, if i could say it that way, and owning our actions,” Wesley added. “It’s about owning our actions, identifying what the problem is and trying to come together to strategize a solution.”
Finding a solution won’t be easy, they acknowledge, but they’re determined to be a part of it.
It feels like an important step, and — as a city — we have an obligation not just to applaud the effort but join them.
“If you look around the table, these are people who have been to prison, these are people who own businesses, these are people who are in college, these are people who put their children and their grandchildren on the school bus in the morning,” Wesley said.
“These are people who — in my eyes — carry weight in this community.”
Let’s hope she’s right.