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After Violence Rattles Seattle, One McDonald’s Becomes a Scapegoat

But the long-standing problems at 3rd and Pine won’t be solved by shutting down a single business unconnected to the issues at hand

The yellow McDonald’s logo against a red background.
The area around a Downtown McDonald’s has seen violent crime over the years.

On January 22, a mass shooting Downtown killed one woman and injured seven others, including a 9-year-old boy. The deadly incident happened right in front of a McDonald’s restaurant at the intersection of 3rd Avenue and Pine Street, in the middle of a busy rush hour, and — along with other recent acts of violence — has unnerved Seattle (two suspects were caught this week). While pressure increases on local politicians to ramp up safety measures in the area, one proposal that appears to be gaining momentum — at least on social media, talk radio, and opinion pages — is to completely tear down the McDonald’s adjacent to the scene of the crime, which some call an “open-air drug market.”

Among the latest to raise the possibility is Greg Smith, CEO of local commercial real estate company Urban Visions, who suggests having the McDonald’s condemned and replacing it with a police precinct. “That may sound drastic, but it’s a drastic situation when residents, workers and shoppers feel so unsafe they avoid this important area, which links Pike Place Market and the retail core,” Smith recently wrote in the Puget Sound Business Journal (subscription required). Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan has already pushed back on the proposal.

To be sure, there has long been a history of trouble in this specific area of Downtown. Four years ago, there was another shooting near the same intersection that wounded five people, and in 2018, there were a series of violent incidents, one involving an attack with a hatchet. But, according to a Seattle Police Department spokesperson, reports of violent crime in the city were actually down overall in 2019 from the previous year, although exact numbers on the precinct where the McDonald’s is located is unavailable at this time. Monthly stats for crime in Seattle can be found here.

As alarming as recent incidents have been, there isn’t much evidence that the presence of a McDonald’s on that block is connected in any way. While a similar situation happened in San Francisco, where a McDonald’s on a notorious corner near Golden Gate Park was eventually razed because of local drug activity, in that case there was a more direct correlation to crime on the restaurant property itself, rather than simply the surrounding area. And though many may not be too upset over the closing of a single outpost of a major worldwide fast-food franchise, it’s still worth asking which voices are missing from this discussion.

“The issues at 3rd and Pine have been happening for decades and are systemic,” says Angela Dunleavy-Stowell, the CEO of Seattle-based Farestart, which provides restaurant job training, as well overall support, to individuals re-entering society after incarceration. “Those problems won’t go away by simply closing down one business. We also need to provide support for people experiencing housing and food instability, addiction, and mental health challenges.”

That sentiment is echoed by the Public Defender Association, a local nonprofit that advocates for justice system reform. “If we want to address downtown public order issues, concentrated engagement with the situation of drug buyers in that area is an approach that worked in Belltown when we launched the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program,” says the organization’s director, Lisa Daugaard. “Environmental changes are also clearly worth exploring. But McDonald’s can stay.”

For its part, at least on the surface, the McDonald’s on 3rd and Pine wants to be part of the solution. This week, David Santillanes, the owner and operator of that location, announced he will be donating $20,000 to the seven surviving victims of the shooting, with each victim getting a check for $2,857. Santillanes said he aims to help the victims recover and “continue building a strong community in Seattle.”

UPDATE, February 7, 2019, 12:52 p.m.: This article previously pointed to a Seattle Police Department dashboard with numbers for reported crime in the Downtown precinct near the McDonald’s in question, but the SPD now clarifies that the data set is incomplete, so that chart has been removed.