Police chief: Seattle gun violence could be tied to East African gang feud

SEATTLE -- Seattle’s police chief on Thursday addressed a rising number of shootings in south Seattle, pointing to a feud between two East African gangs that may be behind a recent spate of gun violence.

Shots fired are up more than 33% citywide this year compared to last, with 231 shots reported so far in 2015 compared to 173 by this time last year.

Chief Kathleen O’Toole said the police department has increased patrols and community outreach efforts in the south end, focusing in on tight-knit communities of African refugees.

“There is gang violence,” O’Toole said, although she stopped short of labeling it a gang war. “Right now we’re concerned about a feud between two East African gangs and we’re dealing with it head on.”

Her remarks came a day after Seattle police homicide detectives made an arrest in the July 31 murder of 20-year-old African refuge Zakariya Ibrahim Issa.

Issa was shot multiple times in the head while walking near 44th and Cloverdale after leaving a prayer service for a friend killed a day earlier in a drive-by shooting in Federal Way.

The 20-year-old suspect in Issa’s death also attended the service, detectives believe. He was arrested Wednesday and waived his first appearance in court Thursday, where a judge ordered him held on $1 million bail.

The suspect, who has not been charged, is believed to have gang ties, according to court documents. A motive for the shooting is unclear.

Meanwhile, some residents of south Seattle are concerned the city isn’t doing enough to keep them safe.

“People have lived here and worked hard all their lives for their homes and to be comfortable,” said Tracy Beckwith, who lives just a few houses from where Issa was killed. “Grandchildren are being raised here, children were raised here. I was raised here. We want to be safe and comfortable. We don’t want to let them run us out.”

Beckwith said her father, an Army veteran and retired postal worker, bought the house 27 years ago and lived there until he died in 2014. She said while the house has great sentimental value, she’s not sure she wants to stay.

“I’m not feeling too comfortable right now,” she said.

Members of the refugee community that Issa belonged to say they feel the police department cares more about other areas of the city.

One woman, who declined to give her name, said she does not believe police have actually increased patrols.

“We feel like they only care for the few hours that they’re here and then they leave. They forget about us,” she said. “We just feel like we’re forgotten, that we don’t really matter. That’s how we feel.”

“I think it would be a sad and tragic testament to society if people didn’t care that a young man was murdered in the street,” said Deputy Police Chief Carmen Best, the department’s second-in-command.

“We want the same thing the community wants. We want to see the shooters in handcuffs and we want to see justice served.”