Bus shooting requires Seattle health rethink

057The shooting of a Seattle bus driver by a man with a history of drug offences and mental health issues came as a shock – but probably not a surprise – to anyone who uses public transport in the city.

Since arriving from London a couple of weeks ago it’s clear that there are many people wandering the streets who really shouldn’t be, given that they need specialist, institutional care.

Wait at a stop around Third and Pine or Pike and you’ll see the full array – people who are off their medication, those who are self-medicating, those who are delusional, or destitute, or desperate, or all three.

They need help because they’re incapable of supporting themselves. And shelters and hostels aren’t the answer when they’re simply returned to the streets during the day.

Even in the short time I’ve been using public transport here I’ve witnessed several incidents – more than I saw in several years in London.

Just the other day a glaze-eyed woman, with only the faintest idea of where she was, directed a foul-mouthed tirade at the driver of a route 70 bus as she left the vehicle.

Far more serious was the episode with the scary, psychotic, man mouthing obscenities and making threats against someone only he could see.

The unwashed and unkempt who reek of urine and soiled clothes are merely offensive, but some of the encounters I’ve witnessed have been aggressive and frightening.

Naively, perhaps,  I’ve seen nothing to explain how a man with a long track record of criminal behaviour came to be in possession of a gun; it seems weapons are so routinely available it’s not something that needs explanation.

And the damage his attack has caused goes far beyond the injuries to the bus driver who was shot, though I’m delighted he has been released from hospital and is on the mend.

The shooting represents a huge setback to attempts to bolster public transport and to get people to leave their cars at home. It’s also damaging to Seattle’s wider reputation as a good place to visit and a good place to live.

There’s a balance to be struck between an individual’s freedom, a community’s duty of pastoral care and the rights of all people to move freely and safely as they go about their business. In this instance the system has clearly failed and a deep rethink is required.

Less violent crime downtown? Not by numbers from police


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