Everett police Officer Michael Dutson walked from the Norton playfield, opened his patrol car’s door, and let out a short siren blast.
A crowd nearby wasn’t worried. Kids followed Dutson, awaiting high-fives from the uniformed policeman. He bent down to talk with his smallest fans. Some kids wore stick-on badges.
Just days after mass shootings far from Everett, neighbors at National Night Out gatherings Tuesday reconnected with friends, played lawn games and voiced concerns. National Night Out, an effort to make communities safer through closer ties to neighbors and police, was launched in 1984.
Rather than gun violence — which no one mentioned unless I brought it up — issues raised at events here hit close to home.
In Everett’s Port Gardner Neighborhood, the sore subject is literally the land where neighbors chatted Tuesday with Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin, shared potluck dishes and tossed a football. Not a park, the 3-acre plot in the 3600 block of Norton Avenue is surplus property of the Everett School District. It was once the site of the original Jackson School.
Many Port Gardner neighbors are engaged in fighting the Housing Hope plan to build an affordable apartment complex there. In May, the Everett School Board approved an agreement to lease the land to the low-income housing agency for 75 years. The planned 34-unit complex, which would be near Sequoia High School, is aimed at housing homeless students and their families.
In June, the Everett City Council passed an emergency ordinance, lasting six months, that places a moratorium on supportive housing in single-family residential zones.
“The battle is just starting,” said Andrea Tucker, leader of the Port Gardner Neighborhood Association, at Tuesday’s Night Out.
Carol Duvall, who lives across Norton from the grassy field, worries about property values. “It’s our retirement,” she said. And the narrow street, she added, “is a terrible place for more traffic.”
One positive result of their push to save the playfield was plain to see — in Tuesday’s crowd. “We’ve all just kind of bonded together,” Duvall said. Tucker agreed, saying “people may not have ever participated in anything, but this really brought them together.”
Along with police and Everett firefighters, Port Gardner’s event brought out groups as diverse as Narcotics Anonymous, which had a representative offering information, and a Scout troop from BSA 90, which also has Cub Scouts, a coed Venturing group and Sea Scouts.
“What’s cool about this, there are youth in the neighborhood who may never have met,” said Chris Wojahn, the Scout organization’s leader, who grew up in the Port Gardner area.
“Police are here to protect us, but there’s a lot we can do ourselves,” said Pamela Lynn, secretary of the Riverside Neighborhood Association and a Night Out organizer.
While kids joined in sack races, Riverside neighbors talked with Sunny Taylor, a crime prevention officer with the Everett Police Department. “We tell people to be reasonable — if you see something, say something,” Taylor said.
Molly Deardorff, who’s involved with the Delta Neighborhood group, showed up at the Riverside event on her bike, along with John Stejer and his 13-year-old grandson, Elijah Dwyer.
“For us, the big concern is growth,” Deardorff said. Along with the Riverview Apartments project, a 203-unit affordable housing complex being built on East Marine View Drive, she noted that part of Wiggums Hollow Park owned by the Everett Housing Authority is for sale to Washington State University.
Asked about recent shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, that killed at least 31 people, Lynn said she thinks more than ever about gun violence — “even when I go to a movie theater.”
A Riverside resident since 2004, Lynn believes homelessness is her neighborhood’s biggest challenge.
Martinez, who’s new to the neighborhood, sees a homeless problem too. She worries about car break-ins, but said “it’s a pretty OK neighborhood.” Martinez, who lives with her fiance and their year-old daughter, said she’s interested in attending the Riverside group’s meetings.
Not everyone who’s homeless is a troublemaker, Lynn said. She has befriended people at Garfield Park who are homeless. In fact, she said, “they helped me set up” for Tuesday’s gathering.
Here, National Night Out drew attention to complex and sometimes competing interests and needs — affordable housing, open spaces, relationships with police, safety and quality of life for kids and families.
Talking it out can only help.