Just two nights after we lost a beloved member of our community to a senseless, violent act the Aurora Commons hosted it’s annual benefit. It was a painful time for our community, but also a gift to be in such amazing company. After the loss of Danny, Elizabeth re-wrote her speech and delivered these words to those in attendance.
“We Cannot Respond to Hate with Hate” - By Elizabeth Dahl
I recently hosted a pastor at the Commons who was visiting from Rwanda named Moses. He is one of very few who survived a 100 day genocide in his country that killed 70% of the Tutsi population. I shared our story with him. How Aurora Commons was born out of a neighborhood response through Awake Church to share life, to share resources, and to build relationships with all neighbors in the area, not just the ones who are housed. I told him how last year alone, we welcomed over 8,000 visits from our unhoused community. After I shared, I asked if he had any questions. He sat quietly and looked around. “I have one question,” he said finally. “In my country we have a view that people in America don’t suffer. This is not something that your media captures. My question is, how can you, with such affluence, allow your people to suffer so deeply?”
Moses’ question has rung in my ears, with such affluence, how can we allow this suffering?
“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” With this statement, Mother Teresa has simply yet profoundly asked us to turn towards one another. We have forgotten that we belong to one another when we want the people experiencing homelessness in our neighborhoods to be homeless somewhere else. We have forgotten that we belong to one another when we look at people who use drugs with judgement, disdain, and hate. We have forgotten that we belong to one another when we think that women who are commercially exploited on Aurora should be in jail instead of told they are worthy of love just as they are, that you are worthy. We cannot have peace without facing and embracing our most marginalized people and making every effort not to just ease the suffering of those around us but to address it. We live in a country that has had tremendous affluence, but affluence breeds complacency. The American dream is so often an exclusive dream, a dream offered to people who start further ahead in the race. You have read this before but the concept of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps is only possible if you’re wearing boots.
On Thursday, October 25th, a young man named Daniel Alberto was shot in the heart at point blank range on the street behind the Commons. I was there less than 30 feet away when he was killed and watched as his lifeless body was compressed over and over by the emergency response team. Within minutes of the shot, I received two hateful emails from neighbors along Nesbit blaming Aurora Commons for bringing gun violence into the neighborhood. I received another email the next morning. Within hours social media, blogs, and news stations, filled with hateful rhetoric blaming places like Licton Springs Village and Aurora Commons, asking people to rally to cut our funding and spewing some of the most hateful things one can read.
Danny needed help. He found in Aurora Commons a safe haven. He suffered from untreated mental illness. His soul was kind and it was in profound moments of believing in his goodness that we saw who he really was. The police officers saw his kindness too and were rooting for him. Danny was recently successfully bridged to LEAD North, the officers communicated they believed he was a good man and that he had a chance. Danny needed help, he needed community, he needed anyone to believe that he wasn’t beyond hoping for. “The man who called the police to say he shot a man in the Licton Springs neighborhood of North Seattle Thursday night claimed the victim was a neighborhood nuisance, known for trespassing, using drugs, and damaging property in the area” (Lynsi Burton, SeattlePI Updated 4:46 pm PDT, Friday, October 26, 2018).
Danny was killed by a housed neighbor who called him a nuisance. He was killed by a man who was so blinded by his own story and hatred, that he could not see Danny as a person who deserved to live, as a person who needed help, as a person who was worthy of love. He was killed by the same kind of hatred that sent me those emails. He was killed by the same hatred that refuses to believe that we are ALL responsible for the people in our community. With such affluence we cannot allow this suffering.
Aurora Commons was started as a neighborhood response to the disparity we found in our neighborhood. As neighbors located on Nesbit, we opened in our neighborhood because people were suffering and had no where to belong, no where to charge their phone, no where to make breakfast, to get a coat, to use the bathroom, to be bridged to resources, to be remembered when they were gone, or sick, or celebrating a birthday.
We must confront our privilege, our bias, and our complacency. We must reach towards our unhoused neighbors with compassion. We must make sacrifices in this affluent city to address the crisis we’re facing. The common thread of humanity binds us all together. Everything can change if we don’t just believe we belong to each other, but that we live as though we belong to each other. That dignity, beauty, strength, and worth is inherent in every person, and that together, we can do better, we must do better. Our action cannot end with a singular instance of easing suffering or sharing resources, we must make sacrifices, we must cast-off the pressing charge of upward mobility.
We have a responsibility to educate, to teach, to be patient, to love our enemies, to continue to stand up for people who are being mistreated. We cannot respond to hate with hate. It is hate the took Danny’s life. Our path forward is peace.