STREETS, TRAILS BECOMING KILLING ZONES; VIOLENCE SPREADS
Mayor Ethan Berkowitz was sitting back, eyelids heavy, looking languid. The mayor, who normally spends much of the Assembly meetings in the back of the room, talking with friends and not paying attention to the proceedings, was in his seat.
The Anchorage Assembly meeting was being taken over by the topic of violent crime. This was not going well.
Fifteen months into his term as mayor, and this is what he’s identified with: Murder, mayhem, and an adorable little basketball court on top of a downtown parking garage that he’s had converted into a park where no vagrants — and no other Anchorage residents — are likely to go.
The cameras were on him now. The testimony continued from the angry public. City Manager Mike Abbott kept his eyes glued to his computer screen, not looking at the large crowd that had gathered in the Z.J. Loussac Library Assembly Chambers to express their worries to the Assembly.
Earlier this month, Berkowitz had to change up plans and meet with residents in the North Star neighborhoods, and they were hopping mad over the latest double homicide in a place where their children play.
Berkowitz was explaining that it’s complicated. It’s more than just murder, it’s just a lot of stuff, he was saying. Mike Abbott the city manager kept face down, looking at his screen.
One Anchorage resident from the Mountain View neighborhood was telling the Assembly that she is not a happy camper: “There are rapes, shootings, frequent gunfire.”
“People are not at ease in their homes, yards or streets. They are avoiding the parks and the trails.” – Stephanie Warnoch, to the Anchorage Assembly
Berkowitz shifted the blame to the state: “The State is drawing down the number of Troopers in the Anchorage area,” he explained.
Assemblyman Dick Traini also kicked the can over to the state. SB 91, the crime reform bill, was to blame: “They’re dumping the people who should be in prison out on the streets,” he said.
SB 91 was signed into law on July 11 by Gov. Bill Walker. The city was already well on the way to setting a new murder record.
“These are complicated problems and it requires a concerted community effort to move forward,” Berkowitz said, helpfully.
The public outcry was mounting. Earlier this month, two men were shot in the Valley of the Moon Park.
The city’s response was slow, but finally the official word was: Don’t go out at night alone. Be wary. Stay off the trails. After all, this is the second double homicide on a city trail. Is it a serial killer? The official word is simply: We can’t tell you.
Then, on Tuesday, just two block away from Valley of the Moon Park, Tommy Rumph, age 31, allegedly pulled a gun on Treavonne Owens and shot him dead at 15th and E streets at about 6:15 am, right next to Central Middle School. The late Mr. Owens had multiple gunshot wounds to his body.
SAFE AND SECURE BERKOWITZ
The Ethan Berkowitz whom voters chose was the “Safe and Secure” Berkowitz, the Harvard lawyer who could hold the floor of the Alaska House of Representatives with long soliloquies about oil and gas taxes.
When he ran for governor, he proposed allowing Alaskans to invest in a new “Great Alaska Gasline” as investors with their Permanent Fund Dividends. As politicians do, Berkowitz knows to talk about things that people are focused on. So when it came time to run for mayor, he focused on crime.
As mayor, can Berkowitz make people in Anchorage feel safe?
“We are as far from feeling safe and secure as we have been in many years,” said one Anchorage resident who would not give her name for publication. “The only thing we’ve gotten from the city is ‘don’t travel alone and night and don’t go on the trails. Since when is that acceptable?'”
DEATH TOLL: OFFICIALLY 26, PLUS TWO HIT-AND-RUNS
There are 22 homicide cases in Anchorage this year, with 26 deaths between them.
The rate is based on the FBI’s Uniform Crime Rate standard that doesn’t add in those hit-and-runs.
To the families of the deceased, a hit and run is murder, but it’s simply not counted that way year-over-year.
Of the 22 cases, 12 have been solved with charges lodged and arrests made; there are three cases where the assailant is known, but charges await prosecutorial review.
There are six unsolved cases (involving nine victims), where a suspect has not been identified, according to Jennifer Castro of the Anchorage Police Department.
Nine souls awaiting justice and an entire city on edge over murder and mayhem that has folks making sure their doors are locked and their children are not playing outside, where the bad guys have taken over.
TALK TO THE MAN
Mayor Berkowitz will have office hours in his Parking Lot Park, top of the 5th Avenue Garage, this Friday, Sept. 18, from 11 am to 1 pm, five stories above the killing zone. It’s a stone’s throw from where Treavonne Owens used to work in a popular downtown restaurant kitchen, and within view of where someone on Tuesday pumped Mr. Owens full of lead and left him to die next to a school — a school where children would arrive within the hour.
Residents of the city can also find him tonight, Sept 14, at the North Star Neighborhood Community Council, where public safety is an agenda item. The NSCC meets in the library of the North Star Elementary School at 605 West Fireweed Lane, and begins at 7 pm. Sam Moore is the president of the NSCC; reach Moore with your questions about the meeting at [email protected]